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Baseball Playoffs

Banner Night for Yankees

Game 6: Bullpen shuts down Indians, and Brosius comes through with bat and glove, 9-5.

October 14, 1998|MIKE DiGIOVANNA | TIMES STAFF WRITER

NEW YORK — The game began in a heavy mist, and at times both teams played as if in a haze, but it was the Cleveland Indians who were finally left in the dust Tuesday night, flattened by a runaway subway train known as the 1998 New York Yankees.

With a crowd of 57,142 making Yankee Stadium literally tremble with excitement, closer Mariano Rivera put the finishing touches on a 9-5 American League championship series Game 6 victory that clinched the Yankees' 35th pennant.

As the Yankees converged near the mound for a group hug and police officers poured onto the field, fans sang along to Frank Sinatra's "New York, New York," and Yankee Manager Joe Torre could be seen in the dugout, wiping a tear from his eye.

"Sometimes it all happens so fast you have to remind yourself to look around and remember the feeling," said Yankee second baseman Chuck Knoblauch, who hasn't enjoyed this kind of experience since his Minnesota Twins won the 1991 World Series.

"Tino [Martinez, Yankee first baseman] and I caught each other's eye. It was a great feeling. We're going to enjoy this. The hard part is over. The fun starts now."

New York's 4-2 win in the best-of-seven series against Cleveland gave the Yankees a berth in the World Series against either Atlanta or San Diego. Game 1 will be played in Yankee Stadium on Saturday night, marking the 49th time in 94 years that a World Series will be played in New York.

The Yankees will be shooting for their 24th championship and second in three years. They were a surprise winner in 1996, overcoming what many considered a superior Brave team, but they have been predestined almost since the start of spring training to win this year.

"We were definitive underdogs in 1996, but this year we were expected to win," said Torre, whose team won a league-record 114 games during the regular season. "There was a lot more pressure, but it makes it a lot more gratifying."

They won Tuesday night because Scott Brosius, their unheralded third baseman at the bottom of the order, came through with a three-run home run in the third inning and a key defensive play in the sixth, and because the Indians at times looked like the Keystone Kops in spikes. but mostly because their bullpen was as impenetrable as Fort Knox.

Yankee starter David Cone almost blew a 6-0 lead, giving up five runs in a fifth inning that included Jim Thome's monstrous grand slam into the third deck in right field.

But Ramiro Mendoza came on in the sixth, which started with Brosius making a diving stop of Sandy Alomar's grounder down the line and throwing him out, and the right-handed reliever gave up only one hit in three scoreless innings.

Rivera, who has given up one hit in nine scoreless postseason innings, came on to pitch a 1-2-3 ninth. In 10 playoff games, the Yankee relief corps of Rivera, Mendoza, Mike Stanton, Jeff Nelson and Graeme Lloyd combined to give up three earned runs in 33 2/3 innings for an 0.80 ERA.

"What can you say about Mo? It's lights out when he comes in," Stanton said of Rivera. "And Mendoza was incredible. He hasn't been in there much, but he had a great sinker and showed a lot of guts.

"We take some pride in this win, but the job is not over. Our goal in spring training was to win the World Series, not to finish with the league championship series. We've cleared three hurdles now and have one left."

Yankee left-hander David Wells, who gave up five earned runs in 15 2/3 innings while winning Games 1 and 5, was named most valuable player of the championship series. Fitted for goat horns Tuesday night was Indian right fielder Manny Ramirez, whose defensive gaffe in the sixth pretty much guaranteed he'll never win a Gold Glove.

With the Yankees clinging to a 6-5 lead, Brosius opened the sixth with a routine grounder to shortstop Omar Vizquel, whose wild throw to first snapped his 46-game playoff errorless streak, a string covering a span of 237 chances.

Joe Girardi walked, and Knoblauch struck out. Derek Jeter then lofted a fly ball to the gap in right-center that Ramirez appeared to have a good chance of catching. But Ramirez completely misjudged the ball, turning his back from home plate at the warning track and leaping into the wall while the ball hit the base of the fence near his feet.

Jeter was awarded a triple, scoring two runs, and Bernie Williams came through with a two-out RBI single to give the Yankees a 9-5 lead.

"You can't give any big league team extra outs and expect to win, much less a team of the caliber and talent of the Yankees," Indian Manager Mike Hargrove said. "I didn't see a replay of the ball to right. I didn't think there was anything weird that happened out there, but I didn't see it."

Neither did Ramirez. Fortunately for the Yankees, Brosius saw Alomar's shot down the line in the sixth, and he snagged it for the first out, stifling a potential Indian uprising.

"That was the most important play of the game," Torre said. "That could have put the tying run on second base with no out, but Brosius made a great play. Those things you can't teach. They're instinctive. . . . I never dreamed of how well Scott would play defensively."

Nor would Torre have dreamed that Brosius, who hits eighth or ninth, would hit 19 homers and drive in 98 RBIs during the regular season and rack up three homers and a team-leading nine RBIs in the playoffs.

"I don't care whether he hits seventh, eighth or ninth," Torre said, "he is an integral part of this team, and he's done it all year."

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