The thought has occurred to David Cone that his start tonight in Game 2 of the World Series might end up being his last as a New York Yankee. And by stifling the Atlanta Braves for seven innings in a 7-2 New York victory, Cone made that possibility a little greater.
While the possibility of Cone returning to the Yankees in 2000 remains up in the air, the chances of this series returning to Atlanta next weekend for Game 6 seem remote. The Yankees took a 2-0 lead in the best-of-seven series tonight, and can wrap it up in New York before Cone's turn comes up again in the rotation.
Cone, who becomes a free agent after this season, matched the feat of teammate Orlando "El Duque" Hernandez on Saturday night, snuffing the Braves over seven scoreless, one-hit innings. In five World Series starts, Cone is 2-0 with a 2.15 earned run average.
Cone, who has struggled with a balky shoulder at times this season, has become dependent on getting plenty of rest, and tonight he was pitching on nine days' worth. Cone had last pitched Oct. 14 in the ALCS against Boston, going seven innings and getting the win in a 3-2 victory. He pitched that game on 12 days' rest.
"I felt strong, almost too strong," Cone said. "The extra rest has really helped put some life back in my arm."
The Braves retooled their lineup in an effort to revive their moribund offense, inserting shortstop Ozzie Guillen (a career .378 hitter against Cone), second baseman Keith Lockhart and catcher Greg Myers.
But at this point, it hardly seems to matter whom the Braves send out there. And it hardly seems to matter whom the Yankees send to the mound. Yankees starters have allowed two or fewer earned runs in all but one start in this postseason. The Braves are hitting .121 in the series.
With his fastball moving and his splitter diving on the edges of the plate, Cone was clearly in command from the start. Staked to an early lead, he used it to his advantage, preying on the anxiousness of the Braves' hitters, who hit the majority of their balls in play off either the ends or fists of their bats.
There was also one particular piece of luck that benefited Cone and that could have changed everything had it gone the other way. Brian Jordan's long drive to left field with a runner on base in the first inning died at the warning track. Had it gone into the seats, Cone would have given back two of three runs his Yankees teammates scored for him in the top of the inning.
The Braves' most successful strategy against Cone was keeping their bats on their shoulders. Cone walked the leadoff hitter three times in his seven innings, and walked five batters in all, but none of them scored.
"He walks the tightrope every now and then," Yankees Manager Joe Torre said. "At one point I said, 'Why don't you just start from the stretch?' He put men on base and then he pitched better from the stretch. His splitter was good tonight, and he threw some good backdoor sliders."
Cone blamed the wildness on the same extra rest that helps his arm stay strong. "I'd rather be strong and a little wild than the converse," he said, "coming in a little hurting or flat."
Cone finally gave up a hit to Myers leading off the fifth, but quickly erased him by coaxing a double-play grounder from Andruw Jones.
Tonight marked Cone's first scoreless outing since throwing the 15th perfect game in baseball history against Montreal on July 18. He struggled in the final weeks of the regular season, going 1-2 with a 6.62 ERA in his last seven starts.
Cone has always pitched well against the Braves, toting a 10-3 lifetime record and 2.67 ERA against them into tonight's game. Most recently, he beat Tom Glavine in Game 3 of the 1996 World Series, starting the Yankees toward four straight victories that wiped out a 2-0 Braves lead.
Cone admitted the thought of his final start in Yankees pinstripes has crossed his mind in recent days. "The Yankees have some tough decisions to make. I put it out of mind for now, but it's pretty unpredictable when you play for the Yankees," he said.