Just when the New York Yankees seem to have exhausted every inspiring, miraculous and improbable path to victory, they find one more way. It's a reliever who hasn't pitched in almost a month. It's an outfielder who was almost left off their World Series roster. It's a comeback against one of baseball's best pitchers.
The Yankees did all of those things and more tonight in Game 3 of the 1999 World Series, rallying from a four-run deficit to defeat the Atlanta Braves, 6-5, in the bottom of the 10th inning in front of a roaring crowd of 56,794 at Yankee Stadium.
Second baseman Chuck Knoblauch tied the game in the bottom of the eighth with a quirky two-run home run that bounced off the glove of Braves right fielder Brian Jordan and into the seats.
Left fielder Chad Curtis won it in the 10th with his second home run of the game, a towering shot off Atlanta reliever Mike Remlinger. Curtis finished an evening when the Yankees spotted the Braves a 5-1 lead and got back in it with an combination of resiliency mixed with a bit of luck.
"I felt like there was electricity running through my legs as I was rounding the bases," Curtis said. "When you round third and see your teammates waiting for you at home, it's a great feeling."
When the Yankees were done, the Braves were almost done. The Yankees lead the best-of-seven series 3-0 and can win their 25th championship Wednesday night when they send Roger Clemens to the mound against Atlanta's John Smoltz.
"Good things keep happening to us," Yankees Manager Joe Torre said. "I'm still amazed and yet I'm not amazed. We grind. We play nine innings. I think that's the highest compliment I can pay our ballclub."
The Yankees constantly remind people that this team is different than the Yankees of past years that had Lou Gehrig and Babe Ruth in one era and Mickey Mantle and Yogi Berra in another. But these Yankees have accomplished great things, too.
They're one victory away from winning their third World Series in four years, and tonight was their 11th straight World Series victory--the second-longest streak of all time. On a gorgeous night in the Bronx when the Braves had a 5-1 lead and Tom Glavine on the mound, the Yankees kept at it until they'd finally had their 10th victory in 11 postseason games in 1999.
"What a great day," Yankees outfielder Paul O'Neill said. "A lot of teams pack up when they're down 5-1. We just kept chipping away at it. You look up, and we're back in the game. We've had so many games like this that you start thinking it's going to happen."
Yankees starter Andy Pettitte dug his team a hole by allowing five runs in 3 2/3 innings. "I just never found my rhythm," he said.
His team found its rhythm. Reliever Jason Grimsley, who was left off the roster the first two rounds of the playoffs, made his World Series debut by following Pettitte's shaky performance with 2 1/3 shutout innings. Then came Jeff Nelson for two shutout innings and closer Mariano Rivera for two.
"I don't know how to explain how great this was," Grimsley said. "It's similar to the feeling I had the first time I walked on the field. It's something you play your whole life to experience. It's a dream realized."
Curtis, who was almost left off the roster in favor of Shane Spencer, homered off Glavine to make it 5-2 in the fifth. Martinez homered off Glavine to make it 5-3 in the seventh. Those home runs put the Yankees within striking distance, which is usually close enough.
Braves Manager Bobby Cox may forever second-guess himself for staying with Glavine too long. Glavine missed his scheduled start in Game 1 with severe flu-like symptoms. He'd lost between five to seven pounds and was back on the mound after three days of a diet consisting mostly of soup and crackers.
"Tommy Glavine was throwing great," Cox said. "I know everybody's going to ask why you left him in, this and that. But Tommy was throwing great. We got beat with a popup to right field, a Yankee Stadium home run. They hit three of them tonight."
Yet Cox trusted his former Cy Young Award winner for one inning too many. Yankees catcher Joe Girardi led off the eighth with a single, and Knoblauch followed by lofting a long fly to right. Jordan then made a play that will be watched again and again for years. He got back to the wall, and leaped for the ball that bounced in and out of his glove and into the seats.
The Yankees had gotten lucky because Jordan is one of the National League's better outfielders. Knoblauch also had hit the ball to the shallowest part of Yankee Stadium.
"It was a 315 1/2 foot pop fly," Glavine said. "The ball is not a home run anywhere else but here. But we both play in the same park."
Rivera entered the game in the top of the ninth, and after two shutout innings, Curtis got another pitch he could handle. A day earlier, Braves third baseman Chipper Jones said Game 3 was crucial because "the Yankees can sense the kill."
Now, behind Clemens Wednesday night, the Yankees are hoping for the kill. No team has ever lost a World Series after winning the first three games, and the Yankees aren't likely to be the first.
"This one was a big one to lose," Cox said. "We were going to get back in this thing. We will give it everything we've got, but we've got to run the table."
Remlinger, who allowed the game-winning home run, said: "You've got to look in the mirror and ask if you want to fight or quit. It's a challenge."