On Nov. 4, 2001, Randy Johnson, the Arizona Diamondbacks' legendary left-hander, made a dramatic entrance from the bullpen to the mound in the eighth inning of Game 7 of the World Series, roughly 24 hours after throwing seven innings and 103 pitches in a Game 6 victory. It was heroic enough for Johnson even to take the ball in that situation, and more so when he secured the final four outs to earn the victory in the game that officially ended the New York Yankees' dynasty.
As fate would have it, Johnson is now a member of the Yankees, who still have not truly rebounded from that 2001 defeat, and the pieces are in place for him to make a similar relief appearance in a similarly desperate situation -- only this time, Johnson needs his team's trust at least as much as his team needs his arm.
"We're at the crossroads," Johnson said Saturday, a day after a disastrous postseason debut for his new team in an 11-7 loss Friday night, "where we need to win to stay alive."
Saturday's scheduled Game 4 of the American League Division Series between the Yankees and the Los Angeles Angels was called off some three hours before game time because of persistent showers. With the Angels maintaining a 2-1 lead in the best-of-five series, Game 4 will now be played Sunday at 7:55 p.m. at Yankee Stadium, with Game 5, if necessary, in Anaheim, Calif., on Monday night.
Should a Game 5 be necessary, the winner of that game would be forced to take a late-night flight immediately after the game with an early-morning arrival in Chicago, where Game 1 of the AL Championship Series begins Tuesday night. The White Sox are there awaiting, hungry but well-rested.
"It's unfortunate," Yankees General Manager Brian Cashman said of the potentially grueling travel schedule. "Let's hope we have to worry about it."
"This time of year," said Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter, with a shrug, "you're playing on adrenaline anyway."
Both teams chose to push back Saturday's scheduled starting pitchers by a day. New York's Shawn Chacon and the Angels' Jarrod Washburn will now square off Sunday night, with a potential Game 5 pitting Mike Mussina vs. Bartolo Colon -- the former of whom remained on the west coast following Game 2, and the latter of whom was expected to head west Saturday, ahead of his team.
"I don't think you ever have a club on the ropes," Angels Manager Mike Scioscia said, when asked about his team's lead. "You have a club on the ropes when you're squeezing the last out and you're clinching" the series.
The rainout gave both teams a chance to replenish their bullpens and could alter the sequence of their relief pitchers in the remaining games. In the most intriguing scenario, it leaves open the possibility that Johnson could redeem himself for Friday night's awful performance -- three-plus innings, nine hits, five earned runs -- by pitching out of the bullpen in either Game 4 or, more likely, in a potential Game 5.
"When you're up against it like we are now," Yankees Manager Joe Torre said, "we certainly look for a show of hands, and we'll take whatever help we can get. . . . [Johnson] has done this before, where he has volunteered for bullpen work."
Johnson said he is less inclined to volunteer for bullpen duty than to wait until he is asked by Torre or pitching coach Mel Stottlemyre. "I'll leave that up to them," he said. "I'm not slated to pitch. That's up to Joe Torre." However, Johnson added, "I've never turned the ball down."
Johnson's first postseason start in pinstripes hardly could have gone worse. He gave up a three-run homer to Garret Anderson in the first inning, a two-run homer to Bengie Molina in the third and failed to record an out in the fourth inning before being yanked. His final exit from the mound was accompanied by a vicious round of boos, and in Johnson's absence, the Yankees' bullpen collapsed, putting the team on the brink of elimination.
"They should remember that [Johnson] went 8-0 [actually 6-0] down the stretch to get us here," said first baseman Jason Giambi, himself a recipient of boos from the home crowd at times during his Yankees career. "Sometimes they can forget real fast around here. If he didn't do what he did for us down the stretch, we wouldn't be in position to even make the playoffs."
But as Giambi knows full well, in the Bronx the regular season is about as significant as the Grapefruit League season is to other teams. And as for Johnson, he has already ended the Yankees' season once in his career. Fair or not, should the Yankees lose one of their next two games, he will be remembered for eternity in these parts for ending it again.