LEYRITZ’S BOMB HEATS UP SERIES

ATLANTA — You would think, on a night this chilly, that Mark Wohlers would bring the heat. He was throwing fastballs near 100 m.p.h., fast enough to take the head off a scarecrow — maybe even a live player, if he stood there for it — and he had Jim Leyritz, the Yankees catcher, flailing away.

Leyritz was sure looking for heat Wednesday night. He had just come off the bench, late in this game, late in the season for the Yankees, who were staring at a 6-3 deficit, and, unless something amazing happened soon, a 3-1 hole in the World Series. It was a lot to ask of Leyritz, still shaking off the stiffness of inactivity, to get the wood on a comet from Wohlers.

Then, all of a sudden, Wohlers let up.

He threw a slider. Leyritz fouled it off. Wohlers threw another slider. It was high. Maybe by this time, Leyritz was thinking, “Wait a minute.” Maybe he was thinking, “Who loves me up there?”

Whatever he was thinking, he was certainly thinking slider when Wohlers let another one go. And Leyritz swung the swing that would send a slider out of here, and off it went, high into the cold, dark night, and Andruw Jones chased it out in leftfield, chased it up the wall, chased it into a climb, and a leap — he was Spiderman out there — and he still couldn’t get it. The ball carried over the wall, and Leyritz pumped a fist and followed two runners around the bases. You could feel the thump of New Yorkers dancing all the way down here on Peachtree Street.

The game was tied.

But that wasn’t the biggest surprise. . . . Cox gambled and lost

You would think, with two outs and runners on first and second, that you wouldn’t look to walk a batter. Not with the game tied. Not in the 10th inning. But that is what Braves manager Bobby Cox told Taylor’s Steve Avery to do, with Bernie Williams at the plate and the game on the line. Williams hadn’t had a hit all night, but Cox must have figured he’d play the averages. He knew that, across the field, Joe Torre was pretty much out of players. So he had Avery walk Williams. Bases loaded. Intentionally. And out came the last man for the Yankees.

His name was Wade Boggs.

Yes, that Wade Boggs. The same Wade Boggs who used to draw the intentional walks with Boston. The same Wade Boggs who had 10 consecutive .300 seasons. The same Wade Boggs who is one of the smartest, most consistent hitters ever to play the game. He is 38 now. And he hasn’t had much of a Series.

But he is still Wade Boggs.

He had been sitting on the bench all night, watching every other hitter in a Yankees uniform get in the game before him. You have to think he was insulted, like the last kid chosen in a pickup game. Heck, they even considered putting pitcher David Cone in there before him. Now, here he was, with all that experience, crouching over the plate. Maybe Cox and the Braves figured he wouldn’t get a hit. And maybe they were right.

But he had something else to offer. His eyes.

He took a ball. He took a strike. He fouled off a pitch and was one strike away from extinction. He worked Avery. Worked him like the master he is. Drew another ball low, and another outside.

And finally, with the count full, Boggs waited, and Avery threw and he was high, up around the shoulders, and Wade Boggs, last kid in the pickup game, trotted to first base, and the winning run trotted home.

But that wasn’t the biggest surprise. . . . Drastic turn took awhile The biggest surprise is that the Yankees are now all the way back in this Series. Three days ago, the trip to Atlanta seemed like a big waste of travel budget. New York had been thumped twice in Yankee Stadium, and outscored, 16-1.

Now, here the Yankees were, not only tying the Series, but doing it in historic fashion. This was the longest games in World Series history, four hours and 17 minutes. The 6-0 lead the Braves had enjoyed was the largest deficit ever overcome by a Yankees team in the World Series — and they’ve been in an awful lot of them. It was the biggest deficit overcome in a World Series by any team in 40 years.

And what had been dull, was now drama. What had been a fait accompli was now a wait and see. The Yankees did that, on a night when their starting pitcher, Kenny Rogers, was more reminiscent of the country singer. He knew when to fold ’em. He lasted two innings, forcing Torre to use just about every live body on his bench. For a while there, I thought he might stick in Don Zimmer at catcher.

So the Series is tied. What does it mean?

It means you can never discount experience, such as Boggs. You can never overlook a lesser name, like Leyritz. You can never count on your reputation, and you can never read your headlines.

When the game was over, Cox was asked about his moves. Taking out Mike Bielecki, who had struck out the side.

“It was the smart thing to do,” Cox insisted.

And walking Williams to get to Boggs?

“The smart thing to do,” he said again.

Outside, a small mob of Yankees fans was singing to the camera lights.
“Here we go, Yankees, here we go!”

What happens now?

Cox bit his lip. “We’ll bounce back.”

Just the fact that he was saying that sentence? That may be the biggest surprise of all.

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