By Mike Vaccaro
What I’ll always remember most are the eyes: eyes belonging to professional baseball players, who aren’t supposed to be impressed by much and are surprised by even less. Eyes filling a clubhouse containing men who had already won three consecutive World Series and 11 consecutive playoff series and were already being listed among the greatest dynasties of all time.
And yet late on the night of Nov. 1, 2001, and early in the morning of Nov. 2, those eyes were all rheumy and moist and wide with wonder. Even the Yankees couldn’t believe what they’d just seen, and done. Even the Yankees couldn’t quite fathom that, a night after Tino Martinez had rescued them with a two-out, two-run home run in the bottom of the ninth inning in Game 4, Scott Brosius had done the same exact thing, taken Byung-Hyun Kim deep and sent Yankee Stadium into the kind of frothy frenzy that you can still summon in your ears, and your memory, all these years later.
I remember it especially well because it is the only time in 20 years as a newspaperman that I’ve ever blown an edition. I was working for the Newark Star-Ledger at the time, and had written a “running” column which described how valiantly the Yankees had fought in losing and going down three games to two in the Series, and I’d done so without composing a backup “early” column in case it didn’t work out that way.
But it was clear: lightning had struck once the night before.
Couldn’t happen again.
And then it did.
I had already left the press box to stand outside the Yankees clubhouse, to avoid the rush and the crush of postgame. There was a TV monitor set up there, which was on a four-or-five second delay. Which helped add to the surreal nature of the moment, because Kim was still in the stretch position on TV when suddenly there emerged from the tunnel leading to the home dugout a roar that defied explanation. And could mean only one thing.
“Holy bleep,” I said to no one in particular.
“No bleeping way,” another eloquent observer squealed.
“You’ve got to be bleeping bleeping me!” another elegant man of letters roared.
And then we saw on TV what the 55,000 on the other side of the dugout had just seen: Brosius laying into one, releasing the bat, raising his arms, unleashing the kind of primal joy that defies description. It had only been a few days earlier when Derek Jeter, talking about one of his favorite subjects, had said, “Just wait until the ghosts start acting up around here.”
And then they had.
And you know what’s funny? It really doesn’t matter that the ghosts didn’t make the trip back to Arizona with them two days later, that Game 5 would be the last game the Yankees would win in 2001, that they would lose Game 7 in a manner every bit as excruciating. Because for so many, Game 5 would stand alone as a moment in time when baseball – and, appropriately, Yankee Stadium – would be a part of something greater than themselves.
Obviously, there was the still-smoldering wreckage at Ground Zero adding poignancy to the picture. There were millions of grieving New Yorkers, and tens of millions of hurting Americans, who turned to baseball in that time, a way to spend three hours away from the brutality of reality. All of that probably explains the foundation-shaking din that emerged from the throats of those 55,000 fans.
And, of course, it was also just one hell of a baseball moment.
My favorite of all time, regardless of where it had happened. It just happened to happen in the only place it should have happened.