Saturday, October 21, 2000

How will it play off Broadway?




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        NEW YORK - Out in the hinterlands, beyond the Hudson, Joe Torre hears America yawning.

        The manager of the New York Yankees recognizes that the Subway Series is largely a local story. If there's anything the heartland likes less than new taxes, it's New York.

        The World Series that matches the Yankees and Mets might leave a lot of fans to start rooting for the umpires. It also might lead a lot of fans to start lamenting what they've been missing.

Special atmosphere
        Minutes after his Atlanta Braves had lost the 1996 World Series, Greg Maddux stood before his locker at Yankee Stadium and remarked on how exciting it had been to pitch in a place with so much energy. Earlier this week, when the Mets and Yankees clinched the pennant on successive nights, spectators in the upper decks could feel the stands shaking.

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        Baseball is not inherently better in New York City, but it is infinitely more passionate than the game played in other ballparks. When a New York pitcher gets two strikes on an opposing hitter — even if it's the second inning — the fans are on their feet screaming for a strikeout. They regard a 2-and-0 count on a hometown hitter as a sign of an imminent rally. New York fans are extremely vocal, often vulgar and sometimes violent, but their collective buzz makes a game in Cincinnati seem about as stirring as a three-hour harp recital.

        Lord only knows how loud things will get in days ahead.

        “There are sections of other parts of the country where you might get a yawn because they're anti-New Yorkers,” Torre said Friday. “They say: "Good. Have it. Keep it there.' But we have so many people who follow us, and there are New Yorkers all over the world.

        “They just feel that we belong to them and that this deserves a big top in the spotlight that it's going to have.”

        The Yankees are chasing a third straight championship, a feat last accomplished by the Oakland A's between 1972-74. The Mets seek the validation no other opponent possibly could provide. Even if the two teams played on opposite coasts, the stakes would be significant. Because of their proximity, the stakes carry subtext.

        “I think a lot of people, or most people, expect us to win or say we should win because we have the experience and stuff like that,” said Yankees starter Andy Pettitte. “I think if we win, we were supposed to win. If we lose, then the Mets did an unbelievable job.”

One man's pick: Yanks
        If the Mets win, it probably will be because their left-handed starters — Al Leiter and Mike Hampton — dominate the Yankees' big left-handed bats: David Justice, Tino Martinez and Paul O'Neill. If the Yankees win, it probably will be because their starters pitched long enough to eliminate Torre's reliance on his ruinous middle relief. (Prediction: Yankees in seven. Disclaimer: I usually pick the Braves.)

        For baseball to win, the games must be good enough to appeal to fans with no built-in allegiance. Morbid curiosity should help the ratings for Sunday's Game 2, when Mike Piazza returns to the plate against Roger Clemens. But sustaining interest will depend on drama. The Subway Series cannot succeed on the tunnel vision of New Yorkers.

        The hinterlands must pick up on the passion, too.

        “I don't care if they don't care,” said Mets third baseman Robin Ventura. “I'm looking at it selfishly. I'm still going to have fun.”

        Yawn at your own risk.

        E-mail: tsullivan@enquirer.com.

       



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