Sunday, October 22, 2000

Vizcaino joins Yankee lore

        NEW YORK — Jose Vizcaino bounded toward first base like a small child on a trampoline. There was a spring in his step and an expression on his face of distilled ecstacy.

        He had ended the longest World Series game ever played and added his name to the ever-lengthening lore of the New York Yankees. In an instant, with a single swing, the part-time infielder morphed from a fringe player to a famous one. His two-out, 12th-inning, bases-loaded single off the Turk Wendell settled the first game of the Subway Series, 4-3.

        It was the goggled hitter's fourth hit of his first World Series game —- his first post-season start for the Yankees. If he never gets another hit, Jose Vizcaino will have a swell story for his old age.

Jose Vizcaino leaps after tagging first.
(AP photo)
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        “He had one hell of a night,” said Yankees manager Joe Torre.

        It is one of the oddities of October that the best teams often depend on bit players. Along with Babe Ruth and Joe DiMaggio and Mickey Mantle and Reggie Jackson, the Yankee dynasty has endured because of the bottom-of-the-order bats of people like Bucky Dent, Brian Doyle, Scott Brosius and Jose Vizcaino.

        Baseball is not like other team sports. Unlike basketball or football or (to some extent) hockey, you can not pick which person gets the opportunity with the game on the line. Had Saturday's game gone taken a slightly different course — had the Yankees needed an extra-base hit to tie the game — Jose Vizcaino would have been replaced by a pinch hitter in the bottom of the ninth inning.

        Instead, two outs from a 3-2 loss, he contributed a bases-loading single which afforded Chuck Knoblauch the chance to tie the game with a sacrifice fly. He singled again in the 11th inning, only to be stranded at third base. Had he not put an end to the proceedings at 1:04 a.m, the Yankees would have left the winning run in scoring position four innings in succession.

        “I was really comfortable,” said Vizcaino. “I was feeling pretty good at the plate tonight and I was happy that I was able to get the clutch hit. In that situation, he (Wendell) wanted to get the first pitch for a strike.”

        Vizcaino lined that first pitch into left field, then floated to first base with a clenched fist raised to the sky. Jeter jumped over the dugout rail to embrace him. As the other Yankees surrounded their surprising star, those with a numerological bent might have noticed that the team's World Series winning streak matched Vizcaino's uniform number: 13.

        This was one of those games where both sides begin to doubt themselves. The Yankees had to start wondering how many opportunities they would squander. The Mets had to leave lamenting both their luck and their bullpen.

        With two outs in the sixth inning of a still-scoreless game, Mets first baseman Todd Zeile hit a two-out drive toward the left-field stands. Maybe an inch short of a two-run homer, the ball struck the top of the wall and returned to the field of play.

        Timo Perez, barely jogging around second base in the belief the ball was gone, realized too late it had been retrieved and was thrown out at the plate on a remarkable relay from David Justice to Derek Jeter to Yankee catcher Jorge Posada.

        When Justice doubled home two runs in the bottom of the sixth, Perez' failure to run hard seemed a devastating blunder. When the Mets rallied for three runs in the seventh, Perez' mistake robbed them of the insurance run they would later need.

        Mets reliever Armando Benitez, entrusted with a 3-2 lead in the ninth inning, retired Posada, but walked Paul O'Neill. He then allowed successive singles by pinch hitter Luis Polonia and Vizcaino to fill the bases for Knoblauch's game-tying fly ball.

        The Mets' bullpen depth had been considered superior entering the series. But Yankees' relievers pitched 5 1/3 scoreless innings with no margin for error.

        “I like to believe we find a way to win,” Torre said.

        When you win, you believe whatever you want.


Associated Press coverage

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