Michael Kay remembers a moment, at some point as he was sitting in the Yankee Stadium radio booth that night, when the date occurred to him: Oct. 31, 2001.
That was still before it was a baseball law that every single postseason game had to consume at least four hours, so he realized as soon as the thought entered into his head: “If this game goes past midnight ….” But he didn’t plan on needing to use the two-word slogan that instantly popped in there soon afterward.
Now, it was inching toward midnight. It was the 10th inning of Game 4 of the 2001 World Series, and what had been a terrific, well-played series between the Yankees and the Diamondbacks had already taken its first step toward the surreal an inning earlier when, with Arizona up 3-1 in the game and one out away from going up 3-1 in the Series, Tino Martinez had slammed a two-run homer off Byung-Hyun Kim, driving Paul O’Neill ahead of him. Yankee Stadium, which by then had already become the home office for October chills, nearly burst from the foundation.
Kim, still in the game in the 10th, retired Scott Brosius and Alfonso Soriano quickly on fly balls. Up stepped Derek Jeter. Kay, still cognizant of his earlier thought, then spotted a kindred spirit among the crowd of 55,863 as he delivered his play-by-play.
Kay didn’t quote it as he kept up his play-by-play. But he recognized the familiar words.
“I saw a guy in the stands hold up a sign when the clock hit midnight that read Mr. November,” Kay, then one of the Yankees’ radio voices and now the longtime lead announcer on YES telecasts, recalled a few days ago. That was the two-word slogan Kay had thought up hours earlier.
Then Jeter swung his bat.
“Then,” Kay says, “when Jeter hit the home run, it just came out.”
If you lived through that time in New York, it seems almost impossible that 20 years could have passed, because in the moment, every day from Sept. 11 on felt as if it lasted a month. The city was still an open wound as Oct. 31 morphed into Nov. 1. Mike Piazza had done his share to help salve the city’s soul at its other ballpark on Sept. 21. The Yankees, as a whole, had done theirs, simply by winning: They cane back from 0-2 down against the Athletics in the Division Series (highlighted by Jeter’s famous flip play) and took down the 116-win Mariners in the ALCS.
But they were aging, and they were hurting, and it seemed they were primed to be doused in sobering reality until Martinez’s blast. And then Jeter added his, a classic old-Stadium, inside-outer to right field.
And a good World Series was suddenly an epic.
A day later, thanks to Brosius duplicating Tino, it became even more epic.
But this was the moment, really, that crystallized everything, partly because it was Jeter, partly because it was a few minutes past midnight, and it wasn’t just Kay and the smart guy in the stands who thought about what that meant. It felt as if all of New York stood up in that instant and shouted “MR. NOVEMBER!”
That was 20 years ago Sunday into Monday. How is that even possible?
“Derek found a way,” O’Neill said that night, shaking his head, “because Derek always finds a way.”
The Yankees, of course, didn’t write the final ending to that script that everyone in New York — everyone, seemingly, outside of Phoenix — wanted. Twenty years ago this coming week, the Diamondbacks somehow recovered from getting kneecapped on back-to-back nights, won Game 6 and Game 7, won the world championship in their fourth year of existence. It is a loss that still galls Yankees fans.
But before the end came the escapes. And highlighting those two nights at Yankee Stadium was the night Mr. November joined Mr. October in Yankees lexicon.
“We have confidence every time someone steps to the plate, that they’re going to do something big,” Jeter said that night. “Everyone has had their moments on this team.”
Never one quite like that. Never one quite like the moment when Mr. November was born. Twenty years ago. How is that even possible?
It sure would make for an extra-fun winter around here if your St. John’s Johnnies have the kind of season it looks like they are capable of having. And as we know before they even throw a ball up in anger: Coach Mike Anderson’s going to have them playing an awfully fun brand of ball.
Well, that sure was quite a twist, “Morning Show.”
Joe Buck is so good at what he does it almost seems like you’ve stepped into a bizarre alternate universe when you hear some people insist he is bad at what he does. He can call every big game for the next 25 years, from where I sit.
I don’t think the Giants will beat the Chiefs on Monday night. But I do think if they can score early, and get the Arrowhead crowd murmuring … the Chiefs are like any other bully: Stand up to them, and it could get interesting.
Whack Back at Vac
Frank Giordano: It looks like the Jets’ head coach might be in over his head. The offensive coordinator is definitely in over his head. Does anyone miss Adam Gase?
Vac: I’m not sure there’s quite a nostalgic yearning for Coach Gase yet. “Yet” being the key word there.
Alan Hirschberg: Has Steve Cohen considered ZipRecruiter?
Vac: As everyone’s grandmother has said at one time or another: “It couldn’t hurt.”
@Stoney5UConn: Doc Rivers isn’t happy with your ranking of him at 66 apparently! He thought three or four (LOL).
@MikeVacc: Every time Doc pays a visit to the Garden, it really can make you downright wistful that his association with the Knicks only lasted two years. Should’ve played here longer. Should’ve coached here. Should’ve announced a few games on MSG-TV. Sigh.
Alan Swartz: Do you think that Hal Steinbrenner is content with fielding a viable, competitive team and making money; or does he really want to win the World Series? I am beginning to believe the former.
Vac: I think Hal wants to win the World Series very badly. I do think he is missing either the nerve — or, depending on your point of view, the recklessness — of his old man.