ATLANTA — ATLANTA -- Andy Pettite refused to watch the end of Game 5 of the World Series last night, looking away, the way a child
might hide his eyes from a horror movie. Pettitte was afraid of the nightmare that might occur.
He missed a happy ending. New York right fielder Paul O'Neill made a running, lunging catch of a line drive by pinch hitter Luis Polonia, saving the 1-0 victory for Pettitte -- the third straight win Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium for the Yankees, who lead the World Series, three games to two,
The Yankees, earning a record eighth consecutive postseason road victory, go back to New York needing to only win one of the final two games to win their first championship in 18 years.
Pettitte gave up only five hits over 8 1/3 innings, out-dueling Braves ace John Smoltz; the only run Smoltz allowed was unearned, after Gold Glove center fielder Marquis Grissom dropped a ball amid confusion with right fielder Jermaine Dye in the fourth inning.
"I've never seen him [Grissom] miss one, ever," said Braves manager Bobby Cox, who has seen a lot of the unimaginable over the last three days: Tom Glavine losing Game 3; the Braves blowing a six-run lead in Game 4; Atlanta losing three straight at home.
They came within inches of winning last night's game, and may have, if not for a late adjustment by Yankees coach Jose Cardenal.
Pettitte, who bombed badly in Game 1, pitched so well last night that Yankees manager Joe Torre let him bat in the eighth inning, so he could pitch in the ninth.
He had only allowed four hits as the Braves came to bat in the ninth. But Chipper Jones lined a double into the left-field corner to lead off, and Jones moved to third on Fred McGriff's grounder to first.
Torre replaced Pettitte with closer John Wetteland, to face the right-handed hitting Javy Lopez. The Yankees' infield came in, and when Lopez grounded to third, Charlie Hayes smothered the ball and Jones had to hold.
Ryan Klesko pinch hit for Andruw Jones, Cox hoping Klesko might win the game with a home run. But Torre surprised Cox by ordering Wetteland to intentionally walk the slugger, putting the potential winning run on base, so Wetteland could pitch to Dye, a rookie.
Polonia stepped out of the dugout to pinch hit, a fastball hitter against the hard-throwing Wetteland. The Yankees' closer pumped one fastball, then another, and was ahead in the count, no balls and two strikes. Pettitte sat in the dugout, leaning forward, eyes down. "I was just praying for John," he said.
Polonia fouled off a two-strike pitch, then another, and Cardenal stepped up in the Yankees' dugout. Wetteland was throwing nothing but fastballs, and Cardenal remembered how the left-handed hitting Polonia always had shown his best power to left field. Cardenal waved all the outfielders a couple of steps over, right to left.
Klesko broke for second on the next pitch, and Polonia fouled it off. The at-bat, O'Neill said, "felt like it was taking forever."
Wetteland came back with another fastball, the seventh straight, and again Klesko broke from first. Polonia whacked a liner toward right-center field. "He kept throwing me fastballs over and over and over," said Polonia, "and I got a hold of one."
At that instant, everybody on both benches knew if the ball dropped between O'Neill and center fielder Bernie Williams, Klesko, already nearing second, would score. "If that ball falls in," said Hayes, "the game is over."
O'Neill, bothered by a leg problems for months, glided toward right-center, feeling as if he would make the catch easily. But it kept going, sailing, farther than he thought. Pettitte glanced up from his seat on the bench, and between some of his teammates standing in front of him, he could see the play develop -- the ball, O'Neill running. Pettitte remembers looking away, at teammates, searching for a reaction.
"The ball just took off on me," said O'Neill. "All you want to do is get there, that's all you're thinking about."
And he did, with one last extension of his body. Pettitte saw his teammates leap, in a burst of emotion, and he did, too.
"That would've been the highlight of my career right there, coming from behind and beating the Yankees," said Polonia. "I'll probably get a chance again when we play over there [in Yankee Stadium]."
The Yankees will return home needing only one more victory. Left-hander Jimmy Key will try to wrap up the title against four-time Cy Young Award winner Greg Maddux in Game 6 tomorrow night.
Every time the Braves make a mistake in this series, the Yankees pounce on it. Glavine allowed a leadoff walk to start Game 3, and the Yankees scored. Shortstop Jeff Blauser made an error, the Yankees scored. Dye couldn't catch a foul pop in right-field foul territory in Game 4 and the Yankees followed with three runs.
Last night, Hayes lined a ball into the right-center-field gap leading off the fourth, and Grissom and Dye converged on it quickly, Grissom going deeper, Dye in front. Grissom yelled for the ball, glanced to see where Dye was, and looked up for the ball again. He appeared to be pulling away from the play, perhaps leery of running into Dye, when he reached down to make a basket catch. The ball bounced off Grissom's hands and away, and Hayes cruised into second on the two-base error.
"I made an error and that's that," said Grissom. "I couldn't hear anything, people were screaming."
The opportunistic Yankees struck again: Hayes eventually scored when Cecil Fielder blistered a line drive to left for a double, scorching the wall and scoring Hayes with the game's first run.
The run stood up, through the early innings, as Pettitte shackled the Braves. In Game 1, Pettitte had relied too much on his fastball, Yankees pitching coach Mel Stottlemyre said, and didn't use his slider and changeup enough. Pettitte showed in the first two innings he had learned from his lesson and adjusted, striking out Atlanta's first two hitters on sliders.
"I thought I had great stuff," Pettitte said. "As long as I didn't try to change anything or do anything different, I was going to be all right."
He didn't give up his first hit until the fifth, a single by Andruw Jones. The Braves threatened in the sixth, with back-to-back singles to start the inning, but Pettitte fielded a bunt bare-handed and threw out a runner at third, and then started a double play.
He had done everything possible to win by the ninth inning, but he couldn't bring himself to watch. Friends and family and Yankees fans will be telling him about the ending for years.
New York Yankees vs. Atlanta Braves
Best of seven
(Yankees lead series 3-2)
Last night: Yankees, 1-0
Game 1: Braves, 12-1
Game 2: Braves, 4-0
Game 3: Yankees, 5-2
Game 4: Yankees, 8-6, 10 inn.
Tomorrow: Braves' Greg Maddux (18-12, 2.56) at Yankees' Jimmy Key (13-12, 4.59), 8: 01
Sunday*: at New York, 7: 35
*- If necessary
TV/Radio: Chs. 45, 5/ WBAL (1090 AM)
Pub Date: 10/25/96