New York Yankees outfielder Chad Curtis homered into the bullpen to lead off the 10th inning and carry the defending world champions to a 6-5 comeback victory at Yankee Stadium that put the 1999 baseball season on 24 hours notice.
The sudden-death moonshot off reliever Mike Remlinger was Curtis' second home run of the game and the fourth for the Yankees, who took a commanding 3-0 lead in the best-of-seven Fall Classic. No major-league team has ever overcome a three-game deficit to win a postseason series, and there is little reason to think the Braves will be the first.
They suddenly bear a striking resemblance to the 1998 San Diego Padres, who lasted just four rounds with the Yankees in last year's World Series. Future Hall of Famer Roger Clemens can wrap up the third pinstriped world title in four years with a strong performance in Game 4 against veteran John Smoltz.
"We still have our rotation intact," said Braves manager Bobby Cox. "It's still possible. We've won four games in a row before. Not in the World Series, of course. Tonight would have been really nice, but we just have to keep going."
The Yankees continued a long tradition of unsung postseason heroes. Curtis wasn't even a sure thing to be on their roster, but he had the night of his life in his first World Series start.
"It was special," Curtis said. "I know I have never hit a walk-off home run in the regular season. I've heard people talk about the feeling. When I rounded second base, I felt a sort of electricity in my legs. Then to round third and see my teammates coming out to greet me. It was just a great feeling."
It was the night of the little guy. Diminutive second baseman Chuck Knoblauch made Curtis' 10th-inning heroics possible when he sliced a game-tying two-run home run that barely got over the right-field fence. "It's always somebody you don't expect," Cox said. "That's the way it is in the World Series. Curtis was the star tonight. Up to that point, it was Scott Brosius in the first two games. It's always somebody like that."
Remlinger did not second-guess himself for the 1-1 changeup that pushed the Braves to the brink of elimination. There was no point. In another year of the Yankee, if it isn't one pitch, it's another.
"I threw him a first-pitch fastball the other night and he popped it up to right," Remlinger said. "Tonight, he fouled it off. I threw him another fastball and missed upstairs. In my mind, there's no better situation to throw a changeup. That's what [catcher] Greg Myers called and that's what I was thinking.
"If I was in the same situation after throwing those same two pitches, I can't say I'd do anything differently in tomorrow night's game. You can tip your hat to him or say bad pitch by me. Whatever. We lost. It doesn't really matter whose fault it is."
But this was the game the Braves could not lose. They had scored just three runs in the first two games, but finally broke out their bats against Yankees starter Andy Pettitte. One out into the fourth inning, they had more hits than they had totaled in the first two games (7) and had a 5-1 lead.
Obviously, the desperate nature of the situation had brought the offense back to life, but only until the Yankees' bullpen took over for Pettitte in the fourth. Jason Grimsley and Jeff Nelson stacked up scoreless innings until closer Mariano Rivera emerged with the extra-inning victory.
The Braves should have seen it coming. The Yankees never go quietly into that Bronx night. They fell behind by four runs and appeared to be firmly under the thumb of Braves left-hander Tom Glavine, but they chipped away and chipped away and finally found their way back into the game.
It started with a bases-empty home run by Curtis in the fifth inning, one of those cue shots to the opposite field that seemed -- at the time -- like a fluke. Then came a more impressive blast by first baseman Tino Martinez in the seventh and the heartbreaking two-run shot by Knoblauch that bounced in and out of the glove of a leaping Brian Jordan in the right-field corner.
"We got beat with a pop-up to right field," Cox said. "A Yankee home run. It went about 315 feet."
Glavine certainly deserved better. He took the mound three days after a severe stomach virus forced him out of the Game 1 assignment, but showed no signs of fatigue as he dominated the Yankees in the early innings.
The Yankees scored a run in the first, but only because another shot by Knoblauch popped out of Jordan's glove for a two-base error. The only hit in the inning was a looper by Paul O'Neill that landed in left field to score Knoblauch.
The first two homers didn't seem particularly troublesome either, but the Yankees obviously had an idea of what they wanted to do against Glavine, who is a master of the outside part of the plate. Curtis went the opposite way and so did Knoblauch, an indication that they were sitting on the outside pitch.
"Glavine has great control, he works the outside part of the plate and then he tries to sneak one in on you once in awhile," Knoblauch said. "I'm just happy I got enough bat on it to get it out of here."
Once again, Cox's managerial strategy would come under scrutiny. He left Glavine in to start the eighth after the well-hit homer by Martinez, even though he said during Monday's workout that he would be happy to get seven innings from the sickly left-hander.
He had Remlinger ready in the eighth, but left Glavine in to give up a sharp opposite-field single to Joe Girardi and the top-of-the-fence shot to Knoblauch.
What is it about the right-field corner? The Knoblauch home run came down within a few feet of where Derek Jeter's game-tying home run was snatched away from Orioles outfielder Tony Tarasco by youthful Yankees fan Jeffrey Maier in the first game of the 1996 American League Championship Series. So it goes.
"I didn't think it was going to get out," Jordan said. "My glove went over and it hit the top of my glove. I was hoping it was in there."
Cox had good reason for holding off on the pitching change. Glavine had thrown only about 70 pitches through the first seven innings, but the decision to leave him out there still set up the longtime Braves manager for another round of second-guessing.
"Tommy thought he was throwing great," Cox said. "I thought he was throwing great. He didn't want to come out of the game."
The Braves have to be wondering what they have to do to get it right. They battered Pettitte for 10 hits in 3 2/3 innings to take a 5-1 lead in the first representative performance by their offense in the series.
They had scored just three runs in the first two games, and they didn't exactly pound the ball in the National League Championship Series either. But the Braves' attack returned for at least part of one evening in New York, led by one of the guys who was dropped from the lineup in Atlanta when Cox was searching for an answer to the club's severe offensive recession.
Second baseman Bret Boone, who was replaced by utility man Keith Lockhart in Game 2, doubled in each of his first three at-bats to lead the early assault, which featured a three-run rally in the third inning.
Pettitte had not been knocked around like this in a postseason game since the Braves greeted him with seven runs in 2 1/3 innings in Game 1 of the 1996 World Series, but he would get off the hook when Knoblauch tied the score in the eighth.
Sun staff writer Roch Kubatko contributed to this article.
Atlanta vs. New York Yankees Yankees lead series 3-0
Last night--Yankees 6, Braves 5, 10 inn.
Game 1--N.Y. 4, Atl. 1
Game 2--N.Y. 7, Atl. 2
Tonight --at New York, 8: 20; Braves (Smoltz, 11-8) vs. Yankees (Clemens 14-11), chs. 11, 4
*Tomorrow--at N.Y., 8: 20 *Saturday--at Atlanta, 8: 05 *Sunday--at Atlanta, 8: 05 *-If necessary
The Yankees' bullpen allowed no runs on four hits over the last 6 1/3 innings to hold the Braves while the offense caught up. Catonsville's Jeff Nelson was particularly effective in his two innings. He retired: A. Jones: On fly ball.
Hernandez: On strikeout.
Perez: On groundout.
Hunter: On strikeout.
Weiss: On flyout.
Williams: On flyout.