New York Yankees outfielder Chad Curtis launched a fly ball into the left-field bullpen to lead off the 10th inning and carry the defending world champions to a 6-5 comeback victory that put the 1999 baseball season on 24 hours notice.
The 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.
This was the game the Braves could not lose. They had scored just three runs in the first two games of the best-of-seven series, but they 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 built 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. Three Yankees relievers 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 two-run heart-breaker by Chuck Knoblauch in the eighth.
Glavine deserved better. He took the mound three days after a severe stomach virus forced him out of the Game 1 assignment against Orlando "El Duque" Hernandez, but showed no signs of fatigue as he dominated the Yankees' lineup in the early innings.
The Yankees scored a run in the first, but only because a leadoff line drive by Knoblauch popped out of the glove of right fielder Brian Jordan for a two-base error. The only hit in the inning was a looper by Paul O'Neill that landed in left field to bring Knoblauch home.
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.
Once again, Bobby 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 to go 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, which ticked off Jordan's glove.
What is it about the right-field corner? The Knoblauch home run landed came down within a couple of 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.
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. So what else is new -- his performance has been under a microscope throughout the postseason.
The Braves have to be wondering what they have to do to get it right. They battered Pettitte for 10 hits in the first 3 2/3 innings to take a 5-1 lead in the first representative performance by their offensive lineup in the series.
They had scored just three runs in the first two games of the best-of-seven Fall Classic, and they didn't exactly pound the ball in the National League Championship Series either. It was beginning to look like they would get steamrolled just like the Texas Rangers and Boston Red Sox -- two previous opponents that stood between the Yankees and their third world title in four years.
If nothing else, the Braves' offensive attack returned for at least part of one evening in New York, led by one of the guys who was dropped from the starting 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 utilityman Keith Lockhart in the Game 2 lineup, doubled in each of his first three at-bats to lead the early-inning 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 game in the eighth.
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