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GHOSTS OF SERIES PAST SEEM TO BE SIDING WITH YANKEES

They played the longest game in World Series history Wednesday night. It lasted 4 hours and 17 minutes, and it would take at least that long to review it in full detail, to pay it the homage it deserves.

Suffice it to say that fans had it coming. After a week of dreary, one-sided baseball games, they were due to get one for the ages, a game people will be talking about for years to come.

Baseball does so much wrong nowadays. The spitting episode, the lack of a labor agreement -- its ills are numerous and well-chronicled. But always, the game wins out in the end.

The greatest pleasure of following baseball is knowing that, if you watch it long enough, you will be rewarded with a game like the one played between the Yankees and Braves in the fourth game of the Series.

New York, needing a victory to square the Series, recovered from a 6-0 deficit to win in 10 innings, 8-6, and assured themselves at least one more game in Yankee Stadium.

The game had a little bit of everything. It had odd twists and turns, players playing out of position, Tim Raines falling down while catching the final out. It had dramatic individual performances and questionable bits of strategy.

But the most dramatic moment, as is so often the case, came on a single swing, on a home run that disappeared into the October night and changed the complexion of a Series.

With the Yankees trailing, 6-3, in the top of the eighth inning, reserve catcher Jim Leyritz drilled a high slider from Mark Wohlers over the left-field fence for a three-run homer to tie the game, 6-6.

A fan's memory is jogged by such moments. I grew up a Red Sox fan, and as soon as Leyritz's blast cleared the left-field wall, I was reminded of a similar home run in 1975 -- a three-run, eighth-inning shot by Boston's Bernie Carbo that tied the sixth game of that Series, 6-6.

Yankee fans, of course, had to be reminded of a homer Leyritz hit last autumn, an extra-inning blast that beat Seattle in the second game of the division series.

"It was definitely the same kind of thing," Leyritz said. "I had the same feeling against Seattle. My wife has seen that one a lot at home, because I've replayed it a lot in the offseason. But this is probably the biggest moment of my whole career."

Game Four wasn't the finest moment of Wade Boggs' career. Boggs, one of the best pure hitters of his generation, didn't start the game against Atlanta left-hander Denny Neagle.

Boggs, in fact, was the only hitter available on the Yankee bench in the 10th inning when Bobby Cox ordered Bernie Williams intentionally walked with runners on first and second and two outs, and Andy Fox due at the plate.

It was a dubious strategy. Granted, left-hander Steve Avery was pitching, and Boggs has struggled recently against lefties. Williams is a .400 hitter against left-handers.

Still, in his prime Boggs was the best man in baseball at getting on base, a lock to accumulate 200 hits and 100 walks a season. And that's all he had to do. Get on base.

Boggs did it. He worked the count to 3-2, barely checking his swing on one two-strike slider. Then he walked on a high fastball to force in the go-ahead run. Atlanta's Ryan Klesko, brought in to play first base after the walk, misplayed an easy looper on the next play to provide the eighth run.

"I can't remember ever being brought in to pinch-hit against a lefty before," Boggs said. "Was I thinking walk? No. As a matter of fact, I walked to the plate not thinking of anything.

"I think that helped me," Boggs said. "The trademark of good concentration is thinking of nothing."

Boggs's bases-loaded walk was not the sort of moment that gets replayed over and over. It was hardly as dramatic as, say, the home run Carlton Fisk hit to break a 6-6 tie in that famous sixth game in 1975.

But it got the job done, and that's all that mattered to the Yanks. After being written off after Game Two, they are back even. They are unbeaten on the road in the postseason. They have the whiff of destiny about them.

"This team has heart," Boggs said. "What else can I say? It's nothing new. When our lead dwindled during the regular season, we could have fallen apart, but we didn't.

"We're a tremendous road team," he said. "I think the Cleveland series, when we won four (in April), that really got us going."

The Yankees are going the way another New York team did 10 years ago. As long as we're reminiscing about World Series past, it's hard to ignore the similarities between 1986 and 1996.

The Mets lost the first two games at home that year to the Red Sox, then won the next two at Fenway Park and won the Series in seven. That was the year the Mets came from behind to win the sixth game when the ball rolled behind Bill Buckner's legs at first base.

It was the Series that ended with the image of a despondent Boston player weeping in the dugout. The man was Wade Boggs.

As Boggs stood in the locker room early this morning, surrounded by cameras, someone decided to bring up '86 to him.

"Be honest, now . . . "

"I'm always honest," Boggs said.

"The thing that happened at first base with Klesko, and the way this team has come back," he was asked. "Have you thought at all about a possible reverse of '86 going on here?"

"Uh, you want me to be honest?" Boggs said. "Yeah. It's getting melodramatic right now. Game Three that year, Lenny Dykstra hit a home run off Oil Can Boyd. Last night Bernie hit a home run.

"In Game Four, Gary Carter hit a home run (two, actually)," he said, "and Jim Leyritz hit a home run tonight."

"Both catchers," someone said.

"It's all getting spooky," said Boggs.

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