Maybe the slew of 13-11 games we see all summer makes us forget what it takes to play winning baseball in October. This World Series is providing nightly reminders of an old baseball axiom.
Your pitching and defense will determine your fate.
The Arizona Diamondbacks rode the arms of Curt Schilling and Randy Johnson and errorless gloves to victories in the first two games. Tuesday night in Yankee Stadium, Roger Clemens and Mariano Rivera combined on a three-hitter with 13 strikeouts as the New York Yankees eked out a 2-1 win to get back into the series.
New York trails, two games to one, heading into Game Four tonight (8, Ch. 29; Radio 1520, 1330 AM). And the Diamondbacks made it official after the narrow defeat: Schilling will come back on three days' rest to pitch tonight.
President Bush was on hand to throw the ceremonial first pitch and he saw a taut thriller. The Yankees broke a 1-1 tie in the sixth on Scott Brosius' two-out RBI single to left off Arizona reliever Mike Morgan and made that run stand up.
Clemens struck out the final two hitters he faced and was lifted after striking out nine in seven innings. Rivera then closed the game with two perfect innings, striking out four and not allowing a ball out of the infield.
It was a huge outing for Clemens, who has been dogged by hamstring trouble the last three weeks and has been a shell of the pitcher who went 20-3 in the regular season. He was working ahead of hitters all night, as evidenced by the 23 first-pitch strikes he threw to the 27 batters he faced.
"He was dynamite," Yankees manager Joe Torre said. "He realized what we needed from him and he gave us every bit of it."
"That's typical Roger from this season," added shortstop Derek Jeter.
Clemens got plenty of help from his friends, especially in the Arizona sixth with the score tied, 1-1. With a runner on second and two out, second baseman Alfonso Soriano smothered Erubiel Durazo's grounder just behind second base. Even though Durazo reached first safely, the play saved the go-ahead run.
So did the next one. Matt Williams roped a Clemens fastball to left but Shane Spencer came in quickly and made a headlong dive to spear the ball and end the inning. That kept the score tied.
"In a close game, you're going to need defense," Clemens said. "Matt hit the ball hard . . . just hard enough to stay in the air. 'Spence' came on and he was aggressive. It was nice to see it working out for us."
"I wasn't sure if it would get to me," Spencer said. "The way we haven't been scoring much, I had to go get it. It was a bullet. It didn't have much hook to it and that helped."
Spencer's diving catch thrilled the crowd of 55,820. Clemens pumped his fist and waited for Spencer at the top step of the dugout to congratulate him on the play.
"It was exciting to see the Hoss (Clemens) waiting there," Spencer said. "And you have to make sure you slap his hand hard or he'll break yours."
Buoyed by Spencer's play, the Yankees broke through in the bottom of the inning.
Bernie Williams beat out a chopper to deep short and went to second when Arizona starter Brian Anderson, who pitched 5 1/3 solid innings, walked Jorge Posada on four pitches. Anderson was lifted for the 42-year-old Morgan, who promptly struck out pinch-hitter David Justice for the second out.
Brosius, however, jumped on Morgan's first pitch and hit it to left to drive home Williams.
New York's other run scored on Posada's second-inning homer. So that makes three runs for the Yankees in three games. One victory doesn't mean the offense is cured.
The Yankees had seven hits Tuesday, one more than they had in the first two games combined, but are still batting just .144.
Arizona made three errors, two on foul pop-ups that confounded catcher Damian Miller when they were buffeted by a swirling wind. The Yankees didn't make the Diamondbacks pay for any of them.
"We're capable of hitting, we just haven't done it," Torre said. "We've had plenty of opportunities."
The go-ahead run was plenty for Rivera, who left the Diamondbacks swinging futilely despite not pitching for eight days.
"That's a pretty good formula," Brosius said. "If you get it from Rocket to Mo, you'll have a pretty good chance."
Other than his one-hit shutout with 15 strikeouts in last year's American League Championship Series against Seattle, it was probably the best postseason outing in Clemens' career. And it came when the Yankees needed it most.
So Clemens was already getting locked in while warming up in the bullpen prior to the game. But he took a brief break when the president strode to the mound. Bush fired a strike to Yankees backup catcher Todd Greene and it was the first of many that would follow from New York pitching.
"I wanted to take in that moment," Clemens said. "There's a lot of things that went on here this evening that I'll remember for a long time. It was a good night. We've played ourselves back into this a little now and we have another huge challenge tomorrow."