Yankee Stadium literally shook with emotion Tuesday night, a record crowd of 57,178 unleashing 14 years of pent-up frustration from 14 empty Octobers in the building that is second to only Cooperstown in baseball tradition.
Several times throughout the New York Yankees' 9-6 victory over the Seattle Mariners in Game 1 of the American League division series, fans had the sensation of being in about a 4.3 temblor, the first time in more than a decade the stadium has rocked with such excitement.
The rumblings began after first baseman Don Mattingly's sixth-inning RBI single, which broke a 2-2 tie, and continued in the seventh inning when Bernie Williams drove an RBI double over Seattle center fielder Ken Griffey's head to break a 4-4 tie.
You could feel the bleachers undulating after Ruben Sierra's two-run homer in the seventh, and the crowd--the largest since Yankee Stadium was renovated in 1976--rose to a crescendo in the ninth, when reliever John Wetteland blew a fastball by Mike Blowers with two runners on to close out New York's first postseason victory since 1981.
That preserved the victory for Yankee right-hander David Cone, who gutted out eight innings, yielding four runs on six hits, walking six and striking out five. It also seemed to sate New York's tremendous hunger for October baseball action.
Cone was the last New York pitcher to win a postseason game, as a member of the Mets in 1988, but you have to go all the way back to 1981, when the Yankees played the Dodgers in the World Series, for the last postseason game in the Bronx.
That's a 14-year drought--with Mattingly painfully enduring 13 of those years--for the pin-striped franchise that has won 33 American League pennants and 22 World Series championships.
But Mattingly, the Yankee captain whose season has been marred by injuries and speculation it could be his last in New York, can finally drop all those ugly qualifiers: greatest Yankee to never get to the playoffs, the Ernie Banks of the 1980s and '90s.
"It was wild--I've never seen it quite like this," Mattingly said of the crowd, which rose to its feet every time Cone got two strikes on a batter. "I can't imagine a better place in the world to be. It was a great feeling, and it lived up to everything I expected. Actually, it was better than I imagined."
Cone said the fans helped him get through the sixth inning, when he walked two batters, one with the bases loaded, and was teetering on the brink of disaster until Luis Sojo flied out to end the threat.
"I can honestly say it was the most amazing crowd I've ever seen," said Cone, who also pitched in the World Series for Toronto in 1992. "They were chanting with every pitch. It was very similar to my experience at Shea in 1988. But that's New York."
And, as New York fans are famous for, they got a bit too carried away at times. They littered right field with debris after Sierra's home run, causing a delay, and then a fan ran out into left field, and was eventually tackled and carried away by five security guards.
At that point, Yankee public address announcer Bob Sheppard implored fans to "demonstrate the Yankees' usual sportsmanship."
That did a lot of good.
"A golf ball goes zipping past Joey Cora's ear at second base," Mariner right fielder Jay Buhner said. "They threw everything. There was a tomato, headphones, spit cups, Coke bottles. . . . You could have opened a convenience store. Someone threw a Sony Walkman and the darn thing still worked.
"That's OK though. What goes around comes around, and when they come to our park I'm sure we'll throw stuff at them--Starbucks coffee mugs, Microsoft Windows 95, Nirvana and Soundgarden compact discs . . . microbrews. Yeah, we'll drench them in Pyramid Ale."
Only a day earlier, Mariner players were drenched in champagne from the celebration following Monday's winner-take-all playoff against the Angels in Seattle.
But after playing three games in three days in three different time zones--Seattle was at Texas Sunday--the Mariners must have been dizzy from watching Yankees circle the bases Tuesday night.
New York finished with 13 hits and had three runs on four hits against reliever Bobby Ayala. "His pitches found some bats," Seattle Manager Lou Piniella said.
Singles by Mattingly and Mike Stanley scored runs that provided a 4-2 lead in the sixth, but Griffey, who homered off the facade of the upper deck in right field in the fourth inning, added a two-run homer in the seventh to tie the game.
But the Yankees, who scored their four runs off Seattle starter Chris Bosio on only six hits, bombed the Mariner bullpen with a four-run seventh to pull away, the key hits coming from Williams (RBI double), Paul O'Neill (sacrifice fly) and Sierra (two-run homer).
The Yankees added an insurance run in the ninth when Boggs, who hit a two- run homer in the third, doubled and scored on Williams' RBI single.