Finally, the Choke Is on the Yankees

And now the New York Yankees have something horrible to live with, something excruciating to hang with their banners and retired numbers and superiority.

Although Boston might still have The Curse, not dead yet as its baseball team tries to win its first World Series since 1918, New York owns The Choke, the most significant and shocking collapse in baseball history.

George Steinbrenner bought it and Joe Torre ran it and the Boston Red Sox, for 85 years unable to touch it, took it apart in four nights that took the breath away from baseball fans everywhere.

For generations of fans, the Yankees' 26 World Series championships will be of some interest. They'll admire the history, and the elegance of the pinstripes.

But there will be a terrible flaw.

There will be the American League championship series of 2004, the 3-0 advantage, the who's-your-daddy chants, Pedro Martinez under the mango tree, the 19-run Game 3 and then the fall, from 26 championships up, to the feet of the Red Sox.

Bucky Dent threw out the ceremonial first pitch Wednesday night and nobody missed the significance.

He won't be asked back. That stuff doesn't work anymore.

The franchises are so thickly intertwined that 85 years of Red Sox blight is named after the Yankees' best-ever player. Babe Ruth built one house and, on his way out of town, tore the other down.

They stood together on the same field, the series tied at three games apiece, nothing at stake but everything the Yankees represent and all the Red Sox had endured.

Given four games to clinch, Derek Jeter had three hits in 18 at-bats. Alex Rodriguez was two for 17. Gary Sheffield was one for 17. Hideki Matsui was four for 15. Bernie Williams was four for 18. Mariano Rivera blew two saves. Tom Gordon hit every bat.

Who're the idiots now?

A year later, the Red Sox got their five outs. Bucky Dent's fly ball went foul. Bill Buckner gloved the grounder. Tim Wakefield fooled Aaron Boone. Johnny Pesky threw the ball. Harry Frazee decided "No, No Nanette" would flop.

"It happens," Williams would say.

No, it doesn't.

"This year was their year," he said.

Can't be.

In the fallout, Kevin Brown might not be able to show himself in New York again. It'd be a surprise if Steinbrenner were able to look at him again.

In starts four days apart, Brown, earning $15 million a season, about half paid by the Dodgers, gave up nine runs in 3 1/3 innings to the hated Red Sox.

Already irritated that Brown had damaged the Yankee playoff rotation by breaking his left hand against a wall in early September, the crowd booed him from the field Wednesday night.

Brown hinted that his back hurt, that it was never right this season. And yet he had the ball, on the mound, on the biggest stage. And gave it back after four outs.

"Short of giving up the well-being of my family, I'd do whatever I could to go back and do a better job of helping this team," he said.

The fans showed no mercy.

He wasn't alone. Javier Vazquez got it. Alex Rodriguez got it. Gary Sheffield got it. They all did.

"It's obviously crushing," Rodriguez said. "I'm embarrassed right now."

Spoiled by a century of domination, the fans were not forgiving of this team. Neither will history be.

It will show that $180 million will buy a lot of things. That a championship is not one of them, even spotted three games in a best-of-seven series, against an organization burdened by failure.

By the seventh inning, the press-box speculation had begun about the Yankee future. Who will Steinbrenner fire? How fast? How many in his Tampa office? General Manager Brian Cashman? Pitching coach Mel Stottlemyre? Isn't Torre bullet-proof?

Cashman, the general manager who has endured seven seasons of Steinbrenner's tirades in his current position, stood in the clubhouse afterward, taking the early hits. He was asked about his own security. Could he be the first repercussion of the series, of a pitching staff that didn't have a win in it, of a batting order that puddled for four days in October?

He did not blink. He did not flinch. He'd already thought about it, for sure. Yankee general managers always do.

"I can't worry about stuff like that," he said.

Other stuff, maybe.

"I guess we'll find out," he said. "I know when you fall short, you look for reasons you fall short. Certainly we'll start to do that sooner than we hoped.

"All aspects of our game broke down in the course of four games."

Maybe the Red Sox don't beat the National League. Maybe this was it, their legacy less about breaking The Curse of the Bambino than breaking the hold of the Yankees.

If so, then maybe that's OK. In baseball, better to be cursed than to choke. The curse might be easier to live with.

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Back From the Brink

The Red Sox became only the third of 239 teams in major North American leagues to overcome a 3-0 deficit in a best-of-seven series and win, joining the 1942 Toronto Maple Leafs and the 1975 New York Islanders:

*--* 3-0 deficits Comebacks * MLB 26 1 * NBA 73 0 * NHL 140 2 * Total 239 3

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Source: Elias Sports Bureau

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