Thing is: these are the games they used to win.
Went north nine years ago, in May, 1998, for the Yankees' annual trip to Arlington. The plan, which I adhered to for years, was to drive from Houston to Dallas, hook up with a grad school buddy, drive to the ballpark (known, then, as The Ballpark), watch the game, then finish off the evening in a bar near Greenville Avenue, one whose name and address was a mystery to me, plus everything else, except that it was on a second floor and accessible by way of a stairway that ran up the exterior of the building.
A guy played a piano. Give him a couple of bucks, he'd play "Strangers in the Night."
Sleep over, then drive back to Houston. Four hours.
First time I did it, as I say, 1998. David Wells started for the Yanks, who raced out to a 9-2 lead early.
Game over, right? Think again. These were the Rangers of Pudge and Juando, the team of football scores awaiting almost every inning. David Wells (who would pitch a perfect game two weeks later, who would win 18 games against 4 losses and be the MVP of the ALCS) coughed up the majority lead in about twenty seconds. Just like that, 9-8.
The Yankees scored five more runs, to make it 14-9, and the feeling was, Well, that's that.
Bang. A few Ranger hits (Wells was long gone by now) followed by a Juan Run. Tie game.
14-14, and, Oh, did the Ranger fans let me hear it, with my Yankee gear and so on.
Top eight, Yankee base hit. Runner on second. Jeter, base hit. 15-14.
This was Rivera before Rivera was Rivera. The Yanks had let 1996 World Series MVP John Wetteland get away in '97, and had endured a year's worth of misery because of it. In 1997, Mo had blown three saves in April, then blown the Divisional Series by surrenduring a homer to Sandy Alomar, and how stupid were the Yankees for letting John Wetteland go?
Well, now it was 1998. Now Rivera would begin compiling his Hall-of-Fame resume as the best closer of all time. I watched him as he glided in across the outfield, watched his impassive face as he threw his warm-up pitches.
Two innings. Six up, six down.
From that point on, right up until that terrible ninth inning in the desert four years later, the expression on Rivera's face meant Enough Already.
Didn't hurt that Bernie hit a homer, made it 16-14. Your final score.
But, as before: They used to win these games.