Top of the 9th at Ebbets Field. The National League leads the American League, 7-6.
NL manager John McGraw looks at his lineup. What's his best defensive setup? He needs a new 1st baseman, after pinch-hitting for Albert Pujols. His only 1st basemen left are... shoot, Jeff Bagwell and Mark McGwire.
"Hang on, Mac," Sparky Anderson tells him. "Ernie played 1st for the last few years of his career."
"So if I move Banks over to 1st, who have I got left for short... Barry Larkin and Ozzie Smith."
"If this thing goes to extra innings," Bobby Cox says, "Larkin would be better. But if you want to keep them from scoring in this 9th inning, get Ozzie out there. Trust me on this one."
"Any other changes?" McGraw asks.
"Let's see," Walter Alston checks the scorecard. "Infield of Banks, Morgan, Smith and Schmidt. Outfield of Brock, Mays and Clemente. Campanella catching. Randy Johnson on the mound. Clemente leads off the bottom of the 9th, if there is one. Pitcher's spot comes up 6th. The next 3 AL batters, if Casey doesn't pinch-hit, are all lefties."
"Lefties with lifetime batting averages of .356, .342 and .328," McGraw says.
"And OPS-plusses of 169, 206 and 131," Cox says.
"What the hell is an OPS-plus?" McGraw roars.
Cox: "Your own was 135."
McGraw: "Is that good?"
Cox: "Pretty good for anybody, and very good for a 3rd baseman. Better than Boggs, who was considered the best contact hitter of the 1980s."
McGraw: "Damn... Can I put myself in this game?"
Anderson: "Don't do it. This is the 1921 version of you, and you're 48 years old. You've got a 1980 edition, 31-year-old Mike Schmidt out there, with 10 Gold Gloves and a 147 OPS-plus. He'll be fine."
McGraw: "Leave the lefty with the mustache and the long greasy hair out there?"
Cox: "Yeah, leave the Big Unit out there. You got no other lefties."
McGraw: "All right, he stays."
AL manager Casey Stengel confers with his coaches, Connie Mack, Al Lopez and Dick Williams.
Stengel: "My righthanded pinch-hitters. Who can I pick from?"
Williams: "You have 2 switch-hitters: Mickey Mantle, you know. And Eddie Murray. But Murray's much better from the left side."
Lopez: "Natural righthanders, there's Roberto Alomar, Brooks Robinson, Luke Appling and Robin Yount."
Mack: "If you pinch-hit for Jackson, you lose your last left fielder."
Lopez: "Not quite, he can put Mantle out there."
Williams: "Or move Ruth over and put Reggie Jackson in right."
Mack: "I don't trust Jackson in right. I would trust him at the plate, if we needed a home run."
Lopez: "Especially with that nice close right field wall."
Mack: "But he would be a terror trying to field in front of that wall."
Stengel: "So I'm lettin' the shoeless feller and the Babe bat for themselves."
Mack: "I would do that."
Stengel: "My pitcher's spot comes up 7th in the inning. If he doesn't, I leave the Oakland feller with the mustache in."
Williams: "Eckersley. Yes."
Lopez: "But if you get the lead, I would prefer bringing in Rivera."
Mack: "I'm not so sure. Eckersley started that trend of being only a 9th-inning pitcher and did it rather well."
Stengel: "Ah, what do you know about relief pitchers."
Mack: "I was a catcher."
Stengel: "Yeah, but that was before I was born, and they call me old."
"Hey!" yells home plate umpire Doug Harvey. "Casey, would you mind sending up a batter?"
Jackson steps up...
Shoeless Joe vs. the Big Unit. Johnson throws a little too close to Jackson's head.
"Hey, Shoeless!" yells Jackie Robinson from the dugout. "Watch out for in your ear!" The entire NL bench laughs at the reference to Field of Dreams.
Jackson looks down at Campanella and says, "Campy, your boys are gonna be sorry they laughed at me."
"Not if Randy gets you out anyway," Campy says.
Johnson knows Jackson is a low-ball hitter, so he fires one chest-high. Jackson rips it down the right-field line, right in the direction of Banks, the one man on either side officially playing out of his best-known position. Ernie can't get it, and the man he may never have caught as Chicago's best hitter reaches 2nd.
Mound conference. McGraw tells Johnson, "I know 1st base is open, but I don't want to walk Ruth. I know how to get him out. I want you to throw him curveballs only."
"You got it, skip," the Big Unit says.
But Ruth foils the strategy. He doesn't swing at all, and the count goes to 3-and-2.
"Whatcha gonna do," the Bambino yells at Johnson, "you mullet-headed son of a bitch?"
"Time!" calls Harvey, who then turned to the Sultan of Swat. "Babe, I don't care if you are Babe Ruth. If Johnson uses ball 4 to hit you, I'm throwing you both out!" Then Harvey, rather than Ruth, points and Johnson, and says, "That's your one and only warning!" Then he points at the opposing managers. "You got that, Casey? You got that, John?"
Both managers get it.
Johnson throws inside, but aims for the corner instead of Ruth's body. Just misses.
"Take your base," says Harvey.
Ruth trots to 1st, and sticks his tongue out at McGraw.
"Rotten bastard," McGraw mutters under his breath, as he walks out to the mound. "At least he can't steal 2nd."
Johnson goes out. In comes Grover Cleveland Alexander. Tying run on 2nd. Potential winning run on 1st. Nobody out.
Casey checks his lineup card. The only 3rd baseman left is Brooks Robinson. A righthander, and not as good a hitter as Boggs. Brooksie's great defense doesn't matter here. He leaves Boggs in. Alex gets Boggs to fly to center.
The batter is Derek Jeter. Not the 2012 Derek Jeter whom everyone would expect to ground to short, resulting in a game-ending double play. But the 2000 Derek Jeter, who won the Most Valuable Player award in both the All-Star Game and the World Series that year.
Campy tells Alex, "This guy likes to use an inside-out swing on an outside pitch, to hit the ball for extra bases the other way. Smoke him inside."
Like all these long-dead players, Alex has had the chance to review what has happened in baseball since he reached that great ballpark in the sky. He asks, "But what about that 2000 World Series? Didn't he hit the 1st pitch of Game 4, an inside fastball, for a 400-foot home run?"
"That was from some guy named Bobby Jones," Campy says. "You're Grover Cleveland Alexander. Smoke him inside."
He does. It doesn't work. Jeter drops it into short center field. Mays charges it. Shoeless Joe comes around 3rd with the tying run. Mays throws to Campy...
"Yer out!" yells Harvey.
Ruth makes it to 3rd, Jeter to 2nd. There's 2 out. The AL still trails by a run.
The last hope is Jimmie Foxx. A righthanded power hitter, against a righthanded power pitcher, in a ballpark built more for lefthanded hitters.
Casey turns to his former prodigy, and sends him up, to bat from the left side.
"Your attention please," says public address announcer Bob Sheppard, who announced at Ebbets Field for the football team named the Brooklyn Dodgers, before doing it for the Yankees for 57 years. "Ladies and gentlemen, batting for Foxx, from the New York Yankees, Number 7, Mickey Mantle. Number 7."
"Oh, shit," says McGraw. He stomps out to the mound.
"Alex," he says to Alexander, "I don't care what you throw this guy, as long as it's not a fastball."
"Should we walk him?" Alexander asks.
"No way," says Campy. "Yogi's up next. His swing is just as tailor-made for this place as Mickey's. Face the devil you got now."
"Do it," says McGraw. "And remember: Don't bring it. Curve him all the way!"
McGraw trudges back to the dugout. "The punk's gonna hit it out, I know it, I know it."
Alexander throws Mantle a curve, belt high, on the inside part of the plate.
The ball takes off with a ferocity that makes even the hard to impress Ruth, standing on 3rd, stand with his mouth open. "Damn," he finally says.
Carlton Fisk, who had been warming up Mariano Rivera in the bullpen behind 1st base, jumps up, and waves his arms, to his left this time, as it's to right field. "Stay fair!" he yells.
It does. The ball lands in the gas station across Bedford Avenue from the right field wall.
American League 9, National League 7.
"Blast it!" yells McGraw.
"He did," says Mel Ott.
McGraw calls Tom Seaver in to pitch. "Tom," he tells him, "they told me you were New York's best pitcher since Mathewson. Can you hold these guys without allowing any more runs?"
"Yes. Give me the ball."
Seaver faces Yogi Berra, and get him to hit a weak grounder to 2nd. The inning is over.
Bottom of the 9th. Casey takes no chances, and puts in his best possible defenders. George Sisler takes over at 1st base, in place of Foxx, who'd had Mantle pinch-hit for him, and bats 8th in a double-switch, as that spot would lead off the top of the 10th if there is one.
Charlie Gehringer, whose fielding was so automatic he was known as the Mechanical Man, takes Carew's place at 2nd. Brooks Robinson replaces Boggs at 3rd. The only infielder left over from the 8th is Jeter at short -- the 2000 Jeter, still a great fielder, not the 2012 Jeter.
Knowing their defensive skills, including the fact that this is the 1921 edition of the Babe, at the peak of his health and only 4 years removed from being arguably the best pitcher in baseball and thus having a great arm, Casey keeps his outfield of Shoeless Joe Jackson in left, Tris Speaker in center and Ruth in right.
And Mariano Rivera comes in as the closer, batting in the 6th position -- if, against all odds, he can't close it out and the game goes to a 10th inning.
McGraw has Clemente, Campanella and Morgan to send up. If it stays alive, Brock. If he can keep it alive, Banks, before the pitcher's spot comes up.
Rivera gets Clemente to hit a fly to Ruth, who backs up to the wall, and catches it. Two outs to go.
Campanella is up. Few players know this ballpark better than he does. Rivera throws him some high gas...
And Campy hits it to center field. Speaker goes back, looks up, and... it's gone!
The fans go wild. It's now 9-8. The great Rivera has given up a home run!
Casey looks at Jeter, and says, "You told me that Panama feller was the best there's ever been at this!"
"He is... " Jeter says.
"Does that look like the best to you?"
Casey grabs the bullpen phone and demands that Eddie Plank get warmed up.
He sits down, and says to Lopez, "No way I'm letting those freaks Martinez and Schilling into this game. They'll lose their cool."
"A wise choice," Lopez, since they, along with Plank, are his last remaining choices.
"Not quite," says Mack.
"What are you talking about, Connie?" Casey asks.
Casey doesn't see Morgan single up the middle. Now the tying run is on 1st, and the winning run is at the plate. It's Lou Brock.
Yogi goes to the mound. He sees Mo is calm. "Just throw strikes," the greatest of all catchers tells the greatest of all relief pitchers. "Home plate don't move."
Rivera strikes Brock out on a hellacious cutter. One out to go. But the tying run is still on 1st, and the winning run is at the plate.
The batter is Ernie Banks. But McGraw calls him back. And sends up...
"I just remembered," McGraw says to his coaches, "Rose can play 1st base if this goes to extra innings. And nobody got more hits."
"Now what?" Casey asks, to no one in particular.
"Here's what I meant," Mack says, and whispers in Casey's ear.
"Oh, God," Casey says. "That just might work." Casey walks out to the mound.
Mack gets up, puts a foot up on the top step, whistles loud enough to be heard throughout the ballpark, and waves his scorecard at Ruth in right field.
The Babe yells back, "Whattaya want, Mr. Mack?"
Mack waves his scorecard in Casey's direction.
"Holy shit," the Babe says. "I know what he's up to."
Rivera nods, and runs out to right field.
"Go get 'em, Babe," the Sandman says to the Bambino.
"You got it, kid," the Bambino says to the Sandman.
Ruth gets to the mound, and says, "All right, Case, whattaya want me to throw this bum?"
"Anything you want, Babe."
"I can do that," the Babe says.
In the NL dugout, McGraw says, "No. No. I am not going down with that bastard on the mound."
"Don't worry," Sparky says. "My boy can hit him."
"Sending him up was your idea, Anderson!"
"And you can trust him. It's not like you're trusting him with your wife."
"Or your money," Cox adds.
Ruth looks in at Rose. Each man, in his time, was a symbol of the game. Each man, in his time, had off-field problems that would have sunk a man had they been revealed by the media. Ruth, in his time, did not have to worry about that. Rose, in his time, did.
Rose's crouch is as exaggerated as ever.
Yogi looks up at him and says, "Sure you don't wanna bat righty against this lefty?"
Pete looks down at Yogi and says, "This is the greatest game ever played. Can you believe this game? This is fun."
Yogi puts down one finger, and taps his left leg. Fastball, low and away.
"You wanted to pass Cobb," Ruth whispers. "Well, I pitched against him. He hit .381 against me. But you ain't him. Welcome to 1916, sucker."
The Babe throws a fastball on the outside corner. Rose swings...
And slices a line drive the other way, down the 3rd base line. Brooksie makes a diving stop, but it's not a catch. He has no throw. He probably saves the tying run, but Brock is at 2nd with that tying run. Rose is at 1st with the winning run.
Mack steps up, and waves his scorecard again. Ruth and Rivera both look at them. They know, the experiment didn't quite work. So Mo runs back to the mound, and Babe runs back to right field.
"It's okay," Mo says. "I got this."
"You'd better," Babe says, "or else I'm gonna wonder if you're really a Yankee."
The pitcher's spot in the order is up. No way McGraw is taking that chance. Besides, if it goes to a 10th inning, he's got 4 more choices: In chronological order, Charlie "Old Hoss" Radbourn, Robin Roberts, Ferguson Jenkins and Greg Maddux.
Cox tells McGraw not to send up one of his favorites, Mel Ott. "I don't care how good a lefty hitter he is," Cox says. "Rivera's cutter will eat him up."
McGraw: "So who?"
Mark McGwire lumbers up to the plate, looking as pumped-up as he did in 1998.
Out in right field, Ruth spits. "So that's the guy they compared to me?"
McGwire stands at the plate, wiggling his bat.
"Hey, Mark," Yogi says to him. "I can't pronounce that stuff you took, but it ain't gonna help you against this guy."
"Don't be such a fatalist, Yogi," McGwire tells him.
"Fatalist? I don't collect stamps."
Yogi's distraction works. Rivera throws a fastball that McGwire doesn't even see. Strike 1.
"Mark," Yogi says, "You're at a fork in the road here. I suggest you take it."
"Shut up, Yogi."
Rivera throws the cutter. McGwire swings with all his might, but can only foul it off, breaking his bat. Strike 2.
"Stop grinning, Yogi!" Big Mac yells, as he returns to the batter's box with a new bat.
"Nope," Yogi says. "You know how I said, 'It ain't over 'til it's over?'"
"Well... it's over."
"Not while I got 1 more strike, it isn't."
"But look at Rivera. Look how cool he looks. You don't look so hot yourself."
"I'm not listening to you, Yogi."
"You know, I get that a lot."
Rivera, his face stone, fires in.
McGwire swings with more force than either Mantle or Ruth could muster.
The bat splits. The ball flies out to left field.
Shoeless Joe doesn't have to take a step. He catches it for the last out.
Ballgame over. American League 9, National League 8.
After the game, McGraw tells Grantland Rice, Jim Murray and Mike Lupica, "This doesn't prove anything. The National League is still the only real league."
Stengel tells Jimmy Cannon, Maury Allen and Dan Shaughnessy, "Well, you see, them fellers out there, they all had jobs to do, and I put 'em where I thought they'd do the most good, yes, sir, and I know I took a chance with that kid from Panama, switchin' him up with Ruth, and... " etc., etc., etc.
Ruth and Mantle get into Reggie Jackson's Rolls-Royce, and head off to Toots Shor's. "I guess being your chauffeur is the only way I get to be a part of this game, guys," Reggie says.
"Not quite," Babe says. "Yer buyin'. I only made $80,000 a year, Mickey only made $100,000. What did you make, $600,000?"
"Forget it, Babe," the Mick says. "I'll tell you who's really buyin': George."
"Steinbrenner?" asks the Babe. "Hell, I can go for that."
The 3 Yankee legends head off up Bedford Avenue with huge grins on their faces.
"Is it over, Uncle Michael?" asks my niece, Ashley.
"The game is over," I tell her.
"Oh, man!" she yells. She and my other niece, Rachel, just turned 5, and she doesn't want it to be over.
"Look at the bright side, we got to see a game with your great-grandmother."
"That's good!" Rachel says.
"That's very good."
We get up from our seats, and see my grandmother hobnobbing with her Boys of Summer: Robinson, Campanella and Duke Snider. I wait for her to come up the steps of her beloved ballpark, so I can escort her out.
"Sorry, Grandma," I tell her. "The American League was better."
"No it wasn't," she says. "But we still had fun."
"Yes, we did," says Terrence Mann, his scorecard a mess. "Didn't we, boys?"
John and Ray Kinsella nod their heads, big goofy smiles on their faces, as they walk past a guy who looks strangely like Ray, but isn't.
"I really thought Rose had a double there," Crash Davis says to Annie Savoy Davis. "I know Brooks was great, but how did he stop it?"
"Maybe it wasn't just Brooks bein' great," Annie says. "Maybe he had mystical help."
"Oh, not that crap again," Crash says.
"Señora Annie is right, Crash," says a deep voice behind them. They turn around, and it's Pedro Cerrano. "Rose stole Jobu's rum. Is very bad to steal Jobu's rum. Is very bad."
Minnesota Twins owner Billy Heywood, Chicago Cubs pitcher Henry Rowengartner, California Angels fan Roger Bomman and Los Angeles Dodgers broadcaster Scotty Smalls, all grown up now, can't help but laugh with the legendary Cleveland Indians slugger. Although Smalls can't help but wonder where he's seen Mann before.
Mann reminds him... not that he resembles Mr. Mertle, but of the most important point of all. That the game is the one constant, and reminds us of all that has ever been good.
Rachel says, "We're keeping this field."
Ashley says, "Oh, yeah."
You bet we are.