postcard; FROM NEW YORK

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A whole new ball game: Imagine if the Prince of Wales were to appear in public one morning with delicate, well-proportioned ears, or if Arsenal fans were to turn up for a match dead sober and singing hymns. There might be a moment of relief, but it would quickly be engulfed by the loud resentment of the angry multitudes. When something famously horrible stops being horrible, the public's expectation is betrayed, leaving people painfully in need of a new institution of public derision. That is pretty much the state that New Yorkers found themselves in last week, as the no-good Yankees -or, as the Broadway musical styles them, the "Damn Yankees," - reformed themselves, winning the American League baseball pennant after 15 consecutive years of defeat and shame. For the first time since 1981, the Yankees have a chance at winning the World Series, and the Bronx's Yankee Stadium is not lying fallow at Series time. In other words, those low-down, scum-sucking, Steinbrenner-tormented, pennant- losing Yankee devils are once again the beloved Bronx Bombers, and everyone's favourite angels in the outfield.

Luckily, there is a drop of demon gin in this sea of cloyingly restorative tonic. You see, New Yorkers know (but, as the victors, don't feel called upon to admit) that the Yankees won in a rather underhand way, which makes all the positivity a little more palatable. It's not that the Yankees weren't playing tolerably well in the Series; they were. But as it happened, their path to triumph over the Baltimore Orioles was kicked off by a non- Yankee named Jeff Maier. A 12-year-old bleacher bum fresh from his Bar Mitzvah, Maier saw a Yankee fly-ball coming his way, leaned over the railing at Yankee Stadium and tipped the ball into the stand, turning a likely "out" into a home run.

Jeff Maier became a hero, hailed in the papers as "New York Royalty," and feted on chat shows, not only for helping the Yankees, but for cheating the loathsome Orioles, who deserved to be robbed of victory if ever a team did. Only one dissenter, writing in the New York Post, denounced Maier's act, moaning: "Now the Yankee victory will go down in the minds of sports fans with that ugliest of marks, an asterisk - as a pseudo-win, a mere technical victory." Exactly - and all the sweeter for it.

If the Yankees manage to win the World Series this week, something they haven't pulled off since the Seventies, it will be hard to figure out which will feel better; winning, or winning thanks to the intervention of a cocky little kid. And if the Yankees lose the Series, New Yorkers still win - because that way, nobody has to go find a new scapegoat.