Yankees swept away in a flood of nostalgia; ONE DAY IN AMERICA

A remarkable 24 hours in the United States produced an extraordinary variety of sporting drama; BASEBALL; David Usborne watches the Bronx Bombers blow up spectacularly in the opening game of the World Series
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The Independent Online
Never has a sporting event attracted such hyperbole. They call it the World Series, when it is nothing of the sort (What could be more domestic to the United States than baseball?). They still call the New York Yankees America's team, even if this was their first shot at the Series in 18 years. And they call the Yankees the best, when... well, more of that in a moment.

But step off the No 4 subway train adjacent to Yankee Stadium in the Bronx early on Sunday evening and such quibbles instantly evaporate. Never mind the misplaced arrogance and the years of disappointment, the Bronx Bombers, as the Yankees are also known, are back at the top. The streets are seething with pilgrims, desperate for a win over the Atlanta Braves. And I, all of a sudden, am a pilgrim too.

Beneath the elevated rails of the subway and under the towering white concrete walls of the House That Ruth Built is New York City distilled. "Go Yankee" supplements of the city tabloids carpet the streets. Brass bands play. Police horses trample. And everyone, it seems, is searching, searching for gold. Tickets are gold. Cash - sometimes up to $1,000 - changes hands in knotted groups. Undercover police officers watch, wait and pounce. Tens of touts will be in jail cells by the end of the evening.

And so, at last, we, the lucky ones, step inside the stadium. The anticipation is overwhelming. This is the first of the best-of-seven games and it has been delayed by a day because of a tempest that lashed the city on Saturday. The field is ready thanks mostly to those other "finest" of New York, its police. Two police helicopters had spent part of the day hovering low over the turf, their whirring blades being used as giant hairdryers.

The nostalgia pours down on us faster than the rain the night before. Joe DiMaggio, second only to Babe Ruth in the pantheon of Yankee icons, steps on the field to throw out the first ball. And the capacity crowd of some 56,000 goes wild. Images of Mickey Mantle, another Yankee legend who died from cancer last year, flash across the video screen. What game could possibly match such a build-up? Only a game that is won by the Yankees.

There are few sights more magical and closer to the soul of this country than that of a baseball diamond under lights. The giant stripes left by the mowers are a magnified version of the neatness of the Centre Court at Wimbledon. There is something of Wembley Stadium here also - the merciless inhospitality that the home team fans show to the few Braves supporters who have been foolish enough to show up and reveal themselves.

This was the moment to be sober and to consider the opposition: the Braves, who have been in four of the last five World Series. In the 1990s it is they who have really been America's team. And they had arrived in the Bronx after coming from behind to crush the St Louis Cardinals in the National League Championship Series. Although no New York tabloid writer had dared admit it, the odds had to be in their favour.

Things begin well enough. On the mound, the Braves' pitcher, John Smoltz, seems a little shaky. It is no runs each at the end of the first inning. Then a little-known teenager from Curacao comes on the field and the Yankee fans get their first premonitions of the disaster that is to come. With a scorching hit that sends the ball soaring out across left field and into the crowd, Andruw Jones, at just 19 years and 6 months, becomes the youngest player to hit a home run in a World Series game. On my press- desk TV monitor I glimpse DiMaggio in his box seated next to Henry Kissinger. Both look worried.

It is in the third inning, however, when the pilgrimage of hope really turns into one of despair. Already it is 5-0 against the Yankees, and Jones is back on the plate. Pow! Another home run. It does not help the mood in the press area when it is discovered that the record that has been broken by Jones had until then been held by none other than Mantle, with the homer he hit for the Yankees against the Brooklyn Dodgers back in 1952. Mantle had been 20 - a full year older than Jones.

The fans are getting sour. They have suffered the sight of their revered pitcher Andy Pettitte being relieved of his duty after the first Jones home run and replaced by Brian Boehringer who is barely more successful. Smoltz of the Braves in the meantime is cruising. He will end the night giving away only two hits in total. When Jones, who began the season in the lower reaches of the minor leagues before joining the Braves only in August, returns to hit for a third time, the Stadium erupts in loud boos.

And then at the top of the fifth a run from the Yankees. The video display goes nuts. "THE YANKS ARE COMING. HEY HO". The crowd attempts it own "Hey Ho", but it is awfully thin. That was the Yankee run. We sort of knew that no more would be coming tonight. Some Yankees supporters, who were filing out of the ground by the seventh inning, had paid an even two grand for seats and their reward was a terrible knee in the guts from the Braves. By the end, the score was a humiliating 12-1. What they had witnessed was the worst loss in a World Series game by the Yankees in all of their history.

One of them, Mark, an analyst with Morgan Stanley, cannot even think of the next game. "Really, I'm too bitter. It's all inside me, and it's bitter. Ask me in the morning, and maybe we can talk about the rest of the series". Mark had paid a broker $325 (pounds 205) for his top-tier ticket. He does not expect to be back. He will only pray that the Bronx Bombers do not bomb again but soar back to make a real contest of the 1996 World Series.