They kept lurking, as they did so many other times this season. Seemingly frozen in place by Baltimore pitcher Mike Mussina on a chilly fall night, the New York Yankees waited, not always patiently, for their chance. When it came, they quickly warmed to the task.
The Yankees rallied for four runs in the eighth inning, helped by a peculiar Todd Zeile error and a thundering home run by Cecil Fielder, to beat the Orioles 5-2 Friday night at Camden Yards and lead the American League Championship Series 2-1.
It was the fifth time in five post-season victories that the Yankees came from behind.
"This is a tremendous run we have going," manager Joe Torre said. "We played a ton of low-scoring one-run, two-run ballgames. I think we got used to doing it. Close games don't bother us."
Especially when Jimmy Key is on the mound. The veteran left-hander answered any lingering questions about his return from shoulder surgery, turning in a spectacular three-hit performance over eight innings.
After giving up a single to Brady Anderson and a home run to Zeile to start the game, Key was virtually unhittable. He allowed a two-out single to B.J. Surhoff in the second, then retired 18 of 19 batters, including his last 11.
"I just told myself to start over, to start from here and to get some people out," Key said.
The Yankees beat the Orioles at Camden Yards for the seventh straight time this season, but they had to overcome a 2-1 deficit and Mike Mussina's pitching. The game changed dramatically with two outs in the eighth.
Derek Jeter doubled down the rightfield line, and Bernie Williams, the Yankees' playoff hero, singled him in to tie the game. Tampa's Tino Martinez then went the other way on a Mussina fastball, lacing a double to leftfield.
Williams slid into third, but he bounced up when Zeile took the game into his own hands.
Zeile grabbed the throw from leftfield and started to throw toward second, then stopped. The ball fell from his right hand and rolled toward shortstop.
Williams raced home, and the Yankees had the lead and the momentum. When Fielder crushed the second pitch he saw into the leftfield seats, they had the victory.
"I looked at second, but Tino was just breaking into his slide. It just seemed too close to rush the throw," Zeile said. "I tried to hold it, but it slipped off the end of my fingers. I tried to grab it as it slipped out. Everything seemed to be in slow motion."
Well, everything but Williams, who slid home ahead of Cal Ripken's throw and once again found himself in the middle of a Yankees playoff victory.
"It was just a reaction play," Williams said. "I just took a chance, took the risk, and it paid off. Something in my mind just told me to go."
Williams' dash put the Yankees up 3-2, but it played a role in their going up 5-2. Mussina, who allowed four hits through the first seven innings, admitted he was ruffled when he faced Fielder.
"I shouldn't have let it (bother me), but it probably did," Mussina said. "It was my fault as much as anybody's."
Fielder struggled mightily in previous at-bats against Mussina, going 6-for-39 with 13 strikeouts. "All that stuff is history," Fielder said. "In that situation I'm trying to hit the ball up the middle, and he hung me a breaking ball."
Key is a bit of a forgotten man on the pitching staff, but the 36-year-old who lives in Tarpon Springs was the right man Friday night, striking out five and walking one in a scintillating 117-pitch performance.
"It's what he has inside," Torre said. "These are the things you don't see on the pages of stats, when you trust somebody with the ball. Jimmy Key is that guy. He's very serious about what he does, and he is a great competitor. That's when you have heart, stomach and all those things rolled into one."
All of the Yankees showed some heart. Trailing 2-1, down to their final four outs, with a frenzied Camden Yards crowd of 48,635 rooting against them, they found a way again. It was the 10th time in 16 Yankees-Orioles meetings this season that the game was decided in the seventh inning or later.
"There's a lot of hunger on that bench," Torre said. "They wanted this game very badly."