It's Cone to Yanks' rescue

Published Oct. 23, 1996|Updated Sept. 16, 2005

The villagers are in trouble. The crops are on fire, the bad guys are shooting holes in the ceiling and there are horses in the saloon. Can anybody stop this carnage?

You know this scene. In the old westerns, it's where the gunslinger comes to town.

David Cone should not have walked to the mound Tuesday night in Atlanta. He should have ridden in on a raging black stallion. He should have a stub of a cigar in his teeth, and he should squint at the bad guys, and he should say, "Lead. I deal in lead."

This is his occupation. Have gun, will travel.

For the Yankees, the situation had gotten pretty grim by Game 3. Somehow, New York had to find someone, anyone who could match a Braves pitcher. Andy Pettitte, potential Cy Young winner, couldn't do it. Jimmy Key, steady veteran, couldn't do it.

It was time, then, for the mercenary. For David Cone, sheriff.

All Cone did was breathe life into his team and this series. In a 5-2 victory, he shut down a Braves team that had scored 48 times in its previous five games. Four months out of a hospital bed, he made his team well again.

Cone has been in this role before, walking to the mound in the playoffs, a fistful of wanted posters in his hand, trying to salvage one for his team. With the Mets. With the Blue Jays. With whoever would sign a check.

If ever there was a bunch that needed a hired gun, it is the Yankees, who looked rattled after two one-sided defeats in their park. No one seemed able to hit the Braves, and no one seemed able to stop the Braves.

Enter Cone.

Armed and ready.

The moment of truth came in the sixth inning, when the splitter started to fail him and his arm began to tire. He was on fumes now, and the Braves had loaded the bases. Fred McGriff was at the plate. Yankees manager Joe Torre came out to talk to Cone, and the safe move was to change pitchers.

Torre stood close to Cone, their eyes locked. "Be honest with me," he said. "This is very important. I need to know if you're okay."

Cone looked back and nodded, even though he wasn't. "I did my best to lie to him," he said later. "I felt like I got us into that jam, and if I couldn't get us out, I shouldn't be there to begin with."

Cone got McGriff to pop up, then walked Ryan Klesko on a borderline pitch. He got away with a hanging slider to Javier Lopez, however, to get out of the inning.

How tough was this? In the life of David Cone, not very. Four months ago, he was in a hospital bed, wondering about his career. His parents were wondering about bigger things.

Cone walked out into the early morning and embraced his father, Ed. They clinched for a long while, and both thought about how far they had come in a matter of months.

An aneurysm, the doctors said, but David did not know the word. All he knew is that his fingers were numb. But Ed Cone knew the word, knew that aneurysms cause strokes, knew that it felled former Astros pitcher J.R. Richard. He asked if it was life-threatening. Unlikely, the doctors said. Unlikely? When a father wants assurances about a son's life, the word unlikely does not satisfy him. No one knew when he would pitch again. No one knew if.

"I wish I was eloquent enough to say how this feels," David said. "I didn't know if I would ever pitch again."

This is one of those heart-warming stories that always seems to make sports a little more special. Perhaps it was no coincidence that Brett Butler, who came back this season from throat cancer, threw out the first pitch.

Resiliency. If nothing else, Tuesday night was a matter of resiliency. For Cone. For his team. "He had a look in his eye I haven't seen for a while," Torre said.

Cone wasn't perfect. But he was able to match Tom Glavine, and for the first time allow the Yankees to get to the strength of their team, their dominating relievers.

"He's not even supposed to be here," said shortstop Derek Jeter, "and he didn't look like he had lost anything."

The thing is, Cone says he never really wanted to be a hired gun. It just sort of happened that way. Now, with the Yankees, Cone has talked about wanting to settle down for good, to pitch in the city where he started with the Mets.

Perhaps this is the best way to start, to give the Yankees a little something out of this series. To stand up to the guys rampaging through the village.

Perhaps at last, the gunslinger will find a home.

Perhaps his team isn't bound for boot hill after all.