Welcome to the club
Soriano joins Yankees' long list of clutch performers
Updated: Friday November 02, 2001 4:19 AM
By Stephen Cannella, Sports Illustrated
NEW YORK -- It's seems impossible to believe now, but for a time during spring training, Alfonso Soriano appeared more likely to be a minor leaguer than a member of the Yankees this season.
It was a matter of roster space, not talent. Soriano was a blue-chip shortstop prospect, the player that every team that talked trade with the Yankees inquired after. Of course, with Derek Jeter, the Yankees were set at short, so Joe Torre shuttled Soriano around the field during camp to see if he could keep the rookie on the roster as a utility player.
"If things don't work out here I want to play shortstop somewhere else," Soriano said in March. "But I really want to be part of this team at any position."
Aren't the Yankees glad they found a spot for him. Soriano spent a few weeks in camp playing left field (he borrowed an outfielder's glove from Scott Brosius to play a position he'd never tried before). Then it became clear that Chuck Knoblauch's throwing yips would keep him from playing second base, and Soriano found his place. That's where the 22-year-old Dominican was on Opening Day, and that's where he was in the 11th inning of Game 5 on Thursday night.
The Diamondbacks had loaded the bases with one out against Yankees closer Mariano Rivera, and Reggie Sanders hit a soft line drive up the middle. Soriano dove and, fully extended, made a backhanded catch, robbing Sanders of a base hit and Arizona of the lead.
Soriano's application for membership in the Yankees' pantheon of World Series heroes was completed when he stuck the landing on that diving catch. It was approved in the bottom of the 12th inning, when he poked a single into right field to drive in the winning run in a 3-2 game that left even the most jaded New York personnel shaking their heads.
The Yankees outdid themselves with their dramatic victory in Game 4. They surpassed that level of heroism in Game 5. "It's Groundhog Day," said Torre. "I said I didn't know [what to say] last night so it's just double that. This is the most incredible couple of games I've ever managed."
"I never thought that would ever happen again," said Soriano. "It felt like an out-of-body experience, like we're here but we're not here."
He's a rookie, but this October, Soriano has been playing like he's been here before. There was his game-winning, walkoff home run in Game 4 of the ALCS against the Mariners. He has played solid defense throughout the World Series -- in Game 4, he and Jeter turned a couple of key double plays. He says he finally felt comfortable as a second baseman in the second half of the season, and in this Series he has looked like he's played there all of his life.
After Game 5, he even sat in front of his locker and demonstrated to reporters how he slid his glove up his palm toward his fingertips when he dove for Sanders' liner to extend his reach.
The trick worked: The ball hit the edge of Soriano's glove and settled into the webbing.
Soriano's game-winning hit was yet another sign that he's a worthy torchbearer for the Yankees tradition of postseason heroics. Earlier this week, Torre said Soriano's presence and cool demeanor reminded him of Jeter as a rookie. After Game 5, he raved about Soriano's approach at the plate in a big-pressure spot.
"For a kid with limited experience, he knows situations and is really, really good at hitting according to situations," Torre said. "The ball looked like it was inside, and he inside-outed it to get it into right field."
All week the Diamondbacks have pooh-poohed questions about the Yankees' mystique and aura, insisting that the Bronx Bombers win because they have great players. Whether New York wins this Series or not, Soriano has demonstrated that he's next in line in the category.