PHOENIX -- The Yankees seem to be in the World Series every year, but the last time they were in a seven-game World Series was 37 years ago.
|Cardinals pitcher Bob Gibson is embraced by third baseman Ken Boyer as catcher Tim McCarver rushes up to congratulate the right-hander after his 7-5 win over the Yankees in Game 7 of the 1964 World Series.
The only two current Yankee players who were even alive in 1964 -- Roger Clemens and Paul O'Neill -- weren't old enough to remember.
Yankees pitching coach Mel Stottlemyre will be 60 later this month. He remembers.
"I started Game 7 and I was honored to be given the ball," Stottlemyre said Saturday. "I was excited about that. But I wasn't excited about facing Bob Gibson for the third time."
He should have been scared. He was a 22-year-old rookie at the time. Stottlemyre beat eventual Hall of Famer Gibson in Game 2, 8-3. In their Game 5 rematch, Gibson got the 5-2 win in 10 innings and Stottlemyre had a no-decision.
The rubber match was Game 7. Back then, the second-guessers didn't make a big deal about pitching on three days rest, because sometimes it was two days rest.
That was the case in Game 7 that year, Stottlemyre against Gibson, Yankees against Cardinals, in St. Louis. The Cardinals won, 7-5, Gibson hanging the loss on Stottlemyre.
Stottlemyre pitched seven innings in the Game 5 win, but was gone after four innings in Game 7.
"It just didn't work out for me that day," Stottlemyre said, offering no excuses. "We had a four-man rotation, so three days rest was normal."
But a Game 7 wasn't. Stottlemyre said there is no point in making it a bigger deal than it already is. He doesn't think he needs to offer someone like Clemens, who will start against Curt Schilling, any advice on how to handle it.
"You realize it's the last game no matter what happens, but I don't think you look at it any differently once you're on the field," Stottlemyre said. "Sure, it's more important than any other game. But when the game starts, it's baseball."
Stottlemyre spent his 11-year playing career in pinstripes, with a 164-139 record, 2.97 ERA and three 20-win seasons. He was an All-Star five times, but he never played on a world championship team.
In spite of that, Stottlemyre has a different perspective than most Yankees on the World Series. Win or lose, Stottlemyre is just happy to be here.
A year ago, when the Yankees were beating the Mets in the World Series, Stottlemyre was recovering from a Sept. 11 stem cell transplant after being diagnosed with multiple myeloma. When you're battling cancer of the blood plasma, the game of life seems a lot more important than even Game 7 of the World Series.
"This is a tremendous turnaround for me," Stottlemyre said, watching batting practice from the Yankees' dugout at Bank One Ballpark. "Last year at this time, my immune system kept me away from the park and people. I was watching the games on TV and wondering if I'd ever come back.
"Now I'm back full cycle, not only back in uniform but feeling well. I'm enjoying this season more than any past season because I realize I didn't know if I would have any more post-seasons. When you go through that, you really appreciate it."
Stottlemyre said the experience is sweeter because son Todd is a member of the Diamondbacks, although he is not active because of arm problems that have sidelined him all year. Father said son's arm is healing and he is expected to be ready for Spring Training.
The comebacks of father and son are tough to compare, one a life-threatening cancer, the other a career-threatening arm injury. But the elder Stottlemyre is confident his son will make it back and proud that he did.
"One reason I wanted to come back is to show people with cancer -- it's such an ugly word -- but when you're afflicted with it, you want to show that you can continue with a normal life and still do your job," he said. "It's very satisfying for me. Aside from winning, just being with the club and working with the pitchers is gratifying. The championship is all a bonus."
Ken Gurnick is a reporter for MLB.com.