Potential bitter ending for Williams

Bernie Williams could very well have played his final game for the Yankees Monday. And if so, it was a sad ending.

Originally Published: October 10, 2005
By Jim Caple | ESPN.com

ANAHEIM, Calif. -- After 15 years with New York -- long enough to finish in last place for Stump Merrill, which probably deserves a bust in Monument Park on its own -- Bernie Williams was the designated hitter in what was possibly his last game as Yankee. And interestingly, what went on in a Bernie-less center field may have cost the Yankees the game Monday night.

With two out, two on and New York leading 2-1 in the second, No. 9 hitter Adam Kennedy slammed a pitch from Mike Mussina to deep right-center. Running full speed, center fielder Bubba Crosby and right fielder Gary Sheffield collided at the warning track and the ball fell in for a two-run triple to give the Angels a lead they never surrendered.

Gary Sheffield/Bubba Crosby
AP Photo/Kevork DjansezianAs Bernie Williams watched from the dugout, Gary Sheffield (11) and Bubba Crosby collided while chasing a fly ball in the second inning.

"If Sheff hadn't been there, Bubba would have caught it,'' Mussina said. "If Bubba hadn't been there, Sheff would have caught it. It was just in the right place.

"Those little things, you wouldn't really notice them over the course of a long season if they happened in July and August. But they happen in the postseason and everyone notices.''

Yes, indeed. Which is why Crosby found himself surrounded by reporters after the game -- and no doubt wondering why everyone was grilling a guy making $322,000 in a clubhouse filled with multi-millionaires.

"When I left to follow the ball, I didn't even know if I could catch it,'' said Crosby, who still seemed confused as to just what happened on the play. "It just happened so fast. It's just one of those things. The last thing you want to do in a situation like that is call for a ball when you don't know if you can catch it. I don't know if I tried to call him off at the last moment. I don't want to say I did it if I didn't do it. But he could have been screaming his head off and I wouldn't have been able to hear him.''

Crosby said he knew instantly that it would turn out to be a crucial play. He also positioned himself poorly to catch a shallow fly ball in the third inning, allowing Orlando Cabrera to score from third with the Angels' fourth run.

Given the way Williams has slowed down with age, he may not have even been able to get close enough to Kennedy's ball to crash into Sheffield, but that's something no one can say. He expressed sympathy with both outfielders.

"The guys gave it a good effort and they probably couldn't hear each other,'' Williams said. "They both went after the ball thinking they were going to catch it.''

This was a very challenging year for me, with the ups and downs and the different roles. Hopefully, I can learn from it. I don't know what the future holds, but it could end up being a pivotal year for me.
Bernie Williams

Williams walked and scored his first time up Monday, but went hitless his next three at-bats, including a flyout to left in the eighth inning. He is eligible for free agency this winter and the speculation is the Yankees won't bring him back. He is 37 and hit .249, his lowest average since his rookie year.

In between those seasons, he established himself as a quiet, dependable star. As much an October fixture as Tim McCarver's over-analysis during the television broadcast, he played in six World Series and won four. He has 275 home runs, 1,301 runs, 1,196 RBI and a .298 career average.

Williams declined to speculate on whether he'll be back in New York next season. "We're going to see what happens,'' he said. "Right now, it's time to reflect on the year and when the time comes we'll get everybody into a room and see what happens.

"This was a very challenging year for me, with the ups and downs and the different roles. Hopefully, I can learn from it. I don't know what the future holds, but it could end up being a pivotal year for me.

"The older I get, the more I grow to appreciate the moments I've had here.''

Jim Caple is a senior writer at ESPN.com. His first book, "The Devil Wears Pinstripes," was published by Plume. It can be ordered through his Web site, Jimcaple.com.

Jim Caple | email

Senior Writer, ESPN.com

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