Pittsburgh Pirates, Center Fielder

Van Slyke

"I just knew that

it was the end."

Andy Van Slyke sat motionless on the ground in center field -- shock on his face, his glove still in his hands -- after Sid Bream slid across home plate. And to fully understand why, you have to go back seven years earlier, to another iconic play in another iconic postseason game.

Three outs away from winning the 1985 World Series, Van Slyke, playing right field for the Cardinals in the bottom of the ninth inning of Game 6, watched a 1-0 lead slip away on a two-run Kansas City Royals rally that started with umpire Don Denkinger's famously controversial safe call at first base on a Jorge Orta ground ball. The next night, the Royals won Game 7 and the Series.

Seven years later, in the bottom of the ninth inning of Game 7 of the 1992 NLCS, Pittsburgh led the Braves 2-0 when Pirates second baseman Jose Lind missed a ground ball, a play Van Slyke said Lind would make 100 out of 100 times. It was then that Van Slyke began to have the same sensation he did in 1985.

"I had an unfortunate feeling taking place as the inning was progressing," said Van Slyke. "I just could sense that things weren't going to be going our way and that this inning was going to be tough to get out of."

Still, as Francisco Cabrera stepped to the plate, Van Slyke knew Pittsburgh was just one pitch away from getting out of the inning. One more out and the Pirates would go to the World Series. So Van Slyke wanted to make sure. He told Barry Bonds, the Pirates' left fielder, to move in.

"I got his attention," Van Slyke said. "But he flipped me the bird. He put his hand up and said, 'I'll play where I want to play.'"

In Game 6 in 1985, the Royals' winning run scored on a Dane Iorg single to right when Van Slyke's throw to the plate was a split-second late. In '92, with the bases loaded and Cabrera at the plate, Van Slyke said to himself over and over, "Please hit the ball to me."

"In that situation, with two outs, I just knew the third-base coach was going to send them [both]," he said. "So, I was cheating in and I wanted him to hit the ball to me. I wanted to make the throw to take us into extra innings."

Cabrera's hit went to left, though; and when Bonds' throw was, yes, a split-second late and umpire Randy Marsh called Bream safe, Van Slyke collapsed on the ground in center. He can't remember how long he sat there, or how he walked off the field. "Complete disbelief" in what had happened, he calls it now.

Later, in the clubhouse, very few Pirates were promising that they'd be back in the postseason the next year. They seemed to know the team's window of opportunity was closing. Bonds and Doug Drabek, who'd held the Braves scoreless through the first eight innings of Game 7, were soon to leave as free agents. No one talked about the game.

"I have been to funeral parlors that had more noise than that clubhouse," Van Slyke said.

The flight home was no better.

"My wife was there [on the plane] and we were riding back to Pittsburgh and she looks over at me a couple of times and she sees I've got tears coming down my [cheeks]," Van Slyke said. "I just knew it was the end, that getting back there was not going to happen as a Pirate."

-- Anna McDonald, ESPN.com

The celebration began with Sid Bream and David

Justice at the plate as Mike LaValliere's tag was late.

Photo: AFP/Getty Images/Jim Gund