The last Yankees out was just the start of Charlie Hayes’ best baseball dream

Charlie Hayes still sees the ball, drifting high in the dark October night, brighter and more beautiful than any other object staring down from the Bronx sky. Every hopeful eye at Yankee Stadium moved along with his. Millions more saw the ball leap from Mark Lemke’s bat through the top of a TV screen, concealing its destination.

Hayes was the measuring gauge. He quickly scurried to his right, across the third-base line and toward the seats. Derek Jeter stood close by, looking at Hayes, then the ball, then back at Hayes.

It felt like gravity was suspended, like the ball might hang in the air forever. It felt like decades passed after the ball left John Wetteland’s hand, like eons crawled since Thurman Munson caught a popup to clinch the previous Yankees championship, like light years were traveled since the overpowering Braves dominated the first two games of the 1996 World Series in New York and returned to Atlanta in position to repeat as champions.

The ball appeared indecisive. Maybe it would drift out of play, as on Lemke’s previous swing, which sent Hayes tumbling into the visitors’ dugout — he dislocated his finger after the title-clinching catch dropped inches out of reach — and prompted a collective groan from the crowd then applause for Hayes’ effort as he returned to third, sucking wind and lamenting his brush with history. Rafael Belliard, representing the game-tying run, went back to second. Marquis Grissom, with the go-ahead run, returned to first.