Here’s a sample chapter from “The Yankees Index,” my new book, recently published by Triumph Books. It makes a great Father’s Day gift. If you’d like to buy the paperback version, you can find it here. The Kindle version can be purchased here. The book can also be found at other online outlets and wherever books are sold.
<Chapter Title>1996 Yankees win 4 straight to overcome 2-0 deficit vs. Braves in World Series
The first moment in the first night of the most recent Yankees dynasty was a case of déjà vu for David Cone.
This was the sixth inning of Game 3 of the World Series in Atlanta, with the Yankees trailing in the series 2-games-to-none and clinging to a 2-1 lead.
The Braves had the bases loaded with two outs and Cone had just walked Ryan Klesko to put themselves in great position to score. A year earlier, in a similar situation against the Mariners in the eighth inning of Game 5 of the ALDS, Cone walked Doug Strange to bring in the tying run in a game and series the Yankees would go on to lose.
Cone still had a one-run cushion this time, but the Braves had the perfect setup to take the lead, with catcher Javy Lopez at the plate. Lopez, the MVP of that year’s NLCS, was hitting .439 in the postseason entering that at-bat and had singled in his previous turn against Cone. Another hit would likely give the Braves the lead.
In 1995, Joe Torre (yes, I know, it’s Buck Showalter, but I made the mistake in the book, so I’m noting it here) had gone to Mariano Rivera after the walk to Strange and Rivera was again warming in the bullpen, but Torre stuck it out with Cone, who was flustered after a close pitch to Klesko was called ball four. Cone was a gutsy competitor and the feeling from Torre and Mel Stottlemyre was that he would figure out a way to get an out.
Atlanta had romped in the previous two games of the series and this was a situation in which the Yankees’ season was on the line.
Cone composed himself and threw a perfect breaking ball that Lopez swung through for strike one. Cone threw another breaking ball, this one was a hanger, but Lopez popped it up in foul territory to the right side. Catcher Joe Girardi raced over by the stands, focused, and made the catch, hanging on as he stumbled to avoid running into two security officers.
“It was definitely a mistake but I got away with it,” Cone told reporters afterwards.
It was one of many times the Yankees would come through in this game and the next three. The Yankees hung on to win Game 3, 5-2
“I believe with one win that the whole mood and momentum changes,” Torre said.
But that didn’t happen at the outset of Game 4.
This time the Yankees trailed 6-0 after five innings and were on the brink of trailing 3-games-to-1. But a three-run rally in the sixth inning cut the lead to 6-3 and put the Yankees in position for a late-game rally.
The one that came in the eighth inning against Braves closer Mark Wohlers started innocuously when Charlie Hayes led off with a swinging bunt that appeared to be heading foul, but hugged the foul-line chalk for about 50 feet before coming to a stop just shy of third base. Hayes’ single was followed by another by Darryl Strawberry.
Mariano Duncan than hit a grounder to short that looked like a double play ball, but Braves shortstop Rafael Belliard bobbled it and was only able to get a force at second base. Not getting both outs became pivotal.
Wohlers entered the day having thrown 7 1/3 scoreless innings with 11 strikeouts that postseason thanks largely to a 99-mile-per-hour fastball. But his air of invincibility disappeared with a hanging 2-2 slider he threw to Jim Leyritz. The Yankees backup catcher took a full albeit awkward swing and watched the ball carry and carry until it just eluded the leaping attempt by Andruw Jones at the left field wall.
“He doesn’t get to play a whole lot,” Torre said afterwards. “And he’s struggled this year. But he can hit a ball out of a ballpark.”
The Yankees got a rally going with two outs and nobody on in the 10th inning. Braves manager Bobby Cox gambled by intentionally walking hot-hitting Bernie Williams with two men on base to load the bases for Wade Boggs.
The strategy backfired when Boggs, who possessed one of the best batting eyes in baseball history, worked his way back from a 1-2 count to draw a walk. The Yankees added another run when first baseman Ryan Klesko muffed a popup and won, 8-6. That tied the series at two games apiece.
It was the fifth late-game comeback by the Yankees in that postseason (they had two in each of the first two rounds).
Game 5 wouldn’t require a comeback, but it was epic nonetheless, arguably one of the best pitcher’s duels in World Series history, pitting Andy Pettitte against 24-game winner John Smoltz, who was 4-0 in that postseason to that point.
Again the Yankees would capitalize on a Braves mistake, this one being a dropped fly ball by four-time Gold Glove-winning centerfielder Marquis Grissom in the fourth inning, putting Charlie Hayes on second base. He scored on Cecil Fielder’s double.
That run held up … barely.
The Braves put at least one man on base in each of the last six innings, but could not bring one around to home plate. Pettitte stymied them time and time again.
“Andy Pettitte was a classic pitcher tonight,” said rightfielder Paul O’Neill.
Their best chance came in the ninth inning, thanks to a leadoff double by Chipper Jones, who advanced to third base on Fred McGriff’s groundout.
Whether the Yankees would take a lead back to New York came down to closer John Wetteland’s ability to get two outs without letting Jones score.
Lopez got another chance at a potential game-breaking hit, but on Wetteland’s first pitch, he grounded to Hayes, who went to a knee to make sure the ball didn’t get past him. After an intentional walk, Cox sent up former Yankee Luis Polonia.
Wetteland came after Polonia with high fastballs and on the seventh pitch, Polonia whacked one to right center field. It had the potential to be a game-winning double. But O’Neill, running on a bad hamstring, made a running catch near the warning track to give the Yankees a one-run win and a 3-2 series lead.
“My thought process was to try to get to it,” O’Neill said. “I thought off the bat I had a good play on it. But it just kept carrying and carrying.”
“It’s a game of inches,” lamented Braves manager Bobby Cox.
At that point, the 1996 Yankees could not be stopped and would not be stopped, even though they were going up against another great pitcher in Greg Maddux in Game 6 at Yankee Stadium. They took a 3-0 lead in the third inning with the key hit being a triple to center by catcher Joe Girardi against his former Cubs teammate.
The Braves clawed back with a run in the fourth, but Jimmy Key shut down any further offense by inducing a bases-loaded double play from Terry Pendleton.
The Yankees bullpen took over in the sixth inning and held the score at 3-1 heading into the ninth. Wetteland, going for his fourth save of the series, ran into trouble as the Braves cut the lead to 3-2 on Marquis Grissom’s two-out single.
With the tying run on second, Wetteland induced a popup from Mark Lemke right by the Braves dugout. Hayes ran into a Braves player who stepped out of the dugout and took a tumble, but could not make the play.
That was the kind of ‘so-close’ that the Yankees had capitalized on throughout this comeback. But the Braves could not take advantage. On 3-2, Lemke again popped one foul on the third base side.
This time no one got in Hayes’ way. When he made the catch, the Yankees were champions for the first time in 18 years in one of their hardest-fought World Series triumphs.
<Inline>Yankees vs Braves, 1996 World Series
Runs 18 26
Batting Avg .254 .216
HR 2 4
1st 2 games Last 4 Games
Braves 16 Yankees 17
Yankees 1 Braves 10
Yankees World Series Wins- Series Lengths
4 Games 8 times
5 Games 6 times
6 Games 8 times
7 Games 5 times
<Sidebar>Did You Know? The Yankees are one of 3 teams to come back to win a World Series after losing the first 2 games at home (along with the 1985 Royals and 1986 Mets).
<Sidebar>Did You Know? The comeback from six runs down is tied for the second-biggest deficit overcome in a World Series win.
Yankeeography, David Cone
Giannone, John “A Yanks Cone-Back.” New York Daily News, October 23: Page 57.
Harper, John “Cone’s 6th Sense Tired, But He Knew He’d Get McGriff.” New York Daily News, October 23, 1996: Page 60.
Kriegel, Mark “Leyritz Gets 2nd Chance.” New York Daily News, October 24, 1996: Page 74.
Lupica, Mike “Yankee Doodle Andy; Kid Lays Down The Lore.” New York Daily News, October 25, 1996: Page 76.
O’Connor, Ian “Here’s Paul Giving His All.” New York Daily News, October 25, 1996: Page 78.
Zack, Bill “Error of Their Ways.” Chattanooga Times Free Press, October 25, 1996: Page 1.