#2: (1996) Yankees Win World Series

Coming off a disappointing 1995 postseason, the New York Yankees saw 1996 as a prime opportunity to win their first championship in 18 years. Yankee legend Don Mattingly retired after the 1995 season and the Yankees needed to a new first baseman. The Yanks believed Tino Martinez of the Seattle Mariners would be the perfect fit. With Tino on board, the front office continued to make drastic changes. Steinbrenner made the unpopular move of firing skipper Buck Showalter and replacing him with Joe Torre. Torre, who had managed the Mets a decade before, didn’t seem to be the best choice according to New York. The day after Torre was hired, the Daily News had their sports section headlined with “Clueless Joe.” Along with a new manager, the Yankees brought up a new shortstop by the name of Derek Jeter. With Tony Fernandez out for the season, Jeter was named starting shortstop just days prior to the beginning of the ’96 season. Throughout the year, the Yanks performed like they were the best team in the American League. Jeter was outstanding and earned Rookie of the Year honors. A mid-season trade with the Tigers sent All-Star slugger Cecil Fielder to the Bronx boosting the Yankees already potent lineup. Winning 92 games, the Yankees won the American League East for first time since 1981.

In the American League Division Series, the Yankees took care off the hard-hitting Texas Rangers in three games. In the Championship Series, the Yanks faced their division foe, the Baltimore Orioles. Game One was one of the most memorable games in Yankees postseason history. Down 4-3 in the 8th inning, Derek Jeter hit an opposite field shot near the right field wall. Orioles’ outfielder, Tony Torrasco ran to the warning track to make the catch, but all of a sudden, a fan reached over the wall and caught it. The umpire wrongfully called the shot a home run and the game was tied 4-4. In extra innings, Bernie Williams ended Game 1 with a home run to left field to give the Yanks a 1-0 series lead. Even though Baltimore won game 2, the Yankees won the next three games on the road to advance to their first World Series in fifteen years.

Against the heavily favored Atlanta Braves, the Yankees did not show up for the first two games of the World Series. After a 12-1 blowout loss and a 4-0 shutout, the Yanks had their backs to the wall heading into Atlanta. The Braves were looking to take complete control of the series with Tom Glavine on the bump for Game 3. But David Cone and the Yankees persevered and won 5-2.

In Game 4, the Braves knocked around Yankee starter Kenny Rogers and took a 6-0 lead after three innings. The Yanks were able to cut the lead to 6-3 after a couple of key hits by Jeter, Fielder, and Charlie Hayes, but heading into the 8th inning the Braves still lead by three. Braves manager Bobby Cox decided to hand the ball over to their closer, Mark Wohlers, in order to get the last six outs of the ballgame. Off Wohlers, the Yankees threatened. With two on and one out, catcher Jim Leyritz came to the plate. In one of the greatest at-bats by a New York Yankee, Leyritz took the count 2-2 after fouling off fastball after fastball. With the sixth pitch of the at-bat, Leyritz drilled Wohler’s slider to deep left field for a three-run home run, tying the score, and ultimately shifting the momentum of the series.

Andy Pettite got the start for the Yankees for Game 5, where he was looking to avenge his awful start in Game 1. He pitched magnificently. After getting out crucial jams, including one where he threw a runner out at third on a sacrifice bunt, Pettitte went eight strong. Clinging to a 1-0 lead in the 9th, closer John Wetteland replaced Pettitte. With Chipper Jones on third with one out, Atlanta looked to regain the momentum. But with Wettelend able to get the second out without Jones scoring, the Yanks were one pitch away from leading the series and heading home. In the final at-bat, Braves pinch-hitter Luis Polonia hit a line-drive to deep right field. Yankee right-fielder,  Paul O’Neill sprinted, with a strained hamstring, reached out and caught the ball at the wall. The Yankees were ready to return to the Bronx and capture the title.

Back in the Bronx, New York was ready. Even with Greg Maddux on the mound for Atlanta, Yankee fans knew this would be the last game of the series. After two scoreless innings, the Yanks broke through in the third. After an O’Neill double, Joe Girardi came up to the plate with one out. On the very first pitch, Girardi smoked a shot to right-center field that bounced up against the wall. With O’Neill already scored, Girardi slid safely into third with a triple. The stadium was absolutely deafening. Some fans have called it the loudest moment in Yankee Stadium history. After two more runs in the third, the Yankees were 3-0 and looked to finish off the Braves. Atlanta salvaged a run in the top of the 4th, but were held scoreless till the top of 9th. After Mariano Rivera did his job in the 8th, Wetteland was given the ball to end the series. The Braves, however, showed fight. After a couple of hits and a run, Atlanta cut the score to 3-2 with the tying run on 2nd with two outs. But like always, Wetteland came though. Braves’ second baseman Mark Lemke  popped up in foul territory to Charlie Hayes. The Yankees were champions for the first time since 1978. A dynasty was born.

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