On This Date in Sports October 23, 1996: The Yankees are Back
In collaboration with the Sportsecyclopedia.com
The New York Yankees even the World Series at two games apiece, overcoming a 6-0 deficit to beat the Atlanta Braves 8-6 in Game 4 at Fulton County Stadium. The Yankees had lost the first two games at home before winning Game 3 in Atlanta 5-2. The Braves had a 6-0 in Game 4, but the Yankees rallied, tying the game on a three-run homer by Jim Leyritz in the eighth. The Yankees won the game 8-6 in ten innings. The Yankees would go on to win the next two games and win their first World Series Championship in 18 years.
The Atlanta Braves were in their final season at Fulton County Stadium as they played around the Atlanta Olympics. The Braves were on top of the world, having won the 1995 World Series and again having what was considered the best team in baseball. The Braves posted a record of 96-66 for Bobby Cox and won the National League East by eight games. The Braves swept aside the Los Angeles Dodgers in the NLDS but struggled in the NLCS against the St. Louis Cardinals as they trailed 3-1 heading into Game 5. The Braves got back in the series with a 14-0 win in Game 5 at Busch Stadium. Following a 3-1 win in Game 6, the Braves rolled over the Cardinals 15-0 to advance to the World Series for the fourth time in five completed years.
The New York Yankees were a dynasty in decay for the better part of a decade. They had been in first place with strike began in 1994 and won the Wild Card in 1995, but after blowing a 2-0 lead against the Seattle Mariners in the first ALDS, the team made wholesale changes. This included the retirement of captain Don Mattingly and Joe Torre replacing Buck Showalter as manager. The Yankees overcame the loss of David Cone for half the season and won their first division title in 15 years with a record of 92-70. In the playoffs, the Yankees beat the Texas Rangers in four and the Baltimore Orioles in five to reach the World Series for the first time since 1981.
The first night of the World Series was washed out by rain; when Game 1 was played, the Braves continued to mash after scoring 32 runs in their three-game NLCS comeback, beating the Yankees 12-1. Andruw Jones was the star of the game, becoming the first teenager to hit two home runs in a World Series game. Jones started the onslaught with a two-run homer in the second inning against Andy Pettitte. The Braves added six runs in the third, as Andruw Jones capped the rally with a three-run bomb. Fred McGriff added a home run in the fifth as Wade Boggs drove in the Yankees only run with a double in the fifth. John Smoltz earned the win for Atlanta as the Braves delivered a statement win in the Bronx. Greg Maddux started the Braves in Game 2, while Jimmy Key took the mound for the Yankees. Maddux was solid, allowing six hits over eight innings, while Fred McGriff had three RBI as the Braves won 4-0 to take a 2-0 series lead.
On the way down to Atlanta, Joe Torre reassured a frustrated George Steinbrenner that the Yankees would win games in Atlanta and get the series back to the Bronx. The Yankees had David Cone on the mound in Game 3; he had overcome an aneurysm and was back to full strength come the postseason. Tom Glavine made the start for the Braves, looking to get another big October win. The Yankees got their first lead of the series when Bernie Williams drove in Tim Raines in the first inning. New York made it 2-0 with an RBI single in the fourth. Cone began to labor in the sixth inning, walking in a run. However, he escaped with the bases loaded as Javy Lopez popped up to end the inning. The Yankees broke the game open in the eighth as Bernie Willimas hit a two-run homer, starting a three-run rally. The Braves got a run off Mariano Rivera in the eighth but would not get any closer, as John Wetteland slammed the door in the ninth as the Yankees won 5-2.
In Game 4, the Yankees gambled with Kenny Rogers on the mound, while Denny Neagel started for the Braves. Atlanta scored four runs off Rogers in the second inning, as Fred McGriff led off with a home run, while Marquis Grissom delivered a two-run double. The Braves added runs in the third and the fifth to build a 6-0 lead, as the Yankees starred a 3-1 deficit in the face. The Yankees comeback began in the sixth as Cecil Fielder drove in two runs and scored on a hit by Charlie Hayes. Leading 6-3 in the eighth, Bobby Cox called on closer Mark Wohlers to get a six-out save. Hayes and Strawberry led off with singles. After retiring Mariano Duncan, Wohlers faced Jim Leyritz, who had entered the game at catcher after Paul O'Neill had pinch-hit for Joe Girardi. Leyritz stunned all of Fulton County Stadium by ripping a three-run home to tie the game 6-6.
The Yankees bullpen had kept them in the game, as Brian Boehringer, David Weathers, Jeff Nelson, and Mariano Rivera allowed one run and three hits over seven innings after Kenny Rogers last just two innings. Graeme Lloyd, the first Australian to appear in a World Series, got the game to extra innings, getting McGriff to end the ninth with a double play. Steve Avery took the mound in the tenth and retired the first two hitters before Tim Raines walked. Derek Jeter followed with a single. After a walk to Bernie Williams, Wade Boggs came to the plate and walked to give the Yankees a 7-6 lead. Charlie Hayes reached on an error, allowing a second run to score. With an 8-6 lead, the Yankees called on Wetteland again to get the save as the series was tied two games apiece.
Game 5 would be a rematch of Game 1, with John Smoltz opposing Andy Pettitte. This game would be a pitchers' duel as both starters were on top of their game. The Yankees got a run in the fourth on an RBI double by Cecil Fielder. Smoltz would not allow another run, pitching an innings and allowing four hits while striking out ten. Pettitte, meanwhile, pitched into the ninth inning before giving up a leadoff double to Chipper Jones. Fred McGriff hit a grounder that pushed Chipper to third and Pettitte out of the game. John Wetteland came in for the third straight day. Javy Lopez hit a weak grounder to third that forced the runner to stay put. Following an intentional walk to Ryan Kelsko, Luis Polonia came up as a pinch hitter. Polonia hit the ball deep to the right-center gap, deep enough to score both runs, but the ball was run down by Paul O'Neill, preserving the Yankees' 1-0 win.
In between Game 5 and Game 6. Joe Torre's brother Frank received a heart transplant, and he had been in the hospital all summer, needing a new heart. It seemed as if all the stars aligned as the Yankees went into Game 6, looking to win their 23rd World Championship. Jimmy Key made the start for the Yankees, while Greg Maddux started for Atlanta. The Yankees got three runs in the third, as Joe Girardi ripped an RBI triple and scored on a single by Derek Jeter. Jeter scored on a hit by Bernie Williams to make it 3-0. It would be the only runs the Yankees would score. Key meanwhile walked in a run in the fourth. Key, David Weathers, and Graeme Lloyd pitched through a high-stress sixth, keeping the Yankees ahead 3-1. After Mariano Rivera went two perfect innings, it was John Wetteland on the mound in the ninth, looking for his fourth save. Wetteland appeared to be running on fumes as he allowed one run on three hits. However, Luis Polonia struck out for the second out, and Mark Lemke popped up to Charlie Hayes in foul territory to end the World Series. John Wetteland would be named World Series MVP.