Yesterday, I highlighted the anniversary of the Yankees loss to the Marlins in the 2003 World Series, focusing particularly on Joe Torre’s gaffe in Game 4. I decided to balance the ledger by focusing on some more positive memories today, and was pleased to notice that October 26th is one of the better days in recent Yankees history. Let’s take a look at 2 fantastic games that occurred on this date:
Game 6, 1996 World Series
The Yankees clinched their first World Series since 1978 on October 26th, 1996, with a 3-2 victory over the Atlanta Braves. After losing the first two games in lopsided fashion, the Yankees took 3 straight contests in Atlanta, including a thrilling comeback from 6 runs down in Game 4 and a 1-0 victory behind Andy Pettitte in Game 5. That brought the Yankees back to New York with two chances to sew the World Series up, with Jimmy Key facing Greg Maddux in Game 6.
Key and Maddux cruised through the first two innings, with a Key walk to Javy Lopez being the only blemish for either pitcher. In the 3rd, Terry Pendelton reached on an error, but he was caught stealing. This turned out to be important, as Jeff Blauser subsequently doubled and was later stranded. In the bottom of the inning, the Yankees sent up their 7-8-9 hitters and scored all three of their runs. Paul O’Neill lead off with a double, and moved to 3rd on a Mariano Duncan groundout. Joe Girardi then swung at the first pitch he saw, and launched his famous triple to deep right-center, later scoring on a hard single by Derek Jeter. Jeter then stole second, and after Wade Boggs popped out, Bernie Williams singled to bring Jeter home. The Yankees had a 3-0 lead, and the Bronx crowd began counting down outs until Rivera and Wetteland could wrap things up.
With one out in the 4th, Key ran into a ton of trouble, allowing a walk and two singles to load the bases. He then walked Jermaine Dye to force a run home, and it looked as if the Braves were about to answer the Yankees’ big inning with a crooked number of their own. But on a 3-1 count, Key induced a double play grounder to short from Pendelton, and the Yankees retained their lead. Neither team threatened again until the top of the 6th, where Key allowed a leadoff double to Chipper Jones. After a groundout by Fred McGriff moved Jones to 3rd, Joe Torre went to his bullpen and called for David Weathers. Weathers did his job by striking out Javy Lopez, and then was replaced by Graeme Lloyd after a walk to Andruw Jones. Lloyd retired Ryan Klesko to end the threat, and the bridge to Mo and John was complete.
The Yankees barely touched Maddux for the rest of the game, and he lasted 7.2 innings. Mariano was his stellar self for two innings, as he walked the first batter he faced and then retired the next 6 in order. This set the stage for John Wetteland to enter the game in the top of the 9th inning with a 2 run lead. Of course, John could never do things the easy way, and after a strikeout of Andruw Jones he allowed back-to-back singles to Klesko and Pendelton. He then struck out pinch hitter Luis Polonia, but allowed an RBI single to Marquis Grissom that closed the gap and put the tying run on second base with pesky Mark Lemke coming to the plate. On the 7th pitch of the at-bat, Lemke lifted a foul ball to the area near the 3rd base dugout, where it was squeezed by Charlie Hayes for the final out. Finally, at long last, Wade Boggs got to ride a horse.
Game 5, 2000 World Series
On October 26th, 2000, the Yankees capped off a three-peat with a five game World Series victory over their crosstown rivals, the NY Mets. Although it lasted only 5 games, the series was actually an excellent and close matchup, with no game decided by more than 2 runs. The Yankees took Game 1 in extra innings after tying the game in the 9th, Game 2 included the infamous Clemens-Piazza incident, and the next two games were close affairs that the two clubs split. This set up a Game 5 in Shea Stadium that saw Andy Pettitte pitted against Mets ace Al Leiter.
Leiter was stellar through the first 8 innings, as the Yankees only got one baserunner to 2nd base until the 9th. However, the Bombers did launch two solo shots off him, with Bernie Williams hitting one to lead off the 2nd to stake Pettitte to a 1-0 lead. Pettitte gave up the lead in the bottom of the inning, putting runners on 2nd and 3rd with 2 outs and the pitcher coming to the plate. Leiter dragged a bunt towards first base, and Pettitte sprinted to cover first but dropped the throw. Benny Agbayani followed with an RBI single, and an inning that should have been over instead resulted in 2 runs and a 2-1 Mets lead.
Pettitte worked in and out of trouble through the rest of the game, picking off Kurt Abbott in the 4th to stifle one particularly rally. Meanwhile, Derek Jeter homered off Leiter with one out in the 6th, Mike Stanton relieved Pettitte in the 8th inning and retired the side in order, and the game entered the 9th inning deadlocked at 2. Leiter struck out Tino Martinez and Paul O’Neill to start the frame, and was at 129 pitches when Jorge Posada dug in. With John Franco in the Mets bullpen, it seemed obvious that no matter what the result, Posada would be Leiter’s last batter.
Posada had a fantastic at-bat, fouling off a number of pitches before working a 9 pitch walk. With Leiter now at 138 pitches, Bobby Valentine allowed him to face Scott Brosius, whose infield single moved Jorge to second. Apparently Valentine decided that Leiter had something left, because he allowed him to throw the fateful 142nd pitch. The batter was Luis Sojo, who had just entered in the 8th in a double switch, and he hit a 20 hopper up the middle that just squeezed through the Mets defense. The throw home hit Posada and bounded away, allowing Brosius to score and give the Yankees a 4-2 lead.
Mariano Rivera entered and was soon facing Mike Piazza with two outs and a runner on second base. Piazza drilled Mo’s second pitch deep to center field, and off the bat it seemed like Mike may have tied the game. But the ball was hit to the deepest portion of Shea Stadium and died before the warning track, where Bernie Williams gloved it to set off yet another Yankees celebration.