Many who lived through and experienced the "Dynasty" and the "Core Four" consider 1996 the sweetest memory of them all. After all, it was the first World Series title after a long drought and it did not even seem possible after the first two games of the 1996 World Series. There were so many heroes of that World Series and during the course of these "Top Moments" posts, many of them will be recounted. This "moment" concerns the deciding Game Six of that Series and a dagger placed in the hearts of Atlanta Braves fans by catcher, Joe Girardi. We hear a lot of the Core Four. To me, at least, it should have been a Core Five or Core Six to include Bernie Williams and Paul O'Neill. But the term does include catcher, Jorge Posada. And the one misnomer about his inclusion (not to belittle his accomplishments) is that he was not really a part of the 1996 and 1997 story. Posada had a cup of coffee in 1996 and saw just a little more action in 1997. The 1996 Yankee pitching staff belonged to Girardi.
The Yankees had signed Girardi as a free agent on December 3, 1995 after he had spent the first seven years of his career with the Cubs (first) and then the Rockies. Although he signed for pretty good money (for 1995), it was not a real heralded deal. The Yankees needed a starting catcher with the departure of Mike Stanley and Jim Leyritz was not considered starter material.
Girardi had a reputation as a tough catcher who handled a pitching staff well and had tasted some post season action with the Rockies and the Cubs. But he was far from a star. In those offensive years, he never had a wOBA over 100 during his career, and his defense wasn't rated really that high either. For his fifteen years in the big leagues, he accumulated only 5.7 rWAR.
Girardi had what looks like a very good offensive campaign in 1996, but again, in that offensive era, it only looks great when filtering through our current offensive outputs. But he was the Yankees' catcher and up until Game Six, was not having a great World Series.
Leyritz had gotten the start in Games One and Five and Leyritz was one of the big heroes in Game Four after Girardi had been lifted for a pinch hitter. Leyritz was living large in New York after his offensive heroics in Game Four and then being the catcher for the gem thrown by Andy Pettitte in Game Five.
And that was a big deal after the way the Series started. The Braves had drubbed the Yankees in Yankee Stadium in the first two games, outscoring the underdog Yankees, 16-1. David Cone won Game Three to give the team some life. A big comeback in Game Four and the extra-inning win put the Series back on equal ground and then Pettitte put the Braves on the ropes with his masterpiece.
Girardi was the forgotten guy. And it didn't help that he was zero for eight in the Series with a walk when Game Six started.
The great Greg Maddux started for the Braves and he was the best pitcher in the National League at that point. While some of his numbers were up a bit in 1996 from his unbelievable 1994 and 1995 seasons, Maddux still led the league in strikeout to walk ratio and had an ERA+ of 162. He was tough. Jimmy Key started for the Yankees in front of the hometown crowd.
Maddux and Key traded zeroes for the first two innings and Key kept the Braves off the board in the top of the third. Then came the bottom of the third.
Paul O'Neill started it off with a double down the right field line. Second baseman, Mariano Duncan, grounded out to second which allowed O'Neill to go to third. No doubt the announcers said something about a productive out. Then Girardi came up.
Maddux and Girardi knew each other very well as Maddux pitched to Girardi when they were on the Cubs together. Maddux probably figured he knew how to get Girardi out. Girardi probably knew what to look for.from Maddux.
Girardi was not a power hitter. He never had a slugging percentage over .400 in his career. So Marquis Grissom was playing shallow in center field. Maddux left his first pitch high and Girardi went after it. This was the result:
While driving in the first run of the game was exciting enough, the inning did not stop there. Derek Jeter hit a single to left to score Girardi, stole second and then scored on a single by Bernie Williams. The Yankees had a 3-0 lead and never scored again. It was enough and the Yankees held on to win the game and the World Series. Girardi jumping on John Wetteland after the last out is an enduring image.
Joe Girardi was not the flashy star for the 1996 New York Yankees. But on October 26, 1996, he helped break the hearts of the Atlanta Braves and became one of the many unlikely heroes post seasons tend to showcase.