The three-part series on iconic moments of the Yankees' championships concludes with this post, which looks back on the final third of the titles, beginning in 1961.
1961: "A bad year for the Babe"
In '61, the Yankees had an absolute juggernaut, one of the greatest teams in baseball history. After a rare World Series absence in '59 and an agonizing seven-game loss to the Pirates in '60 on Bill Mazeroski's series-ending homer, old manager Casey Stengel was fired and replaced by former backup catcher Ralph Houk. He inherited a powerful team that somehow got better in '61 as Roger Maris won his second straight AL MVP with a record-breaking 61 homers to break Babe Ruth's single-season home run record and Mickey Mantle complemented Maris's mashing with a career-high 54 dingers of his own. The team set a record that lasted for 35 years with 240 homers as a team, and their pitching staff led by Cy Young Award winner Whitey Ford was also one of baseball's best. The '61 Yanks won 109 games to capture the AL pennant over a very good 101-win Tigers team, and they met young Frank Robinson and the Reds in the World Series.
It only took five games for the Yankees to oust Cincinnati with a couple highlights coming in Ford's Game 1 two-hit shutout and Maris's ninth-inning solo homer at Crosley Field in Game 3 to lead the Yankees to a 3-2 victory. The most memorable moment likely came in Game 4 though, when Ford took the mound for the second time in the series. He was unaware of it until reporters informed him before the game, but he was aiming to take down another of Ruth's records. Back when he was a pitcher with the Red Sox, Ruth threw 29 2/3 consecutive scoreless innings in the World Series, a record that gave him great pride. However, Ford threw a pair of shutouts in '60 Fall Classic and combined with his Game 1 shutout in '61, he had 27 straight scoreless innings entering Game 4. Ford broke Ruth's record with five scoreless innings that day before leaving with an injury; the record officially fell after Elio Chacon bounced out to second base to end the third, his 30th straight scoreless innings. Even the Reds fans at Crosley Field gave Ford a nice ovation, and the record continued until it officially ended in the '62 World Series at 33 2/3 straight scoreless innings. After the game, Ford remarked that '61 was "a bad year for the Babe." The Yankees finished off the Reds the next day and Ford was named World Series MVP. Mariano Rivera broke Ford's playoff record, but his World Series mark still stands today.
1962: A heart-stopping finish
Houk's Yankees faced a far greater challenge than the '61 Reds in the '62 World Series, as Willie Mays and Willie McCovey's Giants took them the distance in a seven-game classic. No one won consecutive games, weather delayed Game 6 by four days, and the Yankees somehow managed to prevail despite the hard-hitting Mantle and Elston Howard slugging under .200. The seventh game was as dramatic as any in baseball history with Giants ace Jack Sanford matching up with All-Star Ralph Terry.
Terry was most known for being on the mound when Mazeroski broke Yankees fans' hearts in the '60 World Series, but with the help of new pitching coach Johnny Sain, he had the best season of his career in '62. Although Sanford outpitched him in Game 2 at Candlestick Park by hurling a three-hit shutout, Terry emerged victorious in Game 5 at Yankee Stadium with a complete game 5-3 win. The rain allowed them to match up for a third time in the San Francisco finale, and it was one of the best pitching duels in World Series history. The Yankees appeared poised to break open the scoreless tie in the fifth with the top of the order coming up with the bases loaded and none out. However, they only got one run out of it, as Sanford coaxed a 6-4-3 double play from Tony Kubek and a Bobby Richardson pop-up. That one run was all Terry needed, even without much run support (the Yankees completely blew another bases loaded, none out jam in the eighth). Terry was perfect through 5 2/3 innings and spun a two-hit shutout through eight before returning to the mound in the ninth to finish off the 1-0 gem.
The Giants caught a break when catcher Howard was unable to grab a Matty Alou pop-up near the home dugout. After the game, Howard said someone hit him in the shoulder, but the Giants of course denied it, claiming they were trying to prevent him from falling. Whatever the reason, Alou had a second chance and beat out a drag bunt toward second base to lead off the inning. Matty's brother Felipe failed to bunt him over as Terry struck him out, then fanned Game 4 grand slam hero Chuck Hiller to send the Giants down to their last out. Mays wasn't a bad guy to have up as the last chance, and he proved it by slashing a 2-0 pitch for a double down the right field line. Normally, it would have scored the fastest Alou, but the ground was wet from the rain and Maris made an outstanding play to cut the ball off. He got it to the cutoff man, forcing Matty to stop at third. That brought up McCovey, who slugged a homer off Terry in Game 2 to lead the Giants to victory. Any miscue in the field would tie the game up, if not give the Giants their first World Series title on the West Coast. Since Mays was so fast, a single would make the Giants winners, too.
Terry elected to pitch to McCovey instead of walking him to faced Orlando Cepeda with the bases loaded and absolutely no margin for error. It was a tough decision, and for a moment, it looked awful as McCovey crushed the bejesus out of Terry's second pitch. Fortunately, the line drive went straight to Richardson to end the series in a 1-0 shutout. Terry, whose teammates carried him off the field, had redemption, and noted Giants fan Charles Schulz had anguish.
1977: Reg-gie, Reg-gie, Reg-gie
To say that there was acrimony in the Yankees' clubhouse in '77 would be an understatement. There was chaos all year long as new slugger Reggie Jackson feuded with manager Billy Martin, who also feuded with George Steinbrenner while Reggie also had his differences with teammates loyal to captain Thurman Munson, who he criticized in Spring Training. Amid the discord, the Yankees found a way to win 100 games to capture their second straight AL East crown, and they rallied from down one in the ninth inning of the decisive Game 5 to win the ALCS over the Royals, clinching their second straight AL pennant after a 12-year drought from 1964-76. The Yankees had lost the previous three World Series they played in, and they faced Tommy Lasorda's Los Angeles Dodgers in the '77 Fall Classic hoping to turn the tide.
A walk-off single by Paul Blair in Game 1 gave the Yankees their first World Series win since '64. They lost the second game at Yankee Stadium, but went on to take two of three across the country at Dodger Stadium. Jackson hit a solo homer in Game 4 and another solo shot in his last at-bat of Game 5, foreshadowing what was to come back in the Bronx for Game 6. Burt Hooton started against Mike Torrez, and the Dodgers got off to a good start thanks to a two-run Steve Garvey triple. Chris Chambliss tied the score on a two-run homer after Jackson was walked on four pitches in the second, but Reggie Smith countered with a long ball of his own to give the Dodgers a 3-2 lead.
An inning later, Munson led off with a single and Jackson stepped in against Hooton. On the first pitch, he slugged a two-run homer to right field as the Yankees took a 4-3 lead that they would not relinquish. They scored another run that inning when Hooton was relieved by Elias Sosa, and in the fifth, Jackson hit the first pitch he saw for a screaming line drive to the short porch in right, another two-run homer. Pitching with a four-run margin, Torrez settled down and faced the minimum 12 batters from innings five through eight. Jackson led off the bottom of the eighth, but he faced knuckleballer Charlie Hough this time. It's no secret that facing a knuckler after having hit against normal velocity all day can be tricky. It did not matter to Reggie, who demolished Hough's first pitch for perhaps the longest homer to center field in the history of Yankee Stadium. He joined Babe Ruth as the only players to have three-homer World Series games, and going back to Game 5, it was four homers on four pitches for Reggie, an astounding achievement. The Yankees won 8-4 for their first title in 15 years, and Jackson was the World Series MVP.
1978: Graig's glove turns the tide
Despite even more clubhouse tension in '78 that eventually led to Martin's ouster, the Yankees roared back from a 14 1/2 game deficit to force a one-game AL East playoff against the Red Sox, which was famously won thanks to light-hitting shortstop Bucky Dent's three-run homer. After dismissing in the Royals during the ALCS for the third straight year, the Yankees met the Dodgers in the World Series. To date, the '78 World Series is the only Fall Classic of the past 55 years to feature a rematch of the previous year's teams, and the Yankees sought to beat L.A. again. Bob Lemon's bunch promptly stumbled out of the gate at Dodger Stadium, losing both of the first two games, forcing them to return to the Bronx needing to win at least two games there to stay alive.
The Yankees finally got a chance to deploy AL Cy Young Award winner Ron Guidry in the series for Game 3. They took an early 2-0 lead on Hall of Famer Don Sutton on the strength of a solo homer by Roy White and a RBI groundout by Bucky Dent. The Dodgers' Bill Russell countered with a two-out single to score center fielder Bill North, cutting the score to 2-1 in the third. The offense was unable to build on this lead, so Guidry headed to the fifth with a slim one-run lead. A walk and two singles loaded the bases with two outs for the dangerous Steve Garvey, who smashed a hard grounder toward the left field line. However, Graig Nettles made an excellent stop to rob Garvey of a hit and forced the runner at second to end the inning, saving a pair of runs and the lead. Two innings later, Ron Cey came up with runners on second and third with two outs, and he hit a liner in the air near Nettles, who jumped to his left and made a great catch. Twice, Nettles had thwarted Dodger rallies with amazing plays, and the Yankees rewarded his terrific defense with insurance runs and a 5-1 victory. The Yankees won three games in a row and captured their second straight title.
1996: Leyritz rocks the south
After 15 years away from the World Series, the Yankees finally returned in '96 with a superb squad mixed with youngsters like Derek Jeter and Andy Pettitte, players in their prime like Bernie Williams and Paul O'Neill, and experienced veterans, most notably David Cone and Cecil Fielder. New manager Joe Torre's well-organized team won the AL East, then dispatched a pair of talented Rangers and Orioles teams on their way to the World Series, dropping just two games on the way and going 5-0 on the road.
Despite this success, they were heavy underdogs to the Atlanta Braves in the World Series, and understandably so--Bobby Cox's team was in their fourth Fall Classic of the '90s. They were the defending champions, and their future Hall of Fame starting trio of Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine, and John Smoltz appeared unbeatable. Mystified by Smoltz and Maddux in the first two games at Yankee Stadium, the Yankees fell behind 0-2. Some thought the World Series over already, but behind Cone and Bernie, they avoided an 0-3 deficit with a Game 3 win.
However, the wheels came off from the get-go of Game 4. Kenny Rogers was awful; before they could blink, the Braves had a 6-0 lead and appeared well on their way to a 3-1 series lead. Undeterred, the Yankees cut the six-run deficit in half and put two runners on for catcher Jim Leyritz in the eighth. Flamethrowing closer Mark Wohlers hung a slider, and the Braves' lead was history. The Yankees won it in 10 to tie series, took the next two games to win their first Fall Classic in 18 years, and a dynasty was born.
1998: Tino feels grand
The '98 Yankees were an amazingly good team that seemed to dominate everyone they faced. They just didn't have any weaknesses. They romped to a then-AL record 114 victories with an outstanding +309 run differential, swept the Rangers in the ALDS, and rebounded from an unexpected 2-1 ALCS deficit to beat Cleveland in six games. The World Series was not much of a contest, even though the Padres were a fine team. It still brought some memorable moments, especially in Game 1.
ALCS MVP David Wells did not bring his good stuff to Yankee Stadium for the opener, as San Diego touched him up for three homers to take a 5-2 lead. Padres ace Kevin Brown allowed just the two runs through six, but the Yankees knocked him out of the game and put two runners on for Chuck Knoblauch. He was the goat of ALCS Game 2 when he argued with the umpire rather than throwing out the game-winning run. Knoblauch atoned for his mistake by smashing a three-run homer, knotting the score at 5-5.
The rally was already exciting, and a few batters later, Tino Martinez had a chance to make it unforgettable with the bases loaded and the score still even. He has struggled in his playoff history to date, but after a close 2-2 pitch called a ball, Tino launched Donnie Wall's next pitch to the upper deck in right for a go-ahead grand slam. Yankee Stadium, now 75, literally shook. The Yankees won the next three games to sweep and secure their 24th World Series title.
1999: Curtis drops the mic
Since the vast majority of the '98 team was back in '99, it should surprise no one that this team was just as sound. They won 98 games of their own and another AL East title thanks to MVP-caliber performances from Jeter and Bernie. Closer Mariano Rivera blew a couple saves in July, then decided that he had enough of this "giving up runs" business. He threw 43 consecutive scoreless innings throughout the rest of the year. The 11-2 record posted by the '98 Yankees in the playoffs was terrific, but the '99 squad was even better in the playoffs. They swept the Rangers in the first round for the second straight year and encountered no such major ALCS problems like the '98 team. The Red Sox were sent home after just have games; a blowout loss in Game 3 marked the '99 Yankees' only playoff defeat.
The Yankees encountered the Braves in the World Series for the second time in four years. Although the two teams appeared to be an even match this time, Torre's team ended up sweeping their second straight World Series. They deployed a Game 1 eighth inning rally to come back and defeat Maddux in Atlanta, then returned to the Bronx with a 2-0 lead after Cone dominated Game 2. The third game brought the Yankees' biggest challenge to date, as the Braves knocked Pettitte around to take a 5-1 lead. The tables turned on Yankee homers by little-known outfielder Chad Curtis, Tino, and for the second straight year, a late game-tying three-run homer by the light-hitting Knoblauch.
The game went to extra innings, and in the 11th, the Braves brought in Mike Remlinger. Curtis led off the inning, having only had a multi-homer game three times in 1,075 career games until then. He demolished Remlinger's pitch and sent it into the Braves' bullpen far over the left-center field wall. The game was over, and the next day, the series was over. His recent crimes and jail sentence have sadly put a black mark over this incredible moment and the greatest "drops mic" bat flip of all time. Dammit, Curtis.
2000: Thousand-hopper for the three-peat
While '98 and '99 brought near-cakewalks to the AL East crown, 2000 brought an obstacle course of a season. Disappointing campaigns from several key members of the team and a 3-15 finish to the season led the team to finish with 87 wins, the lowest total they posted in a 162-game season over a span of 20 seasons from 1993-2012. Fortunately, it was enough to win a weak AL East anyway, and the Yankees played better baseball in October. Despite the improved play, they needed the maximum five games to beat the Athletics in the ALDS and six of the seven possible games to send the Mariners home in the ALCS.
For the first time in 44 years, New York City had a Subway Series, as slugging catcher Mike Piazza's Mets won their first NL pennant since 1986 to reach the World Series. They led Game 1 late until closer Armando Benitez blew the save and surprise starter Jose Vizcaino lined a single to win it for the Yankees in extra innings. A dominant yet controversial start by Roger Clemens in Game 2 secured the Yankees' record 14th consecutive World Series victory, but the streak was broken when the Mets took Game 3 at Shea Stadium. Jeter halted the Mets' momentum with a leadoff homer in Game 4 and the Yankees took a 3-1 series lead with a 3-2 win.
The Mets turned to their ace, Al Leiter, to send the series back to Yankee Stadium. Leiter was up to the task, dominating the Yankees over eight innings with the only blemishes coming on solo homers by Bernie and Jeter. The Mets managed just two runs off Pettitte and the bullpen though, so Leiter returned to the mound in the ninth in a 2-2 tie. He struck out the first two batters and nearly fanned Jorge Posada, but the Yankees' catcher worked a walk. Scott Brosius singled and Torre sent veteran infielder Luis Sojo up to pinch-hit for the pitcher. Sojo grounded Leiter's 141st pitch up the middle on a thousand hops for a base hit, a single slow enough to score Posada and eventually Brosius when the throw home hit Posada and bounced into the dugout. Rivera closed out the Yankees' third straight title, a mind-boggling feat in this era of three-round playoffs.
2009: Go go Godzilla
Although the Yankee spent the rest of the decade trying to win their 27th title, they came up short in October despite seven straight playoff appearances from 2001-07. Overall, they had made the playoffs for an AL record 13 straight years until the last season at Yankee Stadium ended without a playoff berth for the first time since 1993. They subsequently made big improvements in the off-season, bringing in the likes of CC Sabathia, Mark Teixeira, and Nick Swisher to complement their already-strong core of veterans. These roster adjustments helped the Yankees to 103 victories, which is still more than any team in the majors has recorded in one season since 2004. Big October contributions from Alex Rodriguez and Sabathia guided the Yankees to an ALDS sweep of the Twins and a six-game ALCS triumph over the Angels.
The Phillies were the defending World Series champions, and they made it back to the Fall Classic in '09 with a similarly great team. Led by deadline acquisition Cliff Lee, Philadelphia dominated Game 1, but the Yankees won three in a row between Yankee Stadium and Citizens Bank Park. Although they missed an opportunity to end the World Series when they lost Game 5, they returned to Yankee Stadium in Game 6 ready to close it out. Old nemesis Pedro Martinez started for the Phillies, and veteran DH Hideki Matsui roughed him up with both a two-run homer and a two-run single to give the Yankees a 4-0 lead. Pedro was done by the fifth, but "Godzilla" was not. He belted a two-run double to make the score 7-1, tying a single-game record for World Series RBI and essentially locking up World Series MVP honors with a .615/.643/1.385 triple slash in 14 plate appearances. A weak grounder from Shane Victorino against Rivera clinched the Yankees' 27th World Series title. Go go Godzilla.