Yankees Top Moments Tournament: (#2) David Wells' perfect game vs. (#3) Jim Leyritz's '96 game-tying homer

Jim McIsaac & USA Today Sports

Which moment holds a bigger place in Yankees' lore: a perfect game or a game-tying home run in the World Series?

The Pinstripe Alley Top Moments Tournament enters the second round of the 1980-1999 bracket. Vote for the moment that deserves to move on in the poll below.


#2: David Wells' Perfect Game

The Yankees sparked some controversy after the 1996 World Series when they let the popular Jimmy Key walk in favor of fellow lefty David Wells, who'd been on four different teams in the previous five seasons. The hefty, tattooed, biker-bred Wells seemed an odd fit for the clean-cut Yankees of the late 90's, but his Yankee-killing reputation and his success at the Stadium convinced Bob Watson and George Steinbrenner otherwise.

After a solid '97 campaign that included a big win in the ill-fated ALDS vs. Cleveland, Wells stumbled out of the gate in '98, posting a 5.23 ERA over his first eight starts and drawing criticism from Joe Torre over his questionable conditioning. As if to prove his manager right, he took the hill vs. Minnesota on May 17th, three days before his thirty-fifth birthday in a state he later described as "half in the bag." We'll never know for sure if Wells was really drunk or hung over that Sunday afternoon, but the end result can't be disputed. After striking out eleven Twins through an untouched 8.2, Wells got shortstop Pat Mears to loft his 120th pitch to Paul O'Neill in right for the final out of the fifteenth perfect game in MLB history and the first for the Yankees since Don Larsen's in the 1956 World Series.

Wells' perfecto sealed for him a permanent place in Yankee lore and won him the coveted "true Yankee" title that he still holds to this day, even though he pitched just four total seasons in pinstripes. He cemented his status with a third-place Cy Young finish in '98 and a 4-0 playoff record that year en route to the club's historic 125-win run of dominance. His trade to the Blue Jays after the season drew the ire of many of the Yankee faithful even though the team got Roger Clemens in return.

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Entry written by Harlan Spence on December 4, 2013.

#3: Jim Leyritz's '96 World Series game-tying home run

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The Yankees got off to a very sluggish start to the 1996 World Series; they got outscored at home 16-1 through the first two games against the defending champion Atlanta Braves. They got back on track in Game 3, however, as David Cone gave them a very gritty six innings while yielding just one run, and the offense was able to outlast Tom Glavine and the Braves' bullpen in Atlanta. With the series now 2-1 in favor of the Braves, the Yankees, like the first two games, struggled mightily, this time through the first five innings of Game 4. Kenny Rogers started for the Bombers, and, like his first two playoff starts that October, got shelled. "The Gambler" allowed five runs and seven base runners through just two innings. The offense, meanwhile, had a hard time picking up their starter, as the Braves' Denny Neagle held New York in check. At least through the first five innings, anyway.

Neagle retired the first eight Yankees he faced before allowing a single to the opposing starter Rogers with two down in the third. The Yankees were able to scratch together a handful of walks (three, to be exact) in the fourth, but a poorly timed Bernie Williams double play hurt the rally. In the sixth, however, things changed, as the Yankees, down 6-0 to begin the frame, strung together four straight base runners together (Derek Jeter single, Bernie Williams walk, Cecil Fielder single, and a Charlie Hayes single) to knock Neagle out of the game and make the score 6-3. The Braves' bullpen was able to stop the damage and escape further trouble.

Although Jeff Nelson pieced together two scoreless innings in the sixth and seventh, the Yankees were running out of time to complete the comeback. The Braves attempted to put the nail in the Yankees' coffin by summoning their closer, Mark Wohlers, to record the final six outs. However, Hayes reached on an infield single that slowly rolled to third base and died in fair territory while Darryl Strawberry singled to left set the stage for Jim Leyritz to tie the game. Leyritz, who didn't even start the game, worked one hell of an at-bat against one of the best closers in baseball that year in Wohlers. With the count at 2-2, Wohlers hung a slider to Leyritz and the latter crushed it over the left field fence for a three-run home run to knot the game at six.

Though the Yankees were able to tie the game, the business wasn't finished quite yet. Thanks to more help from the Yankees' bullpen (namely Mariano Rivera and Graeme Lloyd), which was a very underrated part of this game, the team was able to take the lead in the 10th, courtesy of a bases loaded, pinch-hit walk by Wade Boggs. For insurance, Charlie Hayes reached on a Ryan Klesko error. With the score 8-6, Yankees, John Wetteland was able to wiggle out of trouble, though Paul O'Neill helped him out as the latter made a nice running catch to rob Terry Pendleton of a game-tying extra base hit to end the game.

If you believe in "momentum," Leyritz's game-tying three-run home run was surely a momentum-grabber that the Yankees would hold onto for good. After winning Game 4, the Yankees were able to win Game 5 in Atlanta (thanks to Andy Pettitte's masterful pitching performance) and Game 6 back in the Bronx to seal the franchise's 23rd World Series championship.

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Entry written by Jesse Schindler on December 5, 2013.

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