The Pinstripe Alley Top Moments Tournament continues with the 1980-1999 bracket. Vote for the moment that deserves to move in on the poll below.
#3: Jim Leyritz's '96 World Series game-tying home run
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.
#6: The Jeffrey Maier home run
Rewind back to the 1996 ALCS. The Yankees had reached the American League Championship Series for the first time since they faced the Athletics in 1981. This time, they were playing the Orioles, who came up four games short of the Yankees in the American League East standings that season. Enter Game 1 of the LCS between the two division foes. Then 24-year-old Andy Pettitte opposed Orioles' right-hander Scott Erickson. Both starters were solid, albeit unspectacular. Pettitte allowed four runs on two walks and seven hits through seven while surrendering solo home runs to Brady Anderson and Rafael Palmeiro. Meanwhile, Erickson allowed a trio of Yankees to score (though only two were earned) on seven hits and three walks through 6.1.
With the Orioles holding onto their 4-3 lead to the home eighth, they summoned reliever Armando Benitez from the 'pen. The first batter he faced, Derek Jeter, lifted a high fly ball to right field. It appeared as though Orioles right fielder Tony Tarasco was set to catch the ball right at the wall, but, instead, a young boy named Jeffrey Maier reached out and grabbed the descending ball before Tarasco could get a glove on it. Obviously, Maier's interference of play caused a huge controversy as Tarasco, Orioles manager Davey Johnson, and even Benitez, who stormed all the way from the mound, got into right field umpire Richie Garcia's face about the blown call. It was a huge game-changing moment, as it appeared as though Tarasco would have caught the descending ball had Maier not reached out for it.
Though the Orioles had surrendered the lead thanks to Maier's interference, they still had a chance to pick themselves up and win the game. However, thanks to yet another strong performance from the Yankees' bullpen, the Orioles would not score again. With the game still knotted at four, Bernie Williams stepped into the box for the Yanks in the home 11th against Orioles lefty Randy Myers. Williams, who always crushed lefties, did the same to Myers, as he launched a ball deep in the left field seats to win the game 5-4.
The Yankees would not only win the game, but they would go on to win the series in five games before beating the Braves in six games in the Fall Classic. If you really think about it, the Jeffrey Maier-aided home run was the first signature moment of the Yankees' late 90's-early 2000's dynasty, despite it being a very controversial moment. Had there been replay at the time, I'd have to think the call would have gotten reversed, at least, for the "integrity of the game," if you will, it absolutely should have. Either way, that October night in the Bronx will be something Maier, as well as every player involved and each fan who watched, will remember for a long, long time to come.
- Yankees Top Moments: (#2) David Wells' perfect game vs. (#7) Don Mattingly's playoff home run
- Posting System: NPB could agree to $20M max bid, but what's the tiebreaker?
- Robinson Cano free agency: Mariners may have topped Yankees offer
- Yankees sign Jacoby Ellsbury: Contract total and option updates
- Yankees sign Jacoby Ellsbury: Was it a smart move?