Here at Pinstripe Alley we're in the midst of a 20th anniversary retrospective for the 1996 World Series champions. In the spirit of that series, and since the entire east coast is being covered with snow this weekend, it seems like an appropriate time to take a look back at the Yankees' home opener that season. On April 9, 1996 the Yankees hosted the Kansas City Royals in a game that featured snow flurries from beginning to end. In Joe Torre's home debut as Yankee manager, most still didn't know what to expect from this team. However, the game became a signature moment for a team that would have many more before season's end.
Given that snow was falling at game time, not much offense was expected in this one, and Bernie Williams got the Yankees on the board in the bottom of the second inning with a sacrifice fly. It seemed like that would be all they needed until the fifth when things got interesting. The Royals tied the game in the first half of the inning but the Yankees took their lead right back in the bottom half on back to back singles from Paul O'Neill and Jim Leyritz that scored three runs.
Things got dicey again in the seventh when reliever Bob Wickman surrendered a two-run single, making it a one-run game. Just like the fifth inning, the Yankees responded with a three-run rally of their own in the bottom half sparked by a pair of doubles from current Yankee skipper Joe Girardi and Leyritz. Batting cleanup as the designated hitter, Jim Leyritz was the offensive catalyst for the Yankees, going 3-for-3 with a walk, two RBI's and two runs scored. This wouldn't be the last time that he would come through in the clutch in 1996. From this point, the Yankees cruised to a victory capped by a perfect ninth inning from John Wetteland.
The real star of the show, though, was Andy Pettitte. The young lefty was coming off a successful rookie campaign, but with this start he began to earn his reputation as a gutsy pitcher that could get the job done under less than ideal conditions. The competition wasn't exactly stiff as the Royals best hitters in 1996 were Mike Macfarlane and 1994 AL Rookie of the Year Bob Hamelin. Still, Pettitte pitched six strong innings, striking out six, in frigid temperatures with persistent precipitation. It was the type of performance that the Yankees came to expect and would desperately need from him come playoff time. In some ways, the championship seeds that would flourish for the Yankees in October were sewn on this snowy day in April.
Enjoy the snow, everyone. Only 26 days until pitcher and catchers report.