Our All-Time Yankees Fantasy Showdown is just about set to move into the Final Four. Two modern teams – 1998 and 2009 – are still alive as they vie to join 1927 and 1953 in the tournament’s penultimate round. But two late ‘30s teams are itching to spoil their rides.
For the uninitiated, we’re using Out of the Park Baseball 21 to stage a simulated tournament between the Yankees’ best teams to see who reigns supreme. You can check out summaries of other Elite Eight action here.
In this edition, it’s truly a tale of two series. Onward.
(1) 1998 vs. (2) 1937
It’s been all chalk in the Gehrig region, with the favorites winning every matchup so far. The top-seeded 1998 team beat 1976 in six games in the opening round, then outlasted 1943 in seven to reach the Elite Eight. The ’37 squad swept 2000 (which notably featuring many of the same players as ’98) before beating 1932 in six.
In Game One, Paul O’Neill roped a three-run double off ’37 starter Lefty Gomez in the first inning, giving his own starter David Cone and the ’98 bullpen all the support they’d need en route to a 4-2 win to open the series.
Thirty-seven responded with a vengeance in Game Two, with Lou Gehrig taking David Wells deep for a three-run first-inning shot as his boys triumphed 8-1, backed by Red Ruffing.
It would prove to be 1937’s high point. In Game Three, Derek Jeter and Bernie Williams each drove in three runs as ’98 won 9-4. Multi-hit performances by Williams, Chuck Knoblauch and Jorge Posada propelled 1998 to a 7-5 victory in Game Four to take a 3-1 series lead.
And not squandering the momentum they’d gained in the previous two games, ’98 closed out the series in Game Five on the back of a five-RBI performance from Jeter to win 11-7. The top-seeded team in the Gehrig region made relatively quick work of their rivals and are rolling as they head into the Final Four.
Paul O’Neill, who hit .368 with a homer and five RBI, was named series MVP.
(3) 1938 vs. (4) 2009
Going up against the formidable 1998 team will be either 2009, the Yankees’ most recent World Series winner, or 1938, the final championship squad to feature both Joe DiMaggio and Lou Gehrig. Thirty-eight dispatched 1977 in six games in the first round, then edged past 1999 in seven games in the second; the 2009 squad beat 1949 4-2 in the first round, then pulled off a shocking five-game upset of top-seeded 1961 to arrive in the Elite Eight.
Game One set the stage for a memorable and dramatic series. The teams traded early runs, with starters CC Sabathia and Lefty Gomez getting roughed up in the opening innings. After five frames, ’38 held a 5-3 advantage, which they maintained through the seventh. But in the top of the eighth, 2009 struck for four runs, keyed by a two-out, two-run double by Melky Cabrera, which Johnny Damon followed up with a two-run bomb to right. All of a sudden, it was 7-5 in favor of ’09, with their formidable bullpen warming up.
Unfortunately for 2009, Girardi was under the impression that lefty Phil Coke was a part of that formidable bullpen. He went out for the eighth inning after already pitching a scoreless seventh, but immediately gave up 449-foot blast to the lefty-swinging catcher Bill Dickey. Up just one run, Coke flirted with more danger, surrendering a double and a single, but was saved by right fielder Nick Swisher, who gunned down Joe Gordon at the plate to preserve 2009’s lead. Coke had done his job, however precariously. He got the ball to Mariano Rivera.
A couple of facts about Rivera, who is of course widely considered to be the best closer ever: he surrendered just 73 home runs during his career, including both the regular season and in October (his career HR/9 rate is just 0.50, which places him 10th all time among relievers who’ve pitched at least 1,000 innings.) And among those 73 homers, just two were back-to-back shots, hit by Tampa Bay’s Carl Crawford and Evan Longoria on May 7, 2009. Look at that date again – 2009. Isn’t that ironic? Painfully so for the ’09 squad. After retiring Bill Knickerbocker on a groundout to short, Frankie Crosetti took Rivera deep to right to tie the game at seven. On the very next pitch, Red Rolfe did the exact same thing. Thirty-eight walked off the greatest closer of all time on back-to-back jacks. It wouldn’t be the only fireworks of the series.
With a dramatic Game One win filling their sails, ’38 kept the momentum going with a 4-2 win in Game Two. The 2009 bullpen again looked creaky, with David Robertson giving up a two-run homer to Lou Gehrig in the eighth inning with the score tied 2-2. It proved decisive.
Game Three was 6-4 in favor of ’38, who all of a sudden looked unbeatable with a 3-0 series lead. The 2009 team, who had manhandled the 1961 team just a series prior, was being manhandled itself. But in Game Four, they began to fight back.
Joba Chamberlain was the scheduled starter, but he’d actually been forced to pitch in relief of CC Sabathia in Game One, so he could only give them 2.2 innings. He wasn’t particularly sharp, walking four and giving up a run. Old friend Chien-Ming Wang came on in relief, tossing 5.1 innings. Home runs by Derek Jeter and Robinson Cano bolstered the ’09 offense and the score was tied 4-4 after nine. In the bottom of the tenth, Alex Rodriguez led off with a single against righty Lee Stine, who then proceeded to walk both Cano and Mark Teixeira. With Wes Ferrell on in relief, Jorge Posada lofted a fly ball to center, which allowed Rodriguez to tag and score the winning run. It may not have been as dramatic as a walk-off homer, but ’09 were still breathing.
Game Five saw a rematch of Sabathia and Gomez and each fared better. With the score tied 2-2 in the bottom of the seventh, ’09 exploded for six runs, powered by a Nick Swisher solo shot and Alex Rodriguez grand slam. The 2009 team held on for an 8-6 win to stay alive.
Game Six was a tense affair. After ’09 starter Andy Pettitte allowed runs in each of the first two innings, his offense responded with a solo homer by Melky Cabrera in the third and a two-run shot by Johnny Damon in the fourth. Derek Jeter added a solo bomb in the seventh to put his team up 5-3, but ’38 once again stirred in the ninth, scoring a run on a Jorge Posada passed ball to pull within one. Mark Melancon, on the mound instead of Rivera (who’d pitched in the previous game and allowed another Crosetti homer), squared off against Joe DiMaggio with runners on the corners and the game in the balance. Melancon induced the Yankee Clipper to ground out to second to seal the 5-4 win and, improbably, send the series to seven games.
Game Seven was set up to be a classic, but it seemed 1938 were psyched out after squandering a 3-0 series. The 2009 team, with all the momentum, romped in the decisive game, pounding out six extra-base hits, including two home runs, en route to a 7-2 win. Jorge Posada, who hit .500 and drove in six runs, was named MVP.
Next up, 1998.