On this day 25 years ago, the New York Yankees were coming close to ending an 18-year championship drought. The scenario was Game 5 of the 1996 World Series. That day, the baseball world bore witnesses to one of the greatest pitching duels in the history of the Fall Classic.
These were the lineups for both ballclubs that day.
New York Yankees
- 1. Derek Jeter (SS)
- 2. Charlie Hayes (3B)
- 3. Bernie Williams (CF)
- 4. Cecil Fielder (1B)
- 5. Darryl Strawberry (LF)
- 6. Paul O’Neill (RF)
- 7. Mariano Duncan (2B)
- 8. Jim Leyritz (C)
- 9. Andy Pettitte (P)
- 1. Marquis Grissom (CF)
- 2. Mark Lemke (2B)
- 3. Chipper Jones (3B)
- 4. Fred McGriff (1B
- 5. Javy Lopez (C)
- 6. Andruw Jones (LF)
- 7. Jermaine Dye (RF)
- 8. Jeff Blauser (SS)
- 9. John Smoltz (P)
The series was tied 2-2, with the visiting team as the winner in each of the first four games. Smoltz and Pettitte were each making their second start, repeating the Game 1 matchup. In that first contest, Smoltz turned in a good result on a night where he battled with five walks in six innings of one-run ball, while Pettitte had arguably his worst start ever for the Yankees in the postseason.
This time around, they were both excellent, exceeding even the most optimistic fan’s expectations. The duo combined for 16.1 innings, zero earned runs, and just two extra-base hits.
The game ultimately ended with a score of 1-0, with the visiting Yankees continuing the series trend by securing a victory. The sole run of this historic affair came in the top of the fourth inning, when Charlie Hayes hit a somewhat routine fly ball, and the center fielder Marquis Grissom simply dropped it in an attempt to make a basket catch on the run (possibly while accidentally getting screened by right fielder Jermaine Dye).
The play was ruled an error, and a groundout from Bernie Williams moved the runner over to third base. From there, Cecil Fielder, who was ultimately responsible for 75 percent of all Yankee hits during the game (three of four) came up with one out and hit a double down the line, driving in Hayes.
Regarding the play that was ruled an error, it’s interesting to look back now with the benefit of hindsight, and know that the Braves had one of the greatest center fielders ever in Andruw Jones on their roster. However, that night, he was playing left field. Yet Grissom himself was an All-Star and had won three straight Gold Gloves in center.
This error loomed large in Atlanta’s Game 5 loss, and ultimately in the series as a whole. The play didn’t come in a potential deciding game, though, such as Bill Buckner’s error a decade earlier, so it’s not etched into Braves and Yankees history in the same way.
On the other side, Pettitte was at his absolute best, shoving in an October game at the age of 24. He managed 8.1 shutout innings on a night where he had zero margin for error, only giving way to John Wetteland after 96 pitches of brilliance. Pettitte’s only trouble came in the sixth, when he spectacularly pitched out of a two-on, none-out jam, making a pair of strong defensive plays himself:
There’s no telling what happens in that game and subsequently the World Series if Grissom makes his play, if Pettitte doesn’t make those plays in the sixth, or if a hobbling Paul O’Neill doesn’t make a fantastic catch for the final out of the ballgame on a drive by Luis Polonia:
The entire series could have shifted, and the beginning of the Yankee dynasty could have been lost. But instead, Pettitte outdueled Smoltz in an underrated classic, one that put the Yankees on the cusp of the first championship in almost two decades.