Even with three rings already to their names, what truly cemented the last Yankees dynasty as one of the greatest teams in baseball history was that 2000 season. In securing the three-peat, that squad became the first since the 1972-74 A’s to win the World Series in three consecutive seasons — a feat which had otherwise only been accomplished by those legendary Yankees teams of yesteryear. All the more remarkable, then, that they nearly squandered the opportunity to make history.
Final Score: Yankees 5, Mariners 0
Game MVP: Roger Clemens
For all the dominance of that turn-of-the-millennium Yankee dynasty, that 2000 squad almost didn’t make it into the playoffs. They limped to a 3-15 finish that almost dissolved their eight-game lead in the division, had the second-place Red Sox not played .500 ball to close out their season. And even after squeaking into the postseason, it was far from smooth sailing for the Bombers, getting pushed to a decisive Game 5 in the ALDS by the A’s and losing the opening game of the ALCS at home against the Mariners.
As if in direct response to the doubts that this lackluster play engendered, New York rattled off back-to-back comprehensive victories in Games 2 and 3 to snatch a series lead and tilt the momentum in their favor. With that as the backdrop, it was hard not to feel that Roger Clemens circled October 14th in his calendar as the day he would remind the world of his greatness by almost single-handedly ensuring that his team would finish the day one win away from the Fall Classic.
Coming off a successful regular season that would see him finish sixth in Cy Young voting with a 3.70 ERA in over 200 innings, Clemens was supposed to be the driving force in the rotation to power the Bombers to a third-straight title. Instead, he got hammered in his two ALDS starts, giving up four runs on seven hits in six innings of Game 1 before an even uglier Game 4 start, when he surrendered six runs on six hits in five innings. All of a sudden, the Yankees had a massive question mark at the top of their rotation heading into an ALCS showdown against a potent Mariners offense.
Clemens dueled with Paul Abbott for four scoreless innings to start the contest with then-Mariner Alex Rodriguez the only baserunner to reach, drawing a walk in the opening frame. New York struck first in the top of the fifth, Scott Brosius singling and Chuck Knoblauch walking with two outs to put a pair on for Derek Jeter. Jeets crushed a 1-0 center-cut fastball to dead-center for the three-run blast that already felt like a mortal wound for the Mariners given the way Clemens was pitching.
It seemed like he really kicked it into high gear in the sixth inning, striking out Dan Wilson and Stan Javier back-to-back on four pitches each to end the frame. The only thing between him and a postseason no-hitter was an Al Martin double that ticked off first baseman Tino Martinez’s glove to lead off the seventh, and that really seemed to piss the Rocket off as he went on to strike out three in the inning.
As if imbued with added life after watching their ace mow down the heart of the Seattle lineup, the Yankees offense truly put this one to bed in the eighth. Jeter drew a leadoff walk, setting up a David Justice two-run bomb off reliever José Mesa to further build his case as ALCS MVP.
The rest of the contest was a formality, but you wouldn’t have known watching Clemens pitch the final two frames. He saved his best for last, fanning Carlos Guillén and Raúl Ibañez in the eighth and whiffing Javier and Martin in the ninth. By the time the dust had settled, Clemens was the owner of a one-hit, 15-strikeout masterpiece that ranks among the greatest postseason pitching performances in Yankee and MLB history.