By the time of his deadline trade to the Yankees in 2000, David Justice had already established a reputation as a fearsome slugger who provided timely hits in huge situations in the postseason. His solo home run in Game 6 of the 1995 World Series clinched the title for the Braves while his performances for Cleveland were integral to them reaching the ALCS in consecutive seasons, plus a pennant in 1997. It was therefore no surprise that the Yankees sought to add his potent bat to the lineup as they pushed to defend their back-to-back Fall Classic crowns. Little did they know how vital he would be to reaching their 37th World Series.
Final Score: Yankees 9, Mariners 7
Game MVP: David Justice
(Honorable Mention: Paul O’Neill)
With all of the fanfare surrounding the dynasty that did go on to win four rings in five years, it’s easy to forget that the 2000 Yankees almost missed out on the playoffs altogether. A putrid 3-15 run to finish the regular season saw them almost cede their lead in the division to the Red Sox. However, they managed to hold off their rivals, and after a tense ALDS against the A’s that went the distance, they found themselves facing down the Mariners for a ticket to the World Series.
New York was shut out by Seattle for 16 consecutive innings at home to start the ALCS, but they overcame the Game 1 loss and early Game 2 doldrums to rip off a seven-spot in the bottom of the eighth in Game 2, tying the series. The Yankees then took two of the next three at then-Safeco Field (with a huge assist from Roger Clemens in Game 4), so they entered the potential clincher with one of their most trusted pitchers of the dynasty run on the mound. Orlando Hernández was nails in his first three appearances of the 2000 playoffs, getting credited with the win in all three giving up just three runs in 15.1 innings. It would be a slightly different story this cold October night in the Bronx.
The Mariners struck right away in a statement of intent, Alex Rodriguez and Edgar Martinez lining back-to-back RBI doubles down the left-field line after a one-out walk to Al Martin. They jumped out to a 2-0 lead before the Yankees even had a chance to bat. So the scores would remain through the first three innings as El Duque and John Halama traded zeroes in wake of the initial Seattle outburst.
John Olerud got the M’s started in the fourth with a one-out double, and rookie Carlos Guillén soon followed with a two-run bomb to the upper deck in right:
Down four heading to the bottom of the frame, there was no panic in the Yankees. Following a Derek Jeter fly out, Justice, Bernie Williams, and Tino Martinez all reached via single, single, and walk respectively. Jorge Posada stepped to the plate and crushed a two-run double into the right-center field gap to halve the deficit and bring Paul O’Neill to the plate with runners on the corners. A groundball single to center later and the Yankees were back in business, down just 4-3, with the Yankee Stadium crowd roaring back into life.
It wouldn’t be the last clutch moment for O’Neill, but he would have to wait until after the most memorable hit of the series. New York opened the bottom of the seventh with a pair of singles by José Vizcaíno and Jeter off reliever Jose Paniagua, prompting Lou Piniella to bring in the southpaw Arthur Rhodes from the bullpen to face the lefty Justice. The three-time All-Star worked to a hitter’s count at 3-1 before he got the fastball he was hunting.
Justice crushed the ball into the upper deck to complete the comeback and send the Bronx crowd into pandemonium:
The Yankees weren’t finished in the frame, loading the bases via a Bernie single, Tino automatic double, and Posada intentional walk. This allowed O’Neill to provide the killer blow, his single to right plating the former two and knocking Rhodes from the contest, thus prolonging his two-year nightmare pitching against the Yankees in the playoffs after struggling in Game 2. A Luis Sojo walk facing Jose Mesa loaded the bags again, allowing the Bombers to bat around and Vizcaíno to line a sacrifice fly to extend the Yankees’ lead to 9-4.
Somehow, Joe Torre felt confident sending El Duque back out for the eighth despite his having given up four runs and the pitch count standing at 119. A-Rod immediately punished him with a solo home run in what turned out to be his final at-bat in a Seattle uniform, and after a walk to Martinez, Torre had seen enough. He called on Mariano Rivera for one of his signature two-inning postseason saves, and even he wasn’t immune to the drama of the night.
A double to Olerud put runners on second and third, and both he and Martinez would score on a Mark McLemore two-out double. He struck out Jay Buhner to staunch the bleeding but all of a sudden, we had a game on our hands again, 9-7. New York failed to score in the eighth, so off to the top of the ninth the game headed with things far more tense they had been just an hour prior. However, in classic Mo fashion, the Yankees’ closer slammed the door on any comeback with a scoreless final frame:
Justice’s heroics and Mo’s save sent the Yankees to a Subway Series matchup with their crosstown rivals with a shot to become the first team since the A’s of the early ‘70s to secure a three-peat. As we know, that’s exactly what they did.