Baseball-Almanac.com's World Series section
Chapter 9: The 1990's
1990: Cincinnati Reds (4) vs. Oakland Athletics (0)
Once again, the defending champion Oakland Athletics returned for their 3rd consecutive Fall Classic determined to start the new decade as they had ended the last. Throughout the late '80s, the A's had maintained dominant play (on both sides of the ball) and many felt the title was a foregone conclusion as the perennial champions had just completed a 10-game winning streak thanks to one of the most well balanced rosters in all of baseball. On the mound, Oakland boasted Bob Welch (with 27 wins), Dave Stewart (20) and ace reliever Dennis Eckersley who recorded 48 saves and a 0.61 ERA. At the plate, the "Dynamic Duo" of Mark McGwire and Jose Canseco combined for 76 homers and Rickey Henderson led the AL with 65 stolen bases and finished as runner-up for the AL batting title with a .325 average and 28 bombs. Adding to the team's "aura of invincibility" was the late-August acquisitions of Willie McGee (1990 NL batting champ) from the St. Louis Cardinals and Harold Baines from the Texas Rangers. Their opponents, the Cincinnati Reds were no strangers to postseason play either, but this Reds roster was not the familiar blueprint of the "Big Red Machine" that had ruled the National League during the 1970's. No player in the line-up had over 25 home runs or more than 86 RBIs and their top pitcher finished with only 15 wins.
It was "David vs. Goliath" for Game 1 as the home team "mortals" knocked down the visiting "giant" with a 2-run blast in the 1st courtesy of Eric Davis. The Reds added more 2 runs in the 3rd-inning and, with Chris Sabo slashing a 2-run single, tacked on 3 additional in the 5th. Cincinnati's Jose Rijo managed things on the other side of the ball and shutout the AL's top line-up with 7-hits and 5-Ks. Relievers Rob Dibble and Randy Myers both worked an inning to close out the National Leaguers' 7-0 opening win at Riverfront Stadium. Still shell-shocked by the upset in Game 1, the A's managed a 4-2 lead after 3-innings of Game 2. Canseco (who had driven in the 1st run of the game) led-off his team's 3-run rally in the 3rd when he sent a long bomb to right. The Reds pulled within a single run after pinch-hitter Ron Oester knocked a run scoring single off Welch in the 4th. Cincinnati then tied the game when Glenn Braggs (another pinch-hitter) brought Bill Hatcher home with a force out grounder in the 8th. After leading off with a triple, Hatcher set a World Series record with his 7th consecutive hit over a 2 game period. The A's continued to stumble in the 9th as Todd Benzinger shot a Rick Honeycutt pitch to deep left field, but Rickey Henderson saved the go-ahead run by making a sensational leaping catch. In the 10th, pinch-hitter Billy Bates managed a single against the impenetrable Eckersley and Chris Sabo followed suite. Joe Oliver finished the rally (and the game) with a clutch RBI single down the 3rd-base line. Despite Oakland's bullpen getting all of the pre-game press, Cincinnati's put up the numbers (in the 5-4 triumph) after their relievers combined for 7 1/3 shutout innings.
Now down by 2, Oakland retreated home to their own ballpark to rethink their strategy, as the Reds were obviously playing better "in the field" than they were "on paper". Tom Browning drew the start for the visitors in Game 3 and along with returning relievers Dibble and Myers who continued their "on-the-job" training. Sabo belted 2 home runs off Mike Moore (including 1 in the 7-run 3rd-inning) and the Reds racked up another 8-3 victory that moved them within 1 win of a sweep. Game 4 was a rematch of the opener between Rijo and Stewart and things finally appeared to turn in Oakland's favor as the Reds fell behind, 1-0, in the 1st after Oakland's Carney Lansford singled home McGee, who had doubled to left field. Things got worse for manager Lou Piniella's team as both outfielders Hatcher (who hit a Series record .750) and Davis left due to injuries and were replaced by Braggs and Herm Winningham. Rijo persevered after surrendering the lead run and held the A's in tow while his rival Stewart matched him by holding leadoff hitters on base 4 times in a 5-inning stretch. Barry Larkin led off the Reds' 8th with a single and Winningham followed with a perfect bunt. Paul O'Neill also beat out an intentional blooper to load the bases and Braggs came through with a force out grounder that netted the tying run. Hal Morris followed with a sac-fly that pushed Cincinnati ahead, 2-1. Rijo (who had retired 20 consecutive batters) was pulled in the 9th in favor of Myers and the reliever responded by inducing Canseco to ground out, and forcing Lansford to foul out for the win and title. In the end, it was a sweep as so many experts had predicted, unfortunately for A's fans, it was the wrong team left holding the broom.
1991: Atlanta Braves (3) vs. Minnesota Twins (4)
After finishing last in the 1990 season, the Minnesota Twins and Atlanta Braves both rebounded to the top of their respective leagues for a trip to the Fall Classic. Both clubs were filled with "soon-to-be" familiar names and were evenly matched on both sides of the ball. As with the '87 contest, the Twins still had a definite advantage over visiting teams thanks to the "baseball purist's nightmare" known as the Hubert Humphrey Metrodome. The trendy, but unpopular indoor stadium was notorious for deafening crowd noise as well as the inability to carry a long ball and most teams dreaded playing there.
Charlie Leibrandt was given the start for the Braves in Game 1, but fell 5-2 thanks to a strong 7th-inning effort by Jack Morris. A 3-run blast by Greg Gagne and a bases-empty bomb by Kent Hrbek (that landed in the upper decks) backed up the 36-year old workhorse. Minnesota rookie Scott Leius was the hero in Game 2 after a clutch, tie-breaking homer in the 8th, but the most memorable play of the outing came on a controversial call by umpire Drew Coble. As Atlanta's Ron Gant attempted to retreat back to 1st (after knocking a 3rd-inning single) Hrbek caught the throw from pitcher Kevin Tapani and proceeded to "muscle" Gant off the bag while applying the tag. Despite a heated debate by Braves manager Bobby Cox, the call stood as the official believed it was the runner's own momentum that had carried him off of the base. The result was a 3-2 win that put the Twins up 2 games to none and left Atlanta praying for an advantage of their own back at Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium.
As the Series moved outdoors to the park of the NL champions, Twins manager Tom Kelly was quoted as saying that "managing without the designated-hitter rule was right up there with rocket science". The over confident skipper would regret his off-hand remark as he demonstrated his lack of both scientific and mathematical skills in Game 3. By the bottom of the 11th-inning, the visiting team had used all of their positional players during the 4-4 stalemate and were forced to employ bullpen pitcher Rick Aguilera (as a pinch-hitter) with a bases loaded, game-winning opportunity in the 12th. The reliever nailed a high fly ball, but it was easily caught to retire the side. The Braves, realizing that their opponents were "fresh out" of fresh players, ended the struggle with Mark Lemke delivering a 2-out single to score David Justice, who had singled and stolen 2nd. The Atlanta 5-4 victory was the 1st of 4 games in this Series to end with the winning team scoring the deciding run in the 9th-inning or later.
Lemke was on the front page again after Game 4 when he tripled with 1 out in the 9th and then broke through the 2-2 tie after beating the tag at the plate by Brian Harper on a Jerry Willard fly ball to right. The 2nd baseman was a respectable .234 hitter in the regular season, but had blown up as a .417 slugger in this Series. After squaring it up with their 3-2 victory, the Braves went out and played hardball in Game 5. Justice blasted a homer and drove in 5 runs and Lonnie Smith and Brian Hunter also homered as the Braves toasted the Twins 14-5. It was Smith's 3rd home run in as many nights and the veteran substitute (in place Otis Nixon who was suspended with drug problems) showed he still had what it took to play in the major leagues. The Twins, on the verge of elimination, managed to force a 7th outing in Game 6 after Kirby Puckett drilled an 11th-inning home run off Charlie Leibrandt, who had just entered the game back at the Metrodome.
Game 7 matched Detroit native John Smoltz against his hometown hero Morris who had been a longtime Tiger standout. The Braves' 24 year-old prodigy idolized his pitching opponent and the 2 would come together for one of the most intense battles ever witnessed on a World Series diamond. Both aces were in peak form and held a 0-0 tie going into the 8th. Smith (playing with a record 4th team in Series play) led off Atlanta's 8th with a single to right and Terry Pendleton followed with a double to deep left-center. The Twins' middle infielders (still waiting for the cut-off) acted as if they had the ball and held Smith at 3rd preventing the tiebreaker. While the Braves fans agonized over the base running error, Atlanta nonetheless was in an enviable position with 2 runners on, no one out and the power-hitting Ron Gant at the plate. However, Gant proceeded to ground out to Hrbek, with Smith still holding. Dave Justice was the next batter, but Kelly called for an intentional walk against the cleanup man. That decision filled the bases and sent Sid Bream up to the plate. Bream followed Gant's lead and slapped a weak grounder toward Hrbek who threw the ball home for a force-out, then took the return from Harper for a double play. Atlanta returned the favor in the bottom of the inning as Minnesota had runners at 1st and 3rd with 1 out and Kirby Puckett due up. Mike Stanton was called in to replace Smoltz and was ordered to walk the lumber-wielding outfielder. With the bases loaded, Hrbek tapped a soft line drive up the middle, but Lemke snared the ball and stepped on 2nd to double up Chuck Knoblauch. Chili Davis singled and Harper threatened to score in the 9th as he pushed a bunt past Stanton and first baseman Bream for a hit. Alejandro Pena was brought in from the bullpen and induced Shane Mack to ground into a double play, issued an intentional walk to Mike Pagliarulo and then struck out pinch-hitter Paul Sorrento. The "marathon man" Morris continued to dominate the Braves going into the 10th and retired the side with no incidents. Anxious to finish the affair Dan Gladden started the Twins' half of the inning with a double and was sacrificed to 3rd by Knoblauch. Intentional walks to Puckett and Hrbek followed, loading the bases with one out in the 0-0 standoff. Pinch-hitter Gene Larkin finally sealed the 1-0 victory with a long-drive over Atlanta's infield that crowned the Twins as World Series Champions for the 2nd time in 5 years. Although they were winless on the road they remained unbeaten in the Metrodome, which had evolved into the "10th player" on the team.
1992: Atlanta Braves (2) vs. Toronto Blue Jays (4)
Once again, the Atlanta Braves reclaimed their title as National League champions and were anxious to make amends for their devastating Game 7 loss to the Minnesota Twins in the previous Series. The Nationals were almost put out of the running, but recaptured the pennant with a 3-run, 9th-inning rally against the Pittsburgh Pirates to advance to the finals. The Toronto Blue Jays represented the first Canadian franchise ever to appear in a Fall Classic (after beating the Oakland A's in the AL playoffs) and held a benefit that had been an "Achilles heel" for the Braves in the '91 affair, an indoor stadium. Atlanta had been winless against the Twins at the Metrodome and the Jays' Skydome offered the same opportunity for "home field advantage".
Game 1 belonged to Atlanta's Tom Glavine, (who tossed a 4-hitter) with Damon Berryhill coming up huge with a clutch, 3-run homer for the 3-1 opening victory. Toronto evened the score the following day with a 5-4 comeback of their own thanks to utility man Ed Sprague's pinch, 2-run homer off baseball's all-time saves leader, Jeff Reardon in the 9th. As Game 3 moved across the border (for the first Canadian Classic) the question still remained of the Blue Jays' "ballpark benefit". Both teams went head-to-head for 8-innings and held a 2-2 tie going into the 9th. Candy Maldonado put the home team ahead with a homer off Reardon (again) who was retired for the remainder of the contest despite his career record of 357 saves. Devon White was the standout in the 2-3 event by making a sensational backhanded grab (against the 400-foot sign) off a David Justice blast with Deion Sanders and Terry Pendleton on base. The snag nearly resulted in a triple play as Pendleton passed Sanders on the base paths for an automatic out and Sanders just missed being tagged out in a rundown by Kelly Gruber.
Toronto continued its winning streak to 3 games in Game 4 as lefthander Jimmy Key and relievers Duane Ward and Tom Henke held the Braves to 5-hits in a 2-1 triumph that also featured a bases-empty homer by Blue Jays catcher Pat Borders (Series MVP) and an RBI single by White. Down as they had been throughout the playoffs, the ever-resilient NL champs bounced back in Game 5 for the crucial 7-2 victory as Lonnie Smith (who had made the costly base-running error in Game 7 of the '91 affair) erased the memory with a spectacular bases-loaded homer off Jack Morris. Atlanta was grateful for the extension as the Series shifted back home (to the outdoor settings) at Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium. The change of scenery proved meaningless though as the Braves entered the 9th-inning down 2-1. Henke (with 34 saves) was brought in to maintain the Toronto bullpen's scoreless streak of 15 1/3 innings, but stumbled against the first 3 batters he faced. First, Jeff Blauser led off with a single and Berryhill advanced him to 2nd with a textbook bunt. Then, pinch-hitter Smith followed with a walk, putting the potential winning run on base.
Francisco Cabrera (another pinch-hitter) sent a scorching line drive to left field. Candy Maldonado (whose leadoff homer in the 4th had broken the 1-1 tie) hastily retreated toward the wall and made a spectacular, extended grab for the 2nd out of the inning. Otis Nixon (who fell behind at 0-2) managed to connect for a clutch double that scored Blauser and moved Smith to 3rd. With the game winning (and Series-tying) run just 90 feet from home plate, Ron Gant flied out to White.
Things continued to look grim for Atlanta as Charlie Leibrandt surrendered a single to Roberto Alomar in the 11th, moving White (who had been hit) to 2nd with "batman" Dave Winfield stepping up to the plate. The versatile utility infielder/designated hitter followed with a sharply hit grounder down the left-field line that went for a 2-run double and the Toronto lead. Now down 4-2, Atlanta led off the frame with another Blauser single and Berryhill reached base on shortstop Alfredo Griffin's misplay of a ground ball. After Rafael Belliard's sacrifice left runners on 2nd and 3rd, Brian Hunter came through with a run-scoring groundout. Clinging to the 4-3 advantage, the Blue Jays brought in their 7th pitcher of the night, Mike Timlin who induced Nixon to bunt with the potential tying run at 3rd. The quick-reflexed, right-handed reliever charged the blooper and made the throw to 1st ending the game and the Series. In the end, it was an anti-climatic finale to a very climatic Classic. The '92 title was the first championship crown ever won by a Canadian franchise and surprisingly, it wouldn't be the last.
1993: Philadelphia Phillies (2) vs. Toronto Blue Jays (4)
After shocking the baseball world by defeating the perennial NL champion Atlanta Braves in the previous Series, the Toronto Blue Jays returned to defend their "Canadian Classic" title against the Philadelphia Phillies (who had finished last in '92). The new National League champions had struggled throughout the entire season (due to injuries), but held on the defeat the Braves as well in 6 playoff games for a ticket across the border. Philadelphia jumped to a 2-0 lead in the 1st-inning of Game 1and continued with a 4-3 advantage going in the 5th. John Olerud managed to seize the lead (in the 6th) for the home team with bomb of his own following a tying blast by Devon White in the 5th. Toronto continued their comeback (in the 7th) with 3 more runs including a 2-run double by Roberto Alomar that sealed the 8-5 victory. In Game 2, Jim Eisenreich hammered a 3-run homer off Dave Stewart in the Phillies' 5-run 3rd and Lenny Dykstra made 2 highlight catches while crashing into the center-field wall on both occasions. In the end, the Blue Jays were unable to rally as they had in the 1st outing and fell 6-4 after Dykstra drilled a bases-empty homer in the 7th.
As the Series shifted to the "City of Brotherly Love" Toronto manager Cito Gaston shook things up after deciding to send the AL batting champion, 1st baseman John Olerud, to the bench (against lefthander Danny Jackson) and replace him with Paul Molitor. The controversial move represented a way around the "no designated-hitter rule" that was in effect at the NL's ballpark and the "fake DH" filled the gap with a 2-run triple in the 1st-inning and a solo homer in the 3rd. Alomar and Tony Fernandez also followed suite with 2, 2 RBI blasts of their own for the 10-3 triumph that put the "Bluebirds" ahead 2 games to 1. Game 4 was by far the most memorable outing of the Series and set 3 records in a single game including the longest World Series game ever (4 hours, 14 minutes), most runs by both clubs (29) and most runs scored by a losing team (14). Philadelphia's Milt Thompson (5 RBIs) got the ball rolling with a 3-run triple in the 1st-inning and Dykstra (4 RBIs) added two homers for an astonishing 14-9 lead going into the 7th. The Jays, who's batting order featured the league's 1-2-3 hitters (Olerud, Molitor and Alomar) landed a 6-run rally in the 8th that was capped by Henderson's 2-run single and White's 2-run triple. After both teams combined for 31-hits and 14 bases on balls, the defending champions emerged 15-14 winners. The scoring derby though record-setting was typical due to the poor pitching that had become par on both sides throughout the Series. (Toronto's rotation finished with a horrendous 5.77 ERA and the Phillies bested them with a pathetic 7.57 earned-run-average.)
Curt Schilling was given the dubious task of putting Philly back in race after a 3 game deficit and the National's ace rose to the challenge with a beautiful 5-hitter that kept his team alive with a 2-0 victory. Unfortunately the contest was headed back indoors as both teams headed back to "The Great White North". Molitor (who finished .500 and won the MVP) tripled home a run in Toronto's 3-run 1st that set the pace for Game 6. He added a bases-empty homer in the 5th that moved the Jays ahead 5-1. The advantage stood in Toronto's favor as they protected a 6-5 decision going into the 9th. Mitch Williams was given the call from the Braves bullpen and proceeded to walk the first batter he faced (Rickey Henderson) on 4 pitches. White flied out to left field, but Molitor (the DH) followed with a clutch single to center. Joe Carter (with 121 RBIs and 893 in 8 years) completed the sequence (with a 2-2 count) and sent a long bomb over the left-field fence for the game and title. The 8-6 victory made the Canadian-based club the first team since the Yankees of 1977-78 to repeat and finally gave levity to the term "World Champions".
1994: The World Series was not played in 1994, the result of a players strike and subsequent cancellation of the Series by team owners.
1995: Atlanta Braves (4) vs. Cleveland Indians (2)
After losing the World Series to the Toronto Blue Jays in 1992 and falling to the Philadelphia Phillies in the NL Championship in '93, the Atlanta Braves returned to the Fall Classic following a forced 1-year hiatus due to the subsequent cancellation of the Series by the collective team owners. Baseball's newest "dynasty" had boasted a strong farm team system that featured Andruw Jones who batted .277 with 25 homers, 100 RBIs and 56 stolen bases at Class-A Macon (South Atlantic) and their current line-up was just as good with Javier Lopez, Ryan Klesko and Chipper Jones at the plate. The biggest advantage in Atlanta however was the presence of Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine (16-7, 3.08 ERA) and John Smoltz on the mound who combined for one of the best rotations in the history of the game. Their opponents, the Cleveland Indians were 2-1 in Series play and had not made a final postseason appearance in a staggering 41 years. The AL champs were not as stacked in either category, but still finished the regular season with an amazing 100-44 record and a .694 winning percentage.
Atlanta ace Maddux set the tone in Game 1 after single-handedly defeating 4 of his rivals' counterparts (Orel Hershiser, Paul Assenmacher, Julian Tavarez and Alan Embree) in a 3-2 opening victory that featured a Fred McGriff blast as the only home run. Game 2 took a different turn as 8 combined pitchers went head-to-head including Cleveland's Dennis Martinez, Alan Embree, Jim Poole and Julian Tavarez and the Braves' Tom Glavine, Greg McMichael, Alejandro Pena and Mark Wohlers (who emerged 4-3 victors). Both Eddie Murray and Lopez managed homers for their respective teams, but the revolving bullpens depleted the pool of relievers available for Game 3.
The "pitcher's clinic" continued in the 3rd outing as the NL's John Smoltz, Brad Clontz, Kent Mercker, Greg McMichael, Mark Wohlers and Alejandro Pena matched the American League's Charles Nagy, Paul Assenmacher, Julian Tavarez and Jose Mesa bringing the total to a staggering 18 pitchers used in 2 games. This time the Indians held on for the 7-6 win despite surrendering homers to both Ryan Klesko and McGriff. 8 more arms received the "call on the hill" in Game 4 as Cleveland led the race thanks to an Albert Belle blast followed by a Manny Ramirez homer, but failed to finish the marathon falling behind 5-2 for their 3rd loss. Orel Hershiser got revenge against Maddux the next day as only 2 pitchers (each) were used in the 5th outing. Klesko and Luis Polonia knocked one "out of the park" and were matched by Albert Belle and Jim Thome who pushed their team to a 5-4 triumph that extended the Series for another day. Cleveland's Kenny Lofton dominated the baselines with a record, 6-stolen bases in Game 6, but was unable to beat Tom Glavine's change-up, that vanquished 5 Indian pitchers, for the 1-0 victory and their 3rd World Series title.
1996: Atlanta Braves (2) vs. New York Yankees (4)
The 1996 season witnessed what would eventually become the fourth installment of the New York Yankees dynasty. To date, the Bronx Bombers had already dominated three separate decades en route to thirty-three Fall Classics and twenty-two World Championship titles. This year's Yankees dominated the American League throughout the entire regular season on the arms of one of baseball's top pitching staffs that featured Andy Pettitte, David Cone and the game's best closer in Mariano Rivera. New York's newest skipper Joe Torre had also risen to a "folk-hero-like" status after returning the franchise to the Fall Classic after succeeding Buck Showalter who had repeatedly fell short. A true "hometown hero", Torre had grown up in the Flatbush section of Brooklyn and made his name as an All-Star catcher and infielder for both the St. Louis Cardinals and Atlanta Braves. Both his experience and demeanor made him a natural for managing, and he was a good one, for the Mets, Braves and Cardinals. After being fired three times, Yankees owner George Steinbrenner offered him the job despite critical response from his colleagues. The daring decision would prove as one of Steinbrenner's best as Torre would later go on to become one of the most successful managers in baseball history.
The defending World Champion Atlanta Braves also boasted an equally dangerous rotation with Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine, Steve Avery, Denny Neagle and John Smoltz (some of who had controlled the previous Series with a combined 2.67 ERA). In capturing their fifth straight divisional crown, the Braves set a Major League record with five consecutive first-place seasons. Their pitching staff recorded several ML marks including most strikeouts (1,245) and fewest walks (451) and the '96 team also set several franchise records including most home wins (56), best team batting average (.270), third all-time in homeruns (197).
Despite the rich postseason history of New York victories, Atlanta still remained the heavy favorite. Later, the "upset" caused by the Yankee underdogs would lead to the uncovering of a major gambling scandal at Boston College after the University's athletes were forced to "go public" after being unable to pay off their wagers to illegal bookies.
Game 1 recalled the '95 opener with an astonishing ten separate pitchers making appearances on the mound with Smoltz and Pettitte starting. Fred McGriff mirrored his last debut as well with a homer and teammate Andruw Jones followed as the youngest player (nineteen) in World Series history to hit a home run. One inning later, he became only the second player in World Series history to hit a second homer (in his first two at bats) and Atlanta and its newest sensation sent the Yanks packing with a 12-1 massacre. The opening loss was especially devastating to Pettitte who was christened "Sigh Young" in the New York papers the following day.
The Braves continued their momentum in Game 2 as Maddux and company held New York to seven meaningless hits for a 4-0 win that put the National League champs up two-games-to-none. Despite their efforts, the injury plagued Yankees were falling fast and a sweep appeared on the horizon. David Cone set out to right the sinking ship for New York in the third outing and combined with relievers Rivera (the 95-mph set-up man), Graeme Lloyd and John Wetteland to deal Glavine his first loss with a clutch, 5-2 Game 3, decision.
Game 4 clearly belonged to the hitters and topped the opener with thirteen different arms taking the mound. Surprisingly, neither rotation performed well as both were battered for a combined twenty-one hits. Things clearly appeared to be in Atlanta's favor until Jim Leyritz stepped up to the plate and ignited a new era in New York Yankee baseball. Amazingly Leyritz, was sure that he wasn't going to play and spent much of the game working out in the weight room as the Braves built a 6-0 lead through five innings. A startled Leyritz finally entered the game as a defensive replacement for Joe Girardi in the sixth inning after New York had cut the deficit to 6-3. Despite surrendering eight homers during the regular season, closer Mark Wohlers was given the call in the eighth by Bobby Cox to finish the job for the Braves. After two runners reached base, Leyritz stepped into the box and worked the count to 2-2, fouling off two blistering fastballs in the process. The next swing sent a hanging slider over the wall for a 3 run homer and a Series-tying triumph. Most baseball analysts believe that single at-bat was the turning point of the Series while many Yankee fans believe it was the turning point of the franchise.
Now squared at two-games apiece, the Braves had blown a two game advantage and were winless in two consecutive meetings. Things didn't get any better the following day as the Yankees dealt a bitter 1-0 loss to the home team (in the last ballgame ever to be played at Atlanta Fulton County Stadium) and Pettitte finally had his revenge after shutting out the Braves with a five hit effort over Smoltz.
As the Series returned to "The House that Ruth Built", Atlanta had gone from two-up to down-one and were now on the brink of elimination. Maddux was the Braves' obvious choice in Game 6 but the future Hall Of Famer fell short after surrendering three early runs in a single inning. With the Braves still trailing 3-1, Gold Glove center fielder Marquis Grissom reached first on a one-out hit and broke for second when a pitch to Mark Lemke bounced a few feet away from Yankees catcher Joe Girardi. Television replays clearly showed Grissom beat the throw, but umpire Terry Tata called him out. Grissom understandably reacted in anger, coming close to bumping Tata before two Atlanta coaches pulled him away and an equally upset manager ran onto the field to continue the argument. Still screaming on his way back to the dugout, Cox was ejected by third-base umpire Tim Welke.
Despite the controversy and loss of their skipper, Atlanta managed to rally in the fourth when the Braves had their best chance to get back in the game. DH Terry Pendleton came to the plate with the bases loaded, one out and a run already in. He managed to work the count to 3-1 against Jimmy Key, and then hit a three-hopper right to Derek Jeter for an easy double play. That would be all the Braves could muster as the Yankees went on to win the game (and the Series) with a 3-2 victory.
The performances by both teams on the mound (throughout the contest) as well as the repeated one run differentials reinforced the modern theory that pitching had finally overpowered hitting as the deciding factor in World Series baseball. Over the years, hitters had become bigger, stronger and faster, but the pitchers that faced them had also evolved into an elite athlete capable of throwing 90+mph fastballs and a variety of specialty pitches with the precision of a surgeon. The New York Yankees had assembled a roster that fit both categories and they would continue to dominate the Fall Classic four out the next five years. The disappointing Atlanta Braves would also continue to dominate Divisional titles (but unfortunately not much more).
1997: Florida Marlins (4) vs. Cleveland Indians (3)
The 4 year-old expansion team known as the Florida Marlins represented the best (and worst) of parody in major-league baseball. Despite becoming the youngest team to ever win a Fall Classic and the 1st "Wild Card team" to earn a world championship, the franchise would be unable to support it's expensive list of "mercenary" players and would eventually find itself on the verge on contraction in a few short years. Jim Leyland had been the Marlin's biggest "purchase" after having a series of semi-successful seasons with the Pittsburgh Pirates. The gritty skipper had become disenchanted with the Pirates organization after watching the majority of his biggest players (including Bobby Bonilla and Barry Bonds) dealt to other teams during his tenure in the "Steel City", but his "farm-team" phobia would soon come back to haunt him in the "Sunshine State". The Cleveland Indians had lost the Series in '95 (against the Atlanta Braves), but had regrouped to retake the American League for their 5th championship title. The much-more experienced Indians were a heavy favorites going into the contest, but the surprise Marlins would present a major challenge pushing the "proposed sweep" aside for a 7-game marathon.
The opener debuted the first post-season outing at Pro Player Park that had barely begun to show signs of use in its 4 years of operations. Leyland went with Livan Hernandez against Cleveland standout Orel Hershiser and the righty (along with Dennis Cook, Jay Powell and Robb Nen) responded with a 7-4 victory despite giving up 11-hits. Both teams boasted 2-homers a piece with Manny Ramirez and Jim Thome connecting for Cleveland and Moises Alou and Charles Johnson matching for the Marlins. Game 2 evened the contest as the Indians managed 6 runs to Florida's 1 thanks in part to Sandy Alomar's blast that set the momentum for the visiting team. The 3rd outing (also debuting a ballpark in the Brave's new Jacobs Field) was a slugfest with 11 pitchers surrendering a combined 25 runs. Marlin Al Leiter emerged the winner (barely) with support from Gary Sheffield, Darren Daulton and Jim Eisenreich who all nailed home runs of their own. Thome added a 2nd blast to his stats, but it was no match for the National's performance that looked more like batting practice and less like a game.
Game 4 finally tipped the scales in Cleveland's favor after Jaret Wright and Brian Anderson combined on the mound for a 10-3 decision with Ramirez and Matt Williams in support at the plate. The clutch win tied the Series at 2-games-apiece and most fans anticipated the contest coming "down to the wire". As Hernandez returned for Game 5, he faced 6 of his rival's counterparts (led by Hershiser) and prevailed over them all in an 8-7 decision that was won in the final inning. Both Alou and Alomar added additional homers to their stats as the heavily outnumbered Hernandez bested the Indians rotation permitting only 9-hits to their combined 15. Game 6 witnessed even odds on the mound with 4 pitchers each going toe-to-toe and Chad Ogea kept the Indians alive with a crucial 4-1 win that extended the contest another day.
As both teams took the field for Game 7, the Marlins felt that they had finally earned the respect they deserved. After entering the Series on what some writers called "a wing, a check and a prayer," the expansion team silenced their critics by going the distance with a real postseason veteran. The grand finale was one of the most exciting as well as the 2nd longest game in World Series history. Not leaving "anything in the bag", both sides exhausted their line-ups and rotations as 12 combined aces went at it for the "game-set-and-match". Jaret Wright and Al Leiter held each other in check for 7-innings and after their replacements followed suite the game moved into extra-innings. Finally in the 12th, Florida managed the go-ahead run crowning them as the youngest world champions in baseball history. The "party on the peninsula" would soon come to an end though as Leyland and the rest of the Marlins roster was bound for "greener pastures". In fact the following season the defending champions would go 54-168 while finishing in a disappointing 5th place.
1998: San Diego Padres (0) vs. New York Yankees (4)
In 1998, the perennial champion New York Yankees set a new standard for excellence in baseball outplaying the 1927 franchise considered by most expert analysts as the greatest team ever to play the game. With an all-star lineup known as "Murderer's Row", New York outscored its opponents by nearly 400 runs and hit .307 as a team in 1927. Babe Ruth, perhaps the greatest ever, set the original single season mark with 60 homeruns which was more than any other American League team had combined. The "Sultan of Swat" also had plenty of help from his fellow sluggers in pinstripes. Outfield counterparts, Earle Combs in center and Bob Meusel in left, hit .356 and .337 respectively. Lou Gehrig had his first big season, batting .373 with 47 homers and a league leading 175 RBIs. Second year man Tony Lazzeri ranked third in the loop with 18 homers. The pitching staff boasted four men who won 18 or more wins, led by Waite Hoyt at 22-7. Herb Pennock and Wilcy Moore gained 19 victories apiece while Urban Shocker added 18. This lethal trio complemented the dominant offense by claiming the league's 3 best ERAs. Moore, who pitched primarily in relief, led the way with a 2.28 mark. With a 110-44 record, the "Bronx Bombers" ran away with the American League pennant, winning by a staggering 19 games. If '27 was considered the best, then '98 certainly was the greatest. Manager Joe Torre's version had finished the season with 114 regular-season wins and 11 post-season victories (the most by any team in 123 years of major-league baseball). Their line-up card included names like Derek Jeter, Tino Martinez, Paul O'Neill, Bernie Williams and Scott Brosius. In the year of the "pinstriped homer", 8 Yankees hit 15 or more and 10 players hit at least 10 home runs for an amazing 207 total. New York's newest rotation was equally lethal and featured David Cone, Orlando Hernandez, Ramiro Mendoza, Andy Pettitte, Mike Stanton, David Wells and the game's top closer in Mariano Rivera.
Their opponents, the San Diego Padres, would certainly have their work cut out for them and although they didn't have any all-time records, they sure had their share of NL All-Stars including Andy Ashby, Kevin Brown, Trevor Hoffman, Greg Vaughn and fan favorite Tony Gwynn. After finishing 98-64, the Nationals took the division 3-1 over the Houston Astros, then defeated the Atlanta Braves (4 games to 2) in the NL championship. Manager Bruce Bochy's team had scored 749 runs (behind the Yankees 965) but only allowed 635 (under NY's 656) with a strong pitching staff led by Kevin Brown and Sterling Hitchcock.
Game 1 opened with a "touch of class" at Yankee Stadium with Tony Bennett singing the National Anthem and Sammy Sosa throwing out the first pitch. David Wells, better known as "The Boomer" took the hill for the home team against Kevin Brown and company. After New York tallied 2 runs in the 2nd-inning, San Diego answered back with 2 of their own in the 3rd. Down 7-1 (going into the 8th) Brown was replaced by Donne Wall - who was replaced by Mark Langston - who was replaced by Brian Boehringer - who was inevitably replaced by Randy Myers. However, no reliever in a Padres uniform could match up to Jeff Nelson or Rivera who closed the doors on the visitors with a 9-6 opening win. Both Chuck Knoblauch and Martinez dented the cheap seats and were matched by Gwynn and Vaughn (who both had 2). Game 2 belonged to the home team as "El Duque" Hernandez (with support from Stanton and Nelson) held on for a 9-3 triumph that featured home runs from both Williams and Jorge Posada.
Now down 2-games-to-none, the Padres hoped to fare better back at their own Qualcomm Stadium. Hitchcock (and 3 relievers) were given the unenviable task of turning the Series around, but failed to overcome the power trio of Cone, Mendoza and Rivera who maintained the 5-4 advantage. Brosius nailed 2 homers during the heartbreaker adding to his ever-growing stats that topped out at 8-hits, 2 homers and 6 RBIs. The 3rd baseman would go on to win the Series MVP award finishing with a whopping .471 batting average. On the brink of elimination, the NL champions had one last opportunity to prevent a sweep and extend their "Cinderella" season for another day. Brown and Pettitte went head-to-head for 5-innings, but the Padre pitcher stumbled in the 5th (for 1) and the 8th (for 2) before being pulled in favor of Dan Miceli and Myers. Although neither would surrender any additional runs, it was "too little - too late" as Nelson and Rivera (who finished with a 0.00 ERA) went on for the 3-0 clincher and their 24th world championship. It was the perfect ending to a perfect season and was summed up perfectly by the players: "Tell them, it wasn't easy. When they look back and see 125 wins, tell them we never took a single one for granted. Teach them about our passion and our patience. If they ask who was our star, give them 25 names. And if you forget our names, just tell them we were YANKEES. And in the season of our lives, we became a team. A team that made people believe that baseball could be magic, and men could be perfect."
1999: Atlanta Braves (0) vs. New York Yankees (4)
As baseball prepared to close its books on the 20th century, it seemed fitting that the team who had dominated most of it was returning for their 36th Fall Classic. Following 114 regular-season wins and 11 post season victories (the most by any team in 123 years of major-league baseball) as well as a 4-game sweep in the Series, the perennial champion New York Yankees were back and ready to cement their title as "Team of the Century". Manager Joe Torre was ready for another sweep as his Yankees won the AL Division Series over the Texas Rangers (3-0) and the Championship Series (4-1) over Boston Red Sox. The "Bronx Bombers" had scored a whopping 900 runs and answered their critics who felt that the record-setting '98 season had been a fluke. The Atlanta Braves had risen as a dominant force in the National League over the last decade and were returning for their 9th Series (winning titles in 3 different cities). Despite the heavy-hitters on both line-ups, many believed that this Classic would all come down to pitching as each rotation combined for 13 Cy Young Award winners including Roger Clemens, David Cone, Tom Glavine and Greg Maddux.
The opener pitted New York's Orlando Hernandez against Atlanta's Greg Maddux. Both aces went-head-to-head (with the exception of "El Duque" surrendering 1 run in the 4th to Chipper Jones) for 8-innings, but the "Pinstripes" connected for 4 runs to beat the controversial John Rocker and closer Mike Remlinger 4-1. The games best closer, Mariano Rivera, entered in the last-inning and continued his astounding post-season winning streak. Game 2 wouldn't give the fans at Turner Field anything to cheer about either. David Cone and company clearly dominated the home team allowing only 5-hits and 2 runs that came in the final-inning. The Yankees managed 14-hits off Kevin Millwood and Terry Mulholland (who came in the 3rd) for the 7-2 victory that put them ahead 2-games-to-none.
The 3rd outing finally appeared to tip the scales in the Braves favor as they entered the 7th with a 5-3 advantage, but the never-say-die American's tied it up in the 8th (winning in the 10th) after 4 clutch homers by Chad Curtis (who had 2), Chuck Knoblauch and Tino Martinez. Now ahead by 3, the "Bombers" prepared to seal their 2nd consecutive sweep for the home crowd at Yankees Stadium who had missed the '98 finale that took place in San Diego's house. Game 4 highlighted the tradition of excellence that was part of the Yankee culture with pinstripe legend Whitey Ford throwing out the first pitch. "The Chairman" set the tone for the contest, as Yankee pitchers would rule the day. Roger Clemens was given the start for the homers against John Smoltz and "The Rocket" responded with an 8-inning masterpiece that yielded 5-hits and 1-run. Teammate Jim Leyritz ended the affair after sending a shot into the cheap seats for a 4-1 triumph and a 3rd title in 4 years.
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