Turn Back The Clock: October 26th, 1996-The Yankees Return To Glory
By Billy Brost
For a team as decorated and celebrated as the New York Yankees, 18 years is a lifetime. As a matter of fact, it has constituted most of my “lifetime.” I was born in 1976, and was too little to remember the Cincinnati Reds sweeping the Yankees the fall after I was born, nor do I remember the Bronx Zoo titles of ’77 and ’78. Hell, I “barely” remember the 1981 World Series, one that the Yankees lost to the Los Angeles Dodgers. ’81 was the first time I attended a big league game, the Yankees visiting the Seattle Mariners in the Kingdome. I have been a Yankees’ fan ever since. I remember asking my father why the Yankees were losing during that ’81 Fall Classic, and he said “Don’t worry, they are always in the World Series.” Little did he know what the rest of my childhood would have in store as a Yankees fan.
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There weren’t any more Fall Classic appearances during the 1980s. There wasn’t even a playoff appearance the remainder of the decade. I remember the close calls in ’85, ’86 and ’87. The in and out again revolving door of Billy Martin and various other managers. I remember being the “only” Yankees fan I knew, and how my childhood buddies thought it was hilarious that my team was so bad by the end of the 80s and into the 1990s. 90-loss seasons, Don Mattingly a shell of his former self, Rickey Henderson, Dave Winfield and Willie Randolph were long gone. Heading into my teenage years, it felt as if I was never going to see the Yankees win a World Series, but I still loved them.
Fast forward to 1996. I was a 20-year-old soldier, who had just returned off of leave from watching the Yankees win Games 3, 4, and 5 in Atlanta to close out Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium. The Braves were now on the ropes, and the Yankees were primed to win their first time since…you guessed it, 1978-when I was 2. I had been in Seattle the previous fall, as Don Mattingly’s brilliant but short career came crashing down on that Kingdome astroturf, just as if I had been there 15 years prior when the Yankees of Reggie and Winfield were handling business.
Now it was my time. It was the time of all Yankees fans. We had lived through arguably the second darkest period in franchise history, depending on whom you spoke to. Those fans that grew up during the latter part of the 1960s and most of the 1970s, have a valid argument as well. But forget about all of that now. The Yankees were 9 innings away from winning the World Series. These days, that sounds like a normal occurrence. In 1996, it wasn’t.
After getting their doors blown off in Games 1 and 2 of the series, the Braves were thinking sweep, along with the rest of us. As I mentioned before, the team bounced back, thanks to postseason dramatics from Jim Leyritz, Andy Pettitte, and David Cone. The Bombers had a 3 games-to-2 lead heading into Game Six back in the Bronx.
Game Six was a rematch of the Game Two starters, Jimmy Key for the Yankees, and Greg Maddux for the Braves. Earlier in the day, Yankees’ manager Joe Torre was worried about something else: his brother Frank had just undergone a heart transplant. The Bombers continued their momentum from the previous three games, and jumped on Maddux with a three-run third inning. Paul O’Neill led off with a double, followed by an error/non-error play to give Joe Girardi an RBI-triple. He came home when Derek Jeter singled, and the AL Rookie of the Year then stole second, and scored on a Bernie Williams‘ single. Little did anyone know, the three-run inning would be the only ones the Bombers would score the entire night.
Key gave a run right back in the top of the 4th inning, by walking Jermaine Dye to force in former Yankees prospect Fred McGriff. The inning ended without further damage when former NL MVP Terry Pendleton smacked into a double play. Braves manager Bobby Cox was ejected in the fifth inning, as the second officiating controversy of the series occurred. It happened on a dropped pitch and late throw from Girardi, with outfielder Marquis Grissom attempting to advance. Grissom was wrongly called out on the play. Cox went nuts, and it was the first time since the ’92 Series that a manager had been tossed. Cox was the culprit then too.
The Yankees lockdown bullpen of David Weathers, Graeme Lloyd, and setup man Mariano Rivera kept the score at 3-1 entering the 9th and final frame of the game. The Bombers were three outs away from winning their first World Series in 18 years. Closer John Wettleland entered the game, attempting to save the game for the fourth time in the series. The defending World Champions were not going down without a fight. Ryan Klesko and Pendleton had back-to-back one-out singles to put the Braves in business. With runners on first and third, former Yankee Luis Polonia pinch hit for Jeff Blauser, and struck out, giving the Yankees two big outs in the inning. Grissom gave the Braves both hope and momentum, as he singled, driving in Klesko and making it a one-run game. Wettleland buckled down, and was able to get Mark Lemke to pop out to Charlie Hayes in foul territory next to third base, and the World Series belong to the Yankees!
It would begin the Joe Torre/Core Four Dynasty in the Bronx, and was the first of four World Series victories for the Yankees. They would follow with titles in 1998, ’99, and 2000. The Core Four, minus Torre, would win one more title together in 2009, before each member began retiring, culminating with Derek Jeter’s Swan Song in 2014. It was this day, October 26th, 1996 that it all began!