After 18 long years, the Yankees can once again call themselves world champions. Their fairytale season concluded tonight with a 3-2 victory over the Braves in game six at Yankee Stadium, setting off a wild celebration in the Bronx.
This team, which rattled off four thrilling victories over Atlanta after starting the World Series in an 0-2 hole, will be remembered for years to come. All the storylines, the memorable comebacks, rallies and big plays will be forever etched in baseball history. The wild ride that is the 1996 season will finally culminate in two days when the Yankees – and the city – will hold a parade down the Canyon of Heroes.
Tonight’s game was a microcosm of the Yankees season. Jimmy Key gave the team six-plus strong innings and was backed up by four relievers, with John Wetteland (named World Series MVP) making things interesting in the ninth. The Yankees were able to get big hits from Bernie Williams, Derek Jeter and Joe Girardi as part of a three-run third off Braves starter Greg Maddux.
“You could not have written a better script,” Girardi said, whose third inning triple ignited 56,375 Yankee fans. “This was the way we won all year. This game was the season in a nutshell. I truly feel blessed.”
Joe Torre feels blessed, too. With his brother, Frank, watching from Columbia Presbyterian hospital after undergoing heart transplant surgery two days ago, Joe captured his first title after 32 years in the sport as a player and a manager. “This team never quit,” Torre said. “This team was always ready.”
Braves manager Bobby Cox wished Torre well after the game. “You have fun this winter,” Cox said to Torre in his crowded manager’s office. “You deserve it. Good going. I love you.”
After the final out, Torre led his players on a victory lap around the Stadium to thank the fans for the incredible season. “I wanted to go into the stands and thank all 60,000 fans,” Tino Martinez said. “If I could have, I would have.”
Wade Boggs took it one step further, by spontaneously jumping on horseback and riding around the field. The 15-year veteran finally has the ring to validate his Hall of Fame career. “That was the final piece to the puzzle,” Boggs said. “I don’t know why I did any of that stuff, but it felt terrific. This was a great send-off.”
With a 3-1 lead in the ninth, Wetteland allowed three singles which cut the Yankees’ lead to 3-2 and put runners on first and third. After Hayes nearly made an incredible catch going into the Braves dugout on Lemke’s popup, he got another chance on the next pitch which stayed in fair territory. Hayes caught it and the Yankees rushed to the middle of the diamond to celebrate.
“I got the ball and I’m not telling anyone where it is,” Hayes said. “I’m going to hold onto that ball forever. I have already asked our video guy to make me a 90-minute tape of me catching that ball. Just me and the catch. Nothing else.”
Paul O’Neill doubled to lead off the third inning. After a Mariano Duncan groundout moved him to third, Girardi tripled over the head of Marquis Grissom in center which scored O’Neill. Yankee Stadium exploded as the Yankees took a 1-0 lead. It was perhaps the signature moment of game six, and most definitely Girardi’s career up to this point.
“The ground was shaking,” O’Neill said. “I mean, it was shaking. I’ve never seen that happen before.” O’Neill also noticed that home plate was shaking when he stepped on it.
Jeter lined a single up the middle to score Girardi, and later stole second base. Williams swung at the first pitch he saw from Maddux and singled to center which plated Jeter, and the Yankees had a 3-0 lead.
The Braves scored a run in the top of the fourth on a bases loaded walk, but Key was able to get out of trouble when he induced a double play off the bat of Terry Pendleton to end the threat. Weathers took care of the sixth, Rivera came on for the seventh and eighth, and Wetteland converted his fourth straight save in the World Series in the ninth in dramatic fashion.
The title is the first for George Steinbrenner since 1978. It’s been long overdue. “This is great for New York,” he said. “There’s just something special when the Yankees win the World Championship. It’s special for New York when the Yankees are the best team in baseball.”
David Cone echoed those sentiments. “This is a New York team,” he said. “This is a comeback team. This is a team that New York can really relate to. This is a great team.”
It’s safe to say the 1996 Yankees will be remembered for a long, long time.