Down by six runs through five innings, it looked like the Yankees were on their way towards a devastating loss – a loss that would’ve put them in a precarious 3-1 series hole. Instead, they chipped and fought their way back thanks in part to a three-run homer by Jim Leyritz in the eighth and a Wade Boggs bases loaded walk in the 10th to win 8-6. The World Series is now a three-game series.
The win represented the Yankees’ biggest comeback in a postseason game in their illustrious franchise history. Things didn’t look good in the eighth when Braves manager Bobby Cox brought on his closer, Mark Wohlers, and his 99-mph fastball with a 6-3 lead. Wohlers gave up back-to-back singles to Charlie Hayes and Darryl Strawberry, before a groundball hit by Mariano Duncan handcuffed defensive replacement Rafael Belliard at shortstop. Belliard was only able to get the force out at second, putting runners on first and third with one out.
Up came Leyritz.
Leyritz smacked a 2-2 slider from Wohlers deep to left field, clearing the wall and the jump from Andruw Jones. The game was tied at six, and took Yankees starter Kenny Rogers (2 IP, 5 runs) off the hook. It was one of the biggest home runs in Yankees history, and the biggest one since – yes, Leyritz again – hit a walk-off homer against the Mariners in last year’s ALDS.
“My wife is happy because I played that one so many times during the off season,” Leyritz said of last year’s homer against Seattle. “So now I got another one to play. That was definitely the biggest hit of my career.”
It looked as if the Braves were going to win the game in the bottom of the ninth when they put runners on first and second with one out against Mariano Rivera. Joe Torre called on Graeme Lloyd, who promptly got Fred McGriff to bounce into a double play which ended the inning. Lloyd has been an unsung hero this postseason after coming over in an August trade and struggling in New York down the stretch run.
“I learned a lot for about three weeks in New York,” said Lloyd, who was booed whenever he entered a game at home. “Some of it was shocking to me, but I’m glad that I’ve been able to do the job.”
In the top of the 10th, the Yankees went to work. With runners on first and second and two out, Cox made an interesting decision when he decided to intentionally walk Bernie Williams to load the bases and to face rookie Andy Fox. Instead, Torre countered with veteran Boggs, and Cox countered with Steve Avery. Boggs worked the count from 1-2 to 3-2, and took a pitch just high to force in a run. The Yankees had the lead and the comeback was complete.
“That’s probably the biggest walk I’ve ever had in my 15-year career,” Boggs said. “We’ve been doing this all season. It’s not like we just starting inventing comebacks in the playoffs. We’ve done this before.”
The Yankees added another run when a Hayes popup to first baseman Ryan Klesko got lost in the lights. Derek Jeter came around to score and the lead was pushed to 8-6. In the bottom of the 10th, the Braves put a runner on with one out. After a fly ball out to left, Terry Pendleton lofted another ball to left which chased Tim Raines back to the track. Raines circled the ball, and fell down as he caught it. He popped up, raised his glove with the ball secured in it, and the umpire signaled out. The Yankees poured out of the dugout.
The win guarantees that the series will return to New York, something the Braves definitely thought would never happen. Game four was a punch to Atlanta’s solar plexus.
“I thought if we won tonight, we’re going to win it,” said Yankee reliever Jeff Nelson, who pitched two scoreless innings, the sixth and the seventh. “I don’t think they ever thought we’d be going to back to New York. They were up 2-0.
“Everybody was writing us off and wondering whether they were going to win in four or five games. We’re shocking the world.”
The Yankees have a chance to take an improbable 3-2 series lead tomorrow night in a rematch of Game One – Andy Pettitte vs. John Smoltz.
Once left for dead, the Yankees have made it a series. Until the final out is secured, don’t count this team out. They’ve proved time and time again that they’re resilient.
“This is a very exciting ball club,” Strawberry said. “We don’t give up. Everybody comes together.”