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October 24, 1996: Pettitte’s gem puts Yankees one win away from title

Andy Pettitte thought he had cost his team a chance at a World Series title. In game one – the first Fall Classic game at Yankee Stadium in 15 years – Pettitte got hit hard. He allowed seven runs on six hits over 2.1 innings. He hoped his next start, if necessary, would be better.

It was. By leaps and bounds.

Pettitte hurled 8.1 shutout innings, blanking the Braves and holding them to five hits to earn a victory in game five by a score of 1-0. He matched zeroes with John Smoltz, who went eight innings and allowed one run while striking out 10. Afterwards, Smoltz called this game the best game he ever pitched.

The Yankees are now a remarkable 8-0 on the road in the postseason this year. More importantly, after going down 0-2 to begin the series, New York has stormed back by winning three straight on the road to come within one victory of a title. It seems as if destiny is on the Yankees’ side.

“We just got a lot of special things going on,” Pettitte said. “I think we’re destined to win this thing now. A lot of little things have happened. A lot of little breaks and things have gone our way. We’ve been able to take advantage of them.”

For example, the Yankees scored the lone run on the night by taking advantage of an Atlanta mistake. In the fourth inning, Charlie Hayes lofted a routine fly ball to right-center field. Right-fielder Jermaine Dye crossed in front of Marquis Grissom, who misplayed the ball and let it fall harmlessly on the grass. Hayes made it to second base on the error, and moved to third on Bernie Williams‘ groundout to the right side. Up came Cecil Fielder, who ripped a run-scoring double down the left field line. That was all Pettitte and the Yankees needed.

Another stroke of good fortune came in the ninth. After Pettitte gave up a leadoff double to Chipper Jones and a groundout to Fred McGriff, manager Joe Torre went to John Wetteland to protect the lead and the game. Wetteland got Javier Lopez to ground out to third, freezing Jones. With two outs, pinch-hitter Luis Polonia came up and fouled off six straight fastballs.

Jose Cardenal, the Yankees’ outfield coach, figured that Polonia wouldn’t be able to pull Wetteland’s fastball, so he shaded right fielder Paul O’Neill over towards center. On Wetteland’s seventh pitch of the at-bat, Polonia ripped a line drive towards right-center, chasing O’Neill back, diagonally, toward the warning track. O’Neill stretched his glove out, snagged the liner and pounded the outfield wall with excitement. He had made a game saving, game ending catch – all thanks to a little late defensive positioning.

“If Paul doesn’t move, I don’t think he catches the ball,” Cardenal said. “Hopefully, I made George happy.”

O’Neill agreed that the shift helped save game five for the Yankees. “When it was first hit I thought I could catch it,” O’Neill said. “Then it started to go higher and higher. You just do what you can.”

Not only was Pettitte helping out with his stellar pitching, he was helping out with his defense. After back-to-back singles by Smoltz and Grissom to start the sixth, Pettitte hopped off the mound like a cat to field Mark Lemke‘s bunt. He barehanded the ball and threw a strike to third, cutting down Smoltz by a few inches for out one. On the very next pitch to Chipper Jones, Pettitte fielded a comebacker and threw to second for an inning-ending 1-4-3 double play.

“Andy Pettitte is not known for his defense,” Leyritz said. “If he doesn’t make those plays, it’s a different ball game.”

Tonight’s win also closed out the Braves’ Fulton County Stadium. They’ll move across the street to Turner Field next year. The Braves figured they’d close out their building with a World Championship, but instead, they’ll go back to New York to try and stave off elimination.

“We believed in ourselves,” said Darryl Strawberry. “Everybody said we were done and we shouldn’t show up. Guess what? We showed up.”

To hear Pettitte’s thoughts on this game 20 years later, check out the interview we did with him back in August

Quotes Via NY Times

Box score and playoff stats


        1 2 3  4 5 6  7 8 9   R  H  E
        - - -  - - -  - - -   -  -  -
Yankees 0 0 0  1 0 0  0 0 0   1  4  1
Braves  0 0 0  0 0 0  0 0 0   0  5  1

Batting      AB R H RBI BB SO  BA  OBP  SLG
Jeter SS      4 0 0  0  0  1 .368 .419 .474
Hayes 3B      4 1 0  0  0  2 .185 .258 .185
Williams CF   4 0 0  0  0  2 .333 .431 .722
Fielder 1B    4 0 3  1  0  1 .313 .400 .542
Martinez 1B   0 0 0  0  0  0 .200 .294 .267
Strawberry LF 3 0 0  0  1  1 .258 .361 .548
ONeill RF     2 0 0  0  2  0 .171 .293 .286
Duncan 2B     4 0 0  0  0  1 .184 .216 .224
Sojo 2B       0 0 0  0  0  0 .375 .375 .375
Leyritz C     2 0 1  0  2  1 .263 .417 .579
Pettitte P    4 0 0  0  0  1 .000 .000 .000

2B:Fielder (2)
RBI:Fielder (14)

Pitching            IP H R ER BB SO  ERA
Pettitte W (2-1)   8.1 5 0  0  3  4 4.78
Wetteland S (6)    0.2 0 0  0  1  0 1.59