Down to their final three outs, New York was staring at a potential 2-1 series deficit. With the score 2-1, they needed to find a way to score runs off Texas starter Darren Oliver, who was primed to finish off the complete game.
Like so many late inning rallies this season, this one began with none other than rookie sensation Derek Jeter, who lead off with a single to start the ninth.
The Yankees had looked dead all night, compiling just four hits before Jeter’s at-bat. Now, they had life. “Me, personally, I thought we were going to win,” said Jeter. “Once I got on base, I thought we would at least tie. Once Raines got a hit, I knew we’d win that inning.”
Raines followed up with a single of his own, and Jeter moved to third. Mike Henemann came on to replace Oliver, and faced Bernie Williams who lifted a fly ball to right field. Jeter tagged up, and the game was tied at two.
After a soft Cecil Fielder groundout which moved Raines to second, the Rangers intentionally walked Tino Martinez to go for the double play. Mariano Duncan stepped up and swung at the first pitch, sending a line drive into centerfield. Raines came around to score, and in the blink of an eye, the Yankees had the lead.
Duncan was the unlikely hero. ”I never thought I was going to be the hero,” said Duncan, who retreated to the clubhouse in the eighth inning for a drink. There, he talked with David Cone and game three starter Jimmy Key. “They told me someone had to do it. I didn’t think it was going to be me.”
John Wetteland came on for the save in the bottom of the ninth after Jeff Nelson went three innings of scoreless ball. Wetteland, of course, allowed the tying run to reach second base before striking out Darryl Hamilton to end the game, pushing the bullpen’s scoreless innings streak to 12 2/3 innings.
The Yankees poured out of the dugout and exhaled, knowing that they stole a game in which the Yankees hadn’t played their best baseball. “The game was 2-1 and it felt like we were down, 5-0 or 6-1, because of the stuff that had happened,” said Key “But it was 2-1. We got a chance to steal it. I really believe we stole one.”
Key went five innings and gave up two runs on five hits while striking out three. Williams put the Yankees on top with a homer in the first off Oliver. The Rangers were able to tie the game in the fourth on Juan Gonzalez‘s fourth home run of the series. They then took the lead in the fifth when Jeter was caught napping.
Kevin Elster went to steal second on a delayed steal, and Jeter didn’t cover the bag. Joe Girardi‘s throw sailed into centerfield, allowing Elster to move to third. Instead of walking Ivan Rodriguez who holds good numbers off Key, manager Joe Torre decided to pitch to him. Rodriguez promptly ripped a double down the line, and the Rangers took the lead. Jeter was clearly thinking about his gaffe for the remainder of the game.
“I wouldn’t have wanted to face you guys if we lost, 2-1,” Jeter joked to reporters after the game.
Among the other Yankee miscues that might’ve otherwise cost them the game, Charlie Hayes was picked off second in the third and Paul O’Neill hit into two double plays and fell to to 1 for 12 in the series.
But the Yankees have been resilient all year, and they proved that once again tonight. They now have a chance to close out Texas tomorrow afternoon and advance to the ALCS. Former Ranger Kenny Rogers starts against Bobby Witt.
“If we stole one,” said Jeter, “I hope we steal another one tomorrow.”