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Jose Vizcaino: Subway Series hero

20th anniversary celebration

Throughout the 2020 season, Bronx Pinstripes will be taking a look back at the 2000 New York Yankees to commemorate the 20th anniversary of that championship season. We’ll start today by looking at one of the unsung heroes of the Subway Series, Jose Vizcaino.

If you asked Yankees fans what they remember most about the clash between the Yankees and the New York Mets, many would mention Derek Jeter’s World Series MVP trophy and Luis Sojo’s game-winning hit in the title-clinching 5th game. But, many fans may not remember the contributions of Vizcaino, who was the hero of Game 1 of the Series.

The Yankees entered the 2020 season having won three of the previous four World Series. But, to some players, like Paul O’Neill, there was no greater pressure than playing the Mets for all the marbles. And, for owner George Steinbrenner nothing could be worse than losing the front-page headlines to the Mets.

By the time the 2000 season came around, second baseman Chuck Knoblauch was at the peak of his throwing difficulties and his defensive shortcomings had begun to affect his hitting as well. That led the Yankees to acquire Vizcaino from the Los Angeles Dodgers in June for Jim Leyritz.

Vizcaino was a 10-year veteran utility infielder who spent 2+ seasons as a member of the Mets (1994-1996). Known much more for his glove than his hitting, Vizcaino’s very ordinary .653 OPS as a Yankee was still a great improvement from his time in LA (.536 OPS). More importantly, Vizcaino helped to stabilize the Yankees’ infield defense. He committed just two errors in 62 regular-season games at second base.

The Postseason

After not playing much of a part in the ALDS, Vizcaino helped turn around Game 2 of the ALCS vs. Seattle. The Mariners blanked the Yankees 2-0 in Game 1 and led 1-0 through seven innings of Game 2.

That’s when the ALCS nightmare began for Mariners’ lefty Arthur Rhodes. The Yankees touched him up for three runs before he left in favor of Jose Mesa, who fared no better. Among the batters against Mesa was Vizcaino, who delivered an RBI double and scored later in the inning.

The seven-run 8th inning sent the ALCS back to Seattle tied at a game apiece and was the turning point of the second-round series.

The Yankees took two of three on the West Coast and returned home up three-games-to-two. Game 6 saw the Mariners jump out to an early 4-0 lead, and they entered the 7th inning up 4-3.

With Jose Paniagua on the mound, Yankees manager Joe Torre sent Vizcaino up to pinch-hit for third baseman Scott Brosius to start the bottom of the frame. The begoggled Vizcaino, who looked like a mini Bernie Williams, came through with a leadoff single. One batter later, Jeter reached on a single as well. Mariners’ skipper Lou Piniella sent for Rhodes to face the left-handed-hitting Davis Justice.

Rhodes fell behind 3-1 in the count and then left a hanger up to the Yankees’ left fielder, who showed the ball no justice. The fat fastball landed in the upper deck in right field to give the Bombers a 6-4 advantage. They went on to a 9-7 win to capture the franchise’s 37th American League pennant.

Vizcaino makes his World Series mark

The Tri-State area was abuzz as two New York teams set to do battle in the first Subway Series since the Yankees bested the Brooklyn Dodgers in the 1956 Fall Classic.

With Sojo in a 9-44 postseason slump, Torre started Vizcaino at second base in the Series opener.

Left-handers Al Leiter and Andy Pettitte went toe-to-toe through six innings, with the Yankees on top 2-0. But, the Mets rallied for three runs off of Pettitte and reliever Jeff Nelson in the 7th inning to take the lead.

It remained that way entering the bottom of 9th inning. That’s when Mets manager Bobby Valentine brought in his closer, and Yankees public enemy #1, Armando Benitez to try to finish the victory off for the team from Queens.

Benitez was just two years removed from igniting a huge brawl between his then Baltimore Orioles team and the Yankees, after hitting Tino Martinez with a fastball between the numbers. The inhabitants of Yankee Stadium wanted nothing more than to pulverize Benitez.

With one out, Paul O’Neill delivered one of the most clutch at-bats in World Series history. After falling behind in the count 1-2, O’Neill fouled off two pitches and took two more outside of the zone to run the count full. After fouling off two more Benitez offerings, O’Neill watched the 10th pitch of the at-bat miss the strike zone for a leadoff walk.

Luis Polonia and Vizcaino followed with singles to load the bases before Knoblauch delivered a game-tying sacrifice fly.

The game remained deadlocked until the 12th inning when Martinez reached on a one-out single against Turk Wendell and Posada followed with a double. O’Neill then received an intentional walk to set up a force at any base.

Sojo, who had entered the game earlier, popped out for the second out of the inning. But, Vizcaino lined his fourth hit of the game to left field for the game-winner.

Though hitless in 11 at-bats over the remainder of the Series, Vizcaino batted leadoff in a pair of games, and his defense helped the Yankees to a 4-1 World Series win, the 26th in franchise history.

Vizcaino may not be remembered by most baseball fans, but he’ll always have a special place in the hearts of Yankees fans, despite having only played one season for the team.

Did you know?

Vizcaino is one of only three players – along with Darryl Strawberry and Ricky Ledee – to play for all four current or former New York teams.

Vizcaino has worked in the Dodgers front office as a Special Assistant of Baseball Operations since 2008.

In 2015, the San Francisco Giants drafted corner infielder Jose Vizcaino Jr. He spent parts of four seasons in the minor leaguers.