Tuesday, June 23, 2009

1996 World Series: Game 1

[With the Yankees squaring off against the Braves this week, we thought it would be appropriate to take a look back at the two World Series during which they faced off in the late 90's]

With each year that passes, the exact boundaries of the Yankees' most recent dynastic era become increasingly clear. The late stretch of first round playoff exits and last year's failure to qualify for the postseason has separated the current Yankees team from the squads of the late 90's and the turn of the millennium. The only common parts between the 1996 roster (or the 2001 version, for that matter) and the current one are Derek Jeter, Jorge Posada, Andy Pettitte and Mariano Rivera. Buster Onley placed the end of the dynasty as the last night of it as Game 7 of the 2001 Series but even if you'd argue that it took place sometime in October of 2004, the accumulation of 4 WS Titles and 6 appearances in 8 years in the era of free agency is pretty staggering.

If the 1996 World Series had played itself out differently, the Braves could very well have been the team of the 90's that everyone still romanticizes. Who knows what rash decisions George Steinbrenner might have dictated and the implications they might have had. Surely things couldn't have turned out much better than they did for the Yanks, so pretty much any decision other than the ones that were made wouldn't have been beneficial.

Perhaps the championship glow from winning in '96 would have been the first step to immortalizing Bobby Cox instead of Joe Torre, Chipper Jones, not Derek Jeter, and Fred McGriff could have replaced Paul O'Neill. Maybe Atlanta would have been the owners of an incredible run and the Yanks would have been the ones who would only manage one title during their extended playoff appearance streak.

Midway through the 1990 season, Bobby Cox came down from his GM position with the Braves for his second stint in their dugout. This time, he took the team to the World Series in both of his first full seasons, losing to the Twins in seven games in 1991 and then to the Blue Jays in six in 1992. In the strike-shortened season of 1994, the Braves were on pace to win 96 games but were six games behind the Expos when the season was cut short. They won their only World Series of the Cox era in 1995, needing six games to knock of the Indians.

So when the Yanks and Braves ended up head to head in the 1996 WS, it was Atlanta who were the heavy favorites and the Bombers who were the up and comers, making only their second playoff appearance in 15 years. Don Mattingly had just retired and although Buck Showalter had overseen some vast improvements take place in the franchise he was replaced in a somewhat confusing maneuver.

Game 1 was originally supposed to take place on October 19th, but the first World Series rainout in ten years pushed the start of the series back and ended up eliminating the travel day that was supposed to take place after the first two games were completed in New York.

After falling behind in the NLCS to the Cardinals 3-1, the Braves had caught ablaze in the final three games, winning 14-0, 3-1 and 15-0. The Yanks on the other hand had wrapped up their 4-1 victory against the Orioles four days earlier. The rainout gave the Braves an extra day to recover from the seven game bout with the Cards, but the Yanks needed no such reprieve.

It was damp 53 degrees at game time and a 24 year old Andy Pettitte took the hill for the Yanks. Pettitte had a breakout year, notching 21 wins with a 3.87 ERA and finishing second in the Cy Young voting to Pat Hentgen. He retired the side in order in the first inning and the 1996 World Series was under way.

In the Yanks half of the first inning, Bernie Williams and Tino Martinez both worked two out walks but Cecil Fielder flew out to the gap in right field to end the frame.

Javy Lopez got aboard with a one out single in the second and remained on first until Andruw Jones came to the plate with two outs. Jones was only 19 and had played in just 31 regular season games that year, but worked a decidedly veteran at-bat against Pettitte. He worked the count full and deposited the first 3-2 pitch into the left field stands, drawing the first blood in the game. 2-0 Braves.

Paul O'Neill and Jim Leyritz worked two more walks off of John Smotlz in the second, but again failed to plate a run.

The wheels came off in the third inning for Pettitte, even though he never allowed anything worse than a single. The damage occurred as follows, single by Marquis Grissom, single by Jeff Blauser, sac bunt by Mark Lemke, then a two-run single by Chipper Jones who advanced to second on the throw home. Jones then stole third, and was driven in on a base hit by Fred McGriff. Pettitte's night was over after he walked Javy Lopez and left the game trailing 5-0. He was replaced by Brain Boehringer, who got Jermaine Dye to fly to left, but allowed another homer to Andruw Jones put the game even further out of reach. 8-0 Braves, seven of those runs charged to Pettitte in just 2 1/3 IP.

The Yankees wouldn't score until the fifth inning on a double by Wade Boggs and it would prove to be all the Yanks could muster offensively. They worked 5 walks but only 4 hits, a far cry from the 14 baserunners Atlanta was successful in creating.

Smotlz pitched a pretty smooth 6 innings of one run ball before handing it off to the bullpen, an effort which meant the Braves had given up only two runs in their last four games, all the while scoring 44.

The Yanks looked rusty and overmatched and it appeared that the Vegas oddsmakers and those who thought wrapping up their series with Baltimore early worked to their disadvantage were right.

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