Tuesday, June 23, 2009

1996 World Series: Game 2

[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]

The most amazing part about the Braves of the early-to-mid 90's was of course their starting pitching staff. In 1996, Smoltz, Maddux and Glavine all posted sub 3.00 ERAs and combined to pitch 734 innings. Smoltz won 24 games and struck out 276 and allowed only 199 hits in 253 2/3 IP. Glavine's ERA was comparable to and Maddux's was actually .22 lower than Smoltz's, but the lack of gaudy strikeout, and more significantly, win totals kept them from accumulating many Cy Young votes. Already 30 years old, Maddux was coming off of four consecutive seasons where he won the Cy Young, Gold Glove, placed no lower than 13th in the MVP voting and walked fewer than two batters per nine innings, so he probably didn't lose a lot of sleep over the lack of acknowledgment.

Comparatively, David Cone was the only Yankee to post an ERA below 3, and he only started 11 games. Next to him, Pettitte's 3.87 was the Yankees' best, followed by Kenny Rogers and Jimmy Key, both at 4.68. Per usual, the Bombers' strength was in their offense, scoring nearly 100 runs more than the Braves in '96.

Atlanta's bullpen in 1996 was nothing special, but when you have three starters throwing that many innings (including 12 complete games), at that microscopic of an ERA, you don't really need a great 'pen. Their closer Mark Wohlers had an ERA higher than any of the top three starters, but that was good enough to net him 39 saves. Mike Bielecki was actually their most useful reliever. Averaging almost two innings per appearance (75.1 IP/40 games), and a sort of jack-of-all trades, Bielecki accrued a 2.63 ERA while starting 5 games and finishing 8, including two saves.

The Yankees had the clear advantage when it got late in the game, with John Wetteland and Mariano Rivera combining for 170 1/3 innings (107 2/3 belonging to Rivera) of 2.38 ERA. Despite the difference in workload and the fact that Wetteland had a respectable 2.83 ERA and saved 43 games, Rivera destroyed him in every meaningful statistical category. Most tellingly, Mo's WHIP was .2 lower and he allowed only 1 home run all year, compared to Wetteland's 9.

The pitching match-up in Game 2 slotted Maddux against Jimmy Key. After reaching his ostensible prime as a pitcher and placing fourth and second in the Cy Young voting in 1993 & 1994, respectively, Key was leading the league with 17 wins when the 1994 strike occurred. He missed almost all of the 1995 season when he went on the disabled list for what was thought to be tendinitis, but ended up needing rotator cuff surgery. 1996 was one of his worst full season as a professional but in the postseason he managed to win two games and have an ERA of 3.33 in, slightly under his eventual career ERA of 3.51.

The gametime temperature was a relatively mild 55 degrees, but the Braves picked up right where they left off with their hot hitting. Mark Lemke hit a ground rule double and was driven in by Fred McGriff with two outs. Javy Lopez singled as well, but Jermaine Dye flew out to deep left before any further trauma was inflicted.

Maddux needed only 11 pitches to get through the first inning, and he would only get more efficient as the game progressed. Key and Maddux matched scoreless halves in the second inning before Fred McGriff struck again in the top of the third. He drove in another run with another single, putting the Braves ahead 2-0. He added another RBI on a sac fly in the top of the 5th.

The Yankees were simply flummoxed by Maddux. Through five innings only three men reached base, and one was via a HBP and was erased by a caught stealing. He had thrown just 48 pitches, partially due to the fact that he had yet to register a strikeout. The two he got both came in the seventh inning.

Marqius Grissom drove in another run in the sixth, which would be Key's final frame. He didn't have great stuff, but he bent instead of breaking unlike Pettitte the night before. Key scattered 13 baserunners but never gave up more than one run in an inning.

The single biggest play in the game came in the bottom of the sixth inning with Wade Boggs at the plate. Jeter and Tim Raines left off the inning with back to back singles and for a moment it appeared that the Yankees might claw their way back into the game. However, Boggs was a victim of one of the 21 ground balls induced by Maddux that night, and it turned into a 4-6-3 double play. Bernie Williams hit yet another grounder to second which ended the inning.

Maddux expended only 82 pitches to work through eight shutout innings and hand the ball over the Mark Wohlers, who struck out the side in the bottom of the ninth. Atlanta's pitching staff had predictably dominated the Yanks once again, and now had only given up two runs in their last five games.

As legend has it, a furious George Steinbrenner summoned Joe Torre and his first base coach Jose Cardenal into his office following the game. Torre responded to the tirade by guaranteeing three victories in Atlanta, which, given The Boss's temperament was probably his only recourse. Steinbrenner jabbed "If you guys can't beat the Braves at home, you surely can't beat them down in Atlanta". He did have a point.

1 comment:

  1. The Braves starting staff was head and maybe even shoulders better than the Yankees in 96. But we shouldn't sell the Yankee rotation short.

    1996 was a historic offensive year in the American League. Since the end of the Deadball Era in 1919, 1996 ranks 1st in AL history in slugging at .445 and 3rd with 5.39 runs/game. The league OBP and AVG also rank in the top 20.

    Looking at the Yankees top four starters: Cone, Pettitte, Key, and Rogers and neturalizing their ERAs to the league, they have ERA+ of 174, 129, 107, and 107 respectively.

    Cone's sample size is small with just 11 starts, but he was easily in his prime still. Pettitte's numbers would make him an ace on most teams, and Key and even Rogers were solid mid to back of the rotation guys. The staff was 5th in the AL in ERA and ERA+ and 4th in WHIP.

    The Braves staff was historically good though. Their collective ERA+ was 124, 10 points higher than the second place staff. They were tops in the league in WHIP, H/9, HR/9, BB/9, K/9, adn K/BB.

    Their top four starters of Smoltz, Maddux, Glavine, and Avery had ERA+ of 149, 162, 147, and 98. That's 3 aces right there.