Game 3 had the Series shifting south to Atlanta. Things were not looking good for the Yanks, down 0-2 and having lost the first two games on their home turf by a combined score of 16-1. It wasn't going to get any easier for Game 3, as the Braves were sending former Cy Young Award winner Tom Glavine to the hill. Glavine won 15 games in 1996 and posted what was then the second best ERA+ of his career (147). Despite entering the game with a 7-7 post-season record, Glavine had a post-season ERA of just 3.05. He pitched 8 shuout innings of one hit ball in the 1995 World Series clincher, was the reigning World Series MVP, and was 2-1 with a 1.83 ERA in the 1996 NL Playoffs.
If all that added up to feeling of impending doom surrounding the Yankees, from George Steinbrenner to the media to the to fanbase, there was at least one little corner of the team that wasn't worried: Joe Torre. As he had been all throughout his first season as Yankee manager, and as he would be for the remainder of his twelve year tenure, Torre was the picture of calm.
Following the Game Two loss, Steinbrenner made a comment to Torre essentially asking him to make it respectable and avoid a sweep. Torre countered by predicting they would win the next three, claiming that Atlanta was his town. And in a way it was. Torre had played the first three seasons of Atlanta Braves baseball, hitting .290/.356/.469, 134 OPS+ and making two All-Star teams. He returned as manager in 1982, leading the Braves to the NL West title. It was the first post-season appearance for Atlanta, and their only one until they started their remarkable run in 1991.
But it wasn't just his Atlanta track record that gave Torre confidence; he had an ace up his sleeve, literally. David Cone was taking the ball for the Yankees in Game 3. Despite missing most of 1996 following surgery to correct an aneurysm in his throwing arm, Cone was still the Yankees' ace, going 7-2 with an ERA+ of 174 in eleven starts. He had last pitched twelve days earlier, starting Game 2 of the ALCS, and easily could have started the Series opener. But Torre intentionally held Cone back until Game 3, as Torre always felt Game 3 to be a series' most critical game. And it would never be more critical than when looking at an 0-2 deficit.
Cone entered Game 3 with a career post-season line of just 3-3 with a 4.29 ERA. But he had as many World Series rings as Glavine and a reputation as a big game pitcher. He would do nothing on the night of October 22, 1996 to detract from that reputation.
The Yankees drew blood in the top of the first. Tim Raines worked a leadoff walk and moved to second on a sacrfice by Derek Jeter. A Bernie Williams single up the middle plated Raines to make it 1-0.
David Cone came out guns blazing. He gave up a leadoff bloop single to Marquis Grissom, then erased him on a doubleplay from Mark Lemke. Cone then surrenedered a second single to Chipper Jones, but got out of the first with a groundout from the spokesperson for Tom Emanski's defensive drills video.
Cone pitched perfect second and third innings. By the time he issued a walk to Fred McGriff with two outs in the fourth, he had retired nine in a row. He followed the walk by catching Ryan Klesko looking to end the inning. In the fifth, he gave up a leadoff single to Javy Lopez, then erased him on a fielder's choice by Andruw Jones. After Joe Girardi caught Jones stealing, Cone K'd Jeff Blauser to end the inning.
At that point, Cone had a 2-0 lead, with the Yankees having added a run in the fourth when Williams reached on an error, moved to second on a walk to Cecil Fielder, to third on a Charlie Hayes lineout to right, and scored on a Darryl Strawberry single. Entering the bottom of the sixth, Cone had gone 5 innings scoreless innings, giving up 3 hits, a walk, striking out 3, and facing just two over the minimum. He had allowed just four balls to leave the infield, and one was a blooper and another a groundball single. The Braves couldn't touch him, but he was about to make things interesting.
Glavine led off the inning, and Cone walked him. Grissom followed with a single to move Glavine to second, but Cone caught a break when Lemke's bunt attempt became a popout to Fielder. Cone then walked Chipper Jones on five pitches to load the bases for the heart of the Braves order.
The situation was enough to bring Torre to the mound. According to The Yankee Years, Torre asked Cone repeatedly if he was OK. The game was on the line, and Torre needed to know that Cone, just five months removed from surgery, had enough left in the tank to get out of the jam. But after waiting his whole life to get to the Series, Torre wasn't about to accept the typical answer of a proud athlete. He was nose to nose with Cone, asking him if he could get the job done. Whatever Cone said to Torre, it was sufficient to convince him. And Torre's trust would be rewarded.
Cone got McGriff to popup to Jeter for the second out of the inning. Facing Klesko, Cone issued his third walk of the inning, forcing in a run and cutting the lead to one. But Lopez followed by fouling out to Girardi. It ended the threat and was the last big chance the Braves would have on the night.
Jim Leyritz pinch hit for Cone in the seventh and Mariano Rivera took the mound in the bottom of the inning. Mo retired the first two batters, when Luis Polonia, between his second and third stints as a Yankee, pinch hit for Glavine. He drew a walk, but when he tried swiping second he was gunned down by Girardi, ending the inning.
The Yanks padded their lead in the eighth. Jeter led off with a single and scored on Williams' sixth and final HR of the '96 post-season. Fielder followed with a double and pinch runner Andy Fox moved to third on a Hayes groundout. Strawberry was walked intentionally, then Luis Sojo dribbled one of his patented seeing-eye-RBI singles through the infield to make it 5-1. All three runs were charged to Greg McMichael, who failed to record an out.
Rivera got into a bit of trouble in the eighth. Grissom ledoff with a triple, then scored on a Lemke single. Mo whiffed Chipper Jones then gave way to southpaw Graeme Lloyd, who got lefties McGriff and Klesko to end the inning.
John Wetteland came on for the ninth. After the leadoff batter reached on a Jeter error, Wetteland struck out Andruw Jones and Blauser, then retired pinch hitter Terry Pendleton on a groundout to give the Yankees their first victory of the Series. Glavine had pitched masterfully, 7 IP, 4 H, 2 R, 1 ER, 3 BB, 8 K, but Cone matched him. No one quite knew it yet, but the tide of the 1996 World Series had turned.