Thursday, June 25, 2009

1999 World Series: Game 4

[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]

At 2:30 in the morning on October 27th, not long after the dramatic conclusion of Game 3, Paul O'Neill got the kind of phone call that everyone dreads. When the phone rings at that hour, it rarely brings good news. When he answered, he found out that his father, Chick, who had watched his health decline over the previous months had passed away.

With Game 4 only 18 hours away, there wasn't much time to grieve. O'Neill decided to take the field and not to tell any of his teammates about his father until after the game. However, the organization was already aware of what had transpired and Joe Torre called to extend his condolences to his player. The time from when he received that call until it was time to play must have seemed like an eternity for Paulie.

When Whitey Ford finally threw out the first pitch, he set the stage for two other pitching titans to clash.

Roger Clemens first regular season after being acquired from Toronto proved to be a disappointing one. Coming off of back to back Cy Youngs and twenty win, 230+ inning, 270+ strikeout seasons north of the border, The Rocket turned in only the third best season of the Yankee starters. He had a 4.60 ERA, went 14-10 and actually had a WHIP higher than Hideki Irabu's. John Smoltz had fallen from his peak as well, heading to the DL twice in 1999, but still pitched effectively (3.19 ERA) when he was healthy. He was still regarded as a big game pitcher and the Braves could have done much worse than to have him on the mound.

Clemens and Smoltz matched scoreless frames in the first and second and Roger sat down the Braves in order in the top of the third.

Against Smoltz in the bottom half, Chuck Knoblauch led off with a single and Derek Jeter followed suit with one of his own, putting runners on the corners with no one out. Paul O'Neill struck out, then with Bernie Williams up, Jeter put himself into scoring position by stealing second. Smoltz then intentionally walked Bernie, to create the potential for a double play, a decision which came back to bite the Braves. Tino Martinez singled down the right field line, scoring Jeter and Knoblauch and moving Bernie to third. Darryl Strawberry went down on strikes for the second out of the inning, but Jorge Posada knocked a single to right to put the Yanks up 3-0.

That cushion would be all that Clemens needed. He cruised through the Braves line up, allowing only three baserunners over the next 4 2/3 innings. He retired the first two batters of the eighth inning, his 16th and 17th groundballs of the night, but hit a snag. He allowed two singles to Gerald Williams and Walt Weiss, which prompted Joe Torre to call to the bullpen. Clemens received a rousing ovation and doffed his cap, because barring a bullpen disaster, Clemens had just given the signature Fall Classic performance he had always yearned for. Jeff Nelson did allow one of Clemens' runners to score, but Rivera got Chipper Jones to ground out, lining up Clemens to be the winning pitcher in the clinching game of the World Series.

Jim Leyritz added a solo home run in the bottom of the eighth to give Mo some breathing room, but it wasn't needed. The Braves went down 1-2-3, the final out coming on a fly ball to Chad Curtis in left field.

The Yankees became the first team to sweep back to back World Series since their 1938-39 counterparts and validated their torrid 1998 campaign with another division title and unstoppable postseason run. Joe Torre actually said that he thought the '99 Yanks were better than the '98 version because they had to walk in the shadow of a 114 win juggernaut. After the game, Sojo, O'Neill, Brosius and Clemens, who had lost his father at a young age gathered in a quiet room away from the celebration in a moment of both remembrance and camaraderie.

The Yankees didn't need the late 90's run to secure a place as the best team of the 1900's, but the three championships in 1996, 1998 and 1999 did bring their tally to an unmatched 25 titles.

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