October 28, 1996 in Sports

Earth Shakes As The Yankees, New Yorkers Celebrate Crown

Bud Geracie San Jose Mercury News

The Yankee Stadium press box was shaking Saturday night, the way the Candlestick Park press box shook that October day in 1989. This was not an earthquake, but the mere equivalent.

The Yankees won the World Series.

It was the Yankees’ first championship since 1978, their 23rd overall and, arguably, the most unlikely one ever. The Yankees won the Series after losing the first two games at home. The Yankees won the Series by beating the Atlanta Braves four straight times, the last of them a 3-2 thriller over the unbeatable Greg Maddux.

“Maybe the ghosts of Yankees past can sleep well tonight,” right fielder Paul O’Neill said amid the sweet stench of champagne and cigars. “The world championship is back where it belongs.”

There can be no argument about that. There is no place like New York - the celebrity turnout Saturday night was like something out of a Robert Altman film - and there is no team like the Yankees. They became the first team ever to sweep four straight Series games after losing the first two.

“This is like a dreamland for me, these last 24 to 48 hours,” said Yankees Manager Joe Torre, who in this postseason emerged as one of the most likable personalities in the game.

An hour or so before the first pitch Saturday night, Torre had described his recent life as “like an out-of-body experience. Being in the World Series, and having things go so well for my brother, and receiving all the support of so many people.”

Thirty-three years in baseball, and Torre had never been to the World Series. His season of triumph came less than a year after being fired as manager of the St. Louis Cardinals and it came amid sorrow. Torre’s oldest brother, Rocco, a New York cop, had died of a heart attack in mid-season. His other brother, Frank, was dying in a hospital, waiting for a heart transplant.

The heart came Friday. The rest came Saturday night.

Jimmy Smits, Mel Gibson, Eddie Murphy, Julia Roberts, Billy Crystal, Matthew Broderick, Andrew Shue, Susan Sarandon, Tim Robbins - they were among the 57,000 in attendance, and this place just rocked.

The players took a victory lap after the game. To the crowd, they shot fists and fingers - the index finger, not the one New York made famous. Wade Boggs ended up riding around on a cop’s horse.

“I’m deathly afraid of horses,” Boggs said later. “I just got up on that thing, and it was like an E-ride at Disney. I thought it would be the easiest way to get around. Man, I don’t know how John Wayne did it all those years.”

The Duke would have been proud of this bunch, his kind of men, a collection of tough old guys.

They beat Maddux for their last trick. They had learned a little something after being shut out by him in Game 2 - not a lot, but enough.

Maddux blanked the Yankees in 13 of his 14 innings, but in the third Saturday night, he was a mortal man. It started with O’Neill’s double into the right-field corner, and it ended with Bernie Williams singling the same way. In between there was a triple by Joe Girardi and a single by Derek Jeter. It added up to a 3-0 New York lead.

“When I crossed the plate, I actually felt it shaking,” said O’Neill. “You don’t get that anywhere but Yankee Stadium… . You’d have had 57,000 people running with us (on the victory lap) if they had let ‘em.”

The crowd wasn’t too crazed in the ninth; too tense. For the fourth game in a row, matters weren’t settled till the very end. On a 3-and-2 pitch with two out, Atlanta’s Mark Lemke hit a high pop foul near the third-base dugout. Charlie Hayes appeared to maybe have it - till he fell into the dugout.

In the Yankees dugout, coach Don Zimmer leaned across to Torre and said, “The next one’s for Frank.”

And sure enough, Lemke hit a pop in almost the same place, just a little more catchable. And Hayes caught it. Yankees win!

“They beat us,” said Atlanta manager Bobby Cox, short of the prize for the third time in four tries. “I never expected us to lose four in a row. But we did. If I had to lose, I don’t mind losing to Joe Torre. He’s a class act and I sure like the way things are working out for his family.”

The New York tabloids pitched Frank’s heart transplant as “a miracle,” which it was. So was the Yankees comeback. They lost the first two games by a composite score of 16-1. They never scored an earned run against John Smoltz. They scored in just one inning against Maddux.

“We seemingly had it in the bag,” said Chipper Jones in a stunned Atlanta clubhouse. “All the credit goes to the guys over there.

“We were in complete and total control,” Jones added. “They could have folded their tents, but they came into our place and whipped up on us pretty good. That takes a lot of heart, a lot of guts.”

It took a lot of bullpen too.

That’s where the Yankees won this thing - on the bench, and in the bullpen.

Until the ninth, when John Wetteland was touched for a run, the New York bullpen had delivered nine consecutive scoreless innings, a shutout in effect. They finished with a 2.13 ERA for the Series, and a 1.80 ERA in 60 postseason innings.

Wetteland was named the most valuable player, the first man to save four Series games, but it could have been anyone. Or no one. Not one Yankee really jumped out in this series. The Yankees, as a team, did. They were a buzz saw, just as Atlanta had been for a week earlier. The Yankees were not as awesome, but they were every bit as effective.

“A lot of people out there wrote us off, going to Atlanta,” Boggs said. “Nobody can write us off anymore.”

Outside, as the lights went down, Big Frank (Sinatra, not Torre) was belting out the New York anthem. A-Number One … top of the heap … king of the hill.

It was blaring from the sound system. You could barely hear it.

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