Braves righthander John Smoltz, the winningest pitcher in
postseason history, required 34 pitches to navigate the bottom
half of the third inning of Game 4 of the World Series. When the
inning was over, Smoltz had expended 75 pitches and a good deal
of his patience to squeeze nine outs from the Yankees lineup. He
trudged into the third base dugout at Yankee Stadium and
blurted, "These guys won't swing at anything!"
Smoltz was no less exasperated after the game, in which the
Yankees closed out their second straight World Series sweep to
earn their third title in four years and their 25th in the last
76 Fall Classics. (The rest of the American League has 20 titles
combined in that time.) For the first time since elbow pain
forced him to modify his delivery and repertoire three months
ago, Smoltz had returned to throwing overhand, rather than
sidearm, and to tossing split-fingered fastballs. "I thought I
needed my full arsenal against them," he said. Still, it hadn't
been enough. New York had won 4-1. "If I pitch 10 games like
this one, I win nine of them," Smoltz said. "What's amazing is
how they lay off pitches."
"Smoltz, [Greg] Maddux and [Tom] Glavine all threw their A
games," said Braves pitching coach Leo Mazzone, "and we lost
every one of 'em. I don't get it. How did that happen?"
A World Series that had it gone the full complement of games
would have ended on Halloween, stirred ghosts. The Yankees,
building on their sweep of the last four games of the 1996 Fall
Classic against the Braves and their 4-0 rout of the Padres in
October '98, extended their Series success to record lengths.
They tied the mark of Babe Ruth's Yankees of 1927, '28 and '32
with 12 consecutive World Series wins. They joined Ruth's
Yankees of '27 and '28 and Joe DiMaggio's Yankees of '38 and '39
as the only clubs to win back-to-back World Series sweeps.
What most distinguishes this New York team, however, is that
history won't label it with the apostrophized name of one of its
players. This dynasty is a democracy. How else to explain that
the Yankees swept the Braves despite a .209 batting average and
no extra-base hits from New York's third, fourth and fifth
hitters? "Their guys are just as capable of hitting a single as
they are a homer," Maddux said after the Series, "especially
their three-four-five guys. That's hard to deal with as a
In New York's 22-3 buzz-saw run through the 1998 and '99
postseasons, 10 different Yankees drove in the run that put them
ahead to stay. No one better exemplified that sharing of the
load than Chad Curtis, a part-time outfielder who in Game 3
joined Dusty Rhodes ('54 New York Giants), Eddie Mathews ('57
Milwaukee Braves), Carlton Fisk ('75 Red Sox) and Kirby Puckett
('91 Twins) as the only players to end an extra-inning World
Series game with a home run.
The depth and patience of New York's lineup made the Yankees as
fierce a postseason team as the NBA's Chicago Bulls. Beat them?
Forget it. Try just extending them. Since 1996 they were 9-2
when given an opportunity to close out a postseason series. In
10 postseason series in that time they faced elimination only
once, when they lost to the Indians in a 1997 Division Series.
The '72 to '74 Athletics, the only club since 1953 to win three
straight Series, were 21-12 in postseason play and faced
elimination five times in six series.
New York's run is all the more impressive because it had to
negotiate three rounds of playoffs--one or two more minefields a
year than earlier dynasties faced. The Yankees went 11-1 through
the gantlet this year after never having gone 11-1 in any stretch
of the regular season. In addition to their nonstop lineup, they
thrived in October thanks to:
--Starting pitchers. Yankees starters were 19-2 with a 2.47 ERA
over the past two postseasons.
--Tenacity. Five times during its 12-game Series winning streak
New York prevailed despite having trailed after six innings.
--Stability. Nine Yankees took part in all three of the World
Series encompassing the 12-game winning streak. Five Yankees
appeared in each leg of the 1927 to '32 run.
--Mariano Rivera. He pitched in nine of the 12 victories,
allowing one run in 13 2/3 innings. He was unscored on in 25 2/3
innings over the last two postseasons.
Perhaps the figure who looms largest over this Yankees run is
manager Joe Torre, who is 35-10 in the postseason during his
four years with the team. This much is certain about--if you
will--Torre's Yankees: They're the greatest team since the
advent of free agency in 1976. Beyond that, their postseason
dominance rates among the very best of any era, though Yogi
Berra offered a little perspective on that notion when he walked
through the champagne-soaked New York clubhouse after Game 4.
Berra played on 10 world-championship teams, including a record
five in a row from 1949 through '53. Neither that run nor the
current one matched the Yankees' dominance from Game 1 of the
'27 Series through Game 1 in '42, when New York went 33-4.
"Nice going," Berra said to this year's Yankees. "Now you only
need to get seven or eight more rings to catch me."
Said New York pitcher David Cone with a laugh, "I was feeling
pretty good about ourselves until Yogi said that."