The New York Yankees have had so many players come up clutch in the postseason. Here are five the fans sometimes forget about.
The New York Yankees wrote the book on memorable playoff moments.
It almost kind of happened by default. Combine 27 World Series championships, 40 American League pennants, and all of the playoff series in between, and it’s a pretty lengthy history. The Yankees are to October what the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles are to pizza. They kind of go hand in hand.
Naturally, every fan remembers the key moments. Charlie Hayes caught the series-clinching pop-up in 1996 while Jim Leyritz’s bat saved New York’s chances. Chris Chambliss’s walk-off blast in 1976 clinched the pennant and sent the Yankees to their first World Series in 12 years. Scott Brosius’s sensational slugging in San Diego capped off an absolute dream 1998 season. Aaron Boone…well, we all know what he did.
But the Yankees playoff pond is a big one loaded with equally big fish. As a result, it’s easy to miss some of the players whose heroics swung the momentum firmly in the Yankees’ favor. Sure, we know about Hayes and Leyritz, but who delivered the death blow? Similarly, who was the real hero on the road to the infamous Subway Series in 2000?
Thus, as we wait for MLB to send its latest proposal to the players’ union, let’s look at five Yankees postseason heroes we may have forgotten.
No. 5: Brian Doyle, 1978 World Series
Brian Doyle’s name isn’t often thrown about in traditional baseball conversations. The lefty-swinging utility infielder only appeared in 110 games in a brief four-year career and was a .161 career hitter. In 1978, as a 24-year-old rookie, he and Fred “Chicken” Stanley logged more than a few innings around the infield as Willie Randolph and Bucky Dent dealt with injuries.
But when the playoffs hit, Doyle became something of a New York Yankees folk hero. After hitting .192 without driving in a single run in 39 games, he suddenly found his swing and looked like a different player. Doyle hit .391 with a pair of RBIs in the postseason and hit an incredible .438 in the World Series alone.
In the decisive Game 6 against the Los Angeles Dodgers, Doyle had three hits and his sole two RBIs of the playoffs. Were it not for Dent having seven RBIs in the series, he easily could have been World Series MVP.
His overall career may have been brief, but Doyle came through for the Yankees when they needed him most.
No. 4: Alfonso Soriano, Game 3 of 2001 ALCS
The 2001 New York Yankees were not supposed to make a fourth consecutive World Series. It didn’t matter that they won 95 games and also the AL East. The core power bats of the lineup were streaky and aging and the pitching was suspect.
Plus, the Seattle Mariners set a new record with 116 regular-season wins and were strong from top to bottom. Led by eventual Rookie of the Year and MVP Ichiro Suzuki, they’d surely make mincemeat out of the Yankees, right?
Well, ladies and gentlemen, fate had other ideas and none of them included the Mariners winning the World Series. In fact, the ALCS played between New York and Seattle was quite one-sided. After the Yankees took the first two games in Seattle, the Mariners won Game 3 in the Bronx and kept Game 4 close.
It was tied 1-1 in the ninth inning when star closer Kaz Sasaki faced Yankees star rookie Alfonso Soriano with one out and a man on base. The pitch was left up in the zone and Soriano absolutely crushed it for an opposite-field walk-off blast. The Yankees took a 3-1 series lead and won the deciding Game 5 the following night.
The Mariners may have been the better team on paper, but the Yankees just took control of the series early and never let go. On top of his clutch homer, Soriano hit .400 in the ALCS with five runs scored. It was the start of a borderline Hall of Fame career for him, and his playoff heroics here were simply a preview of what was to come.
No. 3: Luis Sojo brings it home, 2000 World Series
Dateline: Shea Stadium, Oct. 26, 2000. Tensions run high in New York as the Yankees and New York Mets are playing each other in the World Series. On top of talking trash, Mets fans have adopted The Baha Men’s “Who Let The Dogs Out” as their rallying cry, thus ruining a summer hit for everybody.
Fast forward to Game 5. The New York Yankees owned a 3-1 lead in the Series, and the absolute unexpected happened. Had anyone said 35-year-old backup infielder Luis Sojo would be the hero, any sane fan would have laughed it off. How much damage could the light-hitting Sojo actually do?
Simply put, more than you think. With the score tied 2-2 in the ninth inning and two out, Sojo came to bat with the go-ahead run on second. Mets starter Al Leiter threw his 142nd pitch of the game, and Sojo chopped it up the middle for a seeing-eye single. Jorge Posada scored, and Scott Brosius followed after a throwing error.
Sojo, meanwhile, stood on second base as the man of the hour. Minutes later, the Yankees would be World Series champions for the 26th time. It would be another nine years before they were again.
But the gap in championship seasons turned out to be a good thing. Had the Yankees won in 2001 or 2003, or any other year before 2009, Luis Sojo’s clutch single wouldn’t be appreciated nearly as much.
No. 2: David Justice, 2000 ALCS
The 2000 Seattle Mariners won 91 games and the AL Wild Card, but played more like the squad that won 116 games the following year. As a result, every New York Yankees fan was just a bit on edge during the 2000 ALCS. Seattle took Game 1 in the Bronx, but the Yankees then took the next three, including two out west.
The Mariners then won Game 5 and were poised to force a Game 7. They led 4-0 at one point and were up 4-3 in the seventh inning. Enter lefty slugger David Justice, who hit .305 with 20 homers in pinstripes after being traded by the Cleveland Indians in June. Up 3-1 in the count against lefty Arthur Rhodes, he launched a fastball deep into the Bronx night.
The Yankees led 6-4 and never looked back. They won the game and the AL pennant, and later the World Series. Justice was named ALCS MVP despite batting just .231 in the series. He only spent one more season with the Yankees, but this moment forever lives on in fans’ memories.
No. 1: Joe Girardi, 1996 World Series
The 1996 New York Yankees were not supposed to beat the Atlanta Braves in the World Series. The Yankees were a scrappy group of players with no truly traditional star power. The Braves, meanwhile, were the defending World Series champions and were making their fourth Fall Classic appearance of the decade. Imagine if Bran Stark had to fight both Sandor and Gregor Clegane in battle, and wasn’t allowed to use any magic. That is the 1996 World Series matchup in a nutshell.
Fast forward to Game 6, and the Yankees led the series 3-2 after winning three straight games in front of a hostile Atlanta crowd. The Braves seemed all but certain to force a Game 7 by sending reigning NL Cy Young winner Greg Maddux to the mound for Game 6.
Now, let’s talk about the hero of the game, catcher Joe Girardi. He hit .294 on the year, but wasn’t known for his power. Entering Game 6, he was batting just .179 in the whole World Series. None of it mattered as he drove the first pitch he saw towards the deepest part of the ballpark for a triple to put the Yankees up 1-0. New York never looked back en route to winning its first World Series in 18 years.
Girardi never had another key playoff moment as a player, but his triple made the Yankees a championship team again after years of mediocrity. His managing the team to the World Series and ending another championship drought in 2009 further adds to his legacy. All in all, underwhelming career stats aside, Joe Girardi is just another one of several Yankees players just born to be winners.