The 2000 New York Yankees were gearing up for another title run. The franchise had won World Series titles in both 1998 and 1999, marking them just the second team since the Big Red Machine of 1975-76 to win consecutive World Series titles. Now they were aiming to be the first team since the Oakland A’s of 1972-74 to win three in a row.
Derek Jeter was set for one of his best years, finishing with an on-base percentage of .416, and Jorge Posada had officially displaced Joe Girardi at catcher, hitting 28 home runs and getting on base at a plus-.400 rate himself. Bernie Williams manned center field, and hit over.300, delivered 30 home runs and drove and in scored over 100. Chuck Knoblauch was effective at getting on base and veteran leadership was provided by men like Scott Brosius, Tino Martinez, Paul O’Neill and Dave Justice.
There were no weaknesses in the starting lineup and even less in the pitching rotation. The ERAs don’t dazzle, this being at the height of the steroid ERA, but the Yankees had more pitching than anyone in this period. Andy Pettite and Roger Clemens were the 1-2 punch, Orlando “El Duque” Hernandez was solid at #3, and Mariano Rivera was now established as one of the game’s feared closers. New York built up a four-game lead in the AL East over the Boston Red Sox by the first week in May.
The Yanks lost two of three over Memorial Day weekend to their archrival, including a 4-1 defeat to Red Sox ace Pedro Martinez. They two teams split four on a return trip in Fenway, including a 22-1 Yankee win. On June 24, the Yankees fell two games back and their record was 38-36 at the end of the month. That the race was still this close speaks the reality that the 2000 AL East race was one of mediocrity not of excellence. Nonetheless, a division title was still a division title and the Yanks were able to reclaim first place by the All-Star break.
After the break, New York started to play better baseball and eventually built up its record to 74-56 by September 1. They led Boston by five games, a lead that would grow to nine by the middle of the month.
Then the Yankees turned in one of the worst runs of baseball during their three year title run of 1998-2000. They lost 15 of 18 games to close the season. Only the fact the Red Sox were a mediocre team themselves this year, reliant too heavily on Cy Young winner Pedro, kept New York from an embarrassing collapse. The Yanks had the division clinched by the final weekend and instead only had to deal with a loss of momentum going into the playoffs.
The Oakland A’s were making their first postseason appearance under Billy Beane’s leadership and were the AL West champs. At 91-70 they were slotted in the #2 spot in the American League, while New York’s 87-74, the worst regular season record of the Torre era, had them at #3. The Division Series would begin out west and the A’s were waiting with a group of good young hitters, Jason Giambi, Miguel Tejada and Ben Grieve, along with young starting pitching that was the envy of baseball—Tim Hudson, Barry Zito and Mark Mulder were the Big Three and the core reason for Oakland’s success.
Clemens got the ball in Game 1 and did not pitch well, giving up an early 2-0 lead and allowing four runs in six innings, en route to a 5-3 loss. Pettite answered with a brilliant outing in Game 2, carrying a shutout into the eighth, letting Rivera get the final four outs and watching lightly regarded Glenallen Hill deliver a clutch two-out hit in the sixth to open up a game that ended 4-0.
In front of their home fans, New York looked ready to close in on another series win when Jeter drove in a key run early in Game 3, El Duque was sold on the mound and the Yanks won 4-2. But Oakland’s bats battered Clemens again in Game 4 and the series would revert back west for Game 5, on a tough turnaround time with Sunday’s Game 5 coming just 24 hours after Game 4.
New York got six runs in the first inning and it looked like this would be an easy night. But Oakland rallied off Pettite, chipped away and the game was 7-5 in the fourth inning. Mike Stanton was summoned from the bullpen to try and stop what would be a humiliating way for the season to end. He got six straight outs and even though the Yankee offense also went quiet, the bullpen came through, keeping the score at 7-5 to the eighth, when Rivera was summoned for the final six outs. New York had survived its toughest postseason test in three years.
The Seattle Mariners were managed by former Yankee Lou Pinella, and the Mariners swept the 95-win Chicago White Sox out of the playoffs. They had veteran leadership with Rickey Henderson, solid bats in John Olerud and Edgar Martinez and a young, dynamic shortstop by the name of Alex Rodriguez. The pitching wasn’t great, but Freddy Garcia, just starting what would be a long and distinguished career, was a key part of the rotation.
And it was Garcia who kept the Bronx crowd silent in Game 1, working 6.2 IP and leading the way to a 2-0 win. Again, the Yanks had dug themselves a hole. And the bats stayed quiet through almost all of Game 2, with the Mariners leading 1-0 after seven. But when the home team erupted, it absolutely exploded. A double by David Justice not only set him up to score the tying run, it opened the floodgates to a seven-run inning and a 1-1 series tie.
After Seattle scored first in Game 3, Justice and Tino Martinez hit back-to-back home runs, followed by Justice picking up Jeter with an RBI double. It was enough for Pettite to carry a 4-2 lead through six and the Yanks again broke it open late, scoring four runs to put the game away.
Saturday’s Game 4 saw Clemens put to rest concerns that may have arisen following his Division Series performances. In one of the most dominating games in ALCS history, he struck out 15 Mariners. Jeter helped the Yanks break through in the fifth with a home run and Justice hit another big home run himself. The game ended 5-0 and the Yanks were in control, even if Garcia did shut them down again in a 6-2 win for Game 5. The series was going back to the Bronx and Garcia wouldn’t be available, at least to start.
Game 6 was an underrated classic in the annals of LCS history. Seattle jumped out to a 4-0 lead in the fourth, but New York scored three times to get right back into it. The 4-3 score held until the seventh. With two on, Justice faced Seattle left Arthur Rhodes and the veteran went deep yet again. It was 6-4 and now the Yanks had the lead and Rivera in waiting.
The Yankees stretched the lead to 9-4, which proved necessary, because A-Rod hit a home run in the eighth—Yankee fans might say he got an early start of a postseason career built on getting his biggest hits in blowout situations—and the lead narrowed to 9-7. Rivera, uncharacteristically struggling, settled down and clinched the pennant.
For the first time since 1956, the World Series was all-New York. The Mets had come the wild-card route, beating the San Francisco Giants and St. Louis Cardinals to win their first pennant since their title run of 1986.
The Mets had won 94 games, with catcher Mike Piazza being a fearsome bat, and having quality supporting pieces to the offense like second baseman Edgardo Alfonso, first baseman Todd Zeile and third baseman Robin Ventura. The Mets’ pitching staff was led by Mike Hampton and Al Leiter, each with ERAs in the low 3s and flamethrowing closer Armando Benitez.
Yankee Stadium was where the Series began and it looked like the Mets would get an early series lead. They led 3-2 in the ninth. Paul O’Neill then battled Benitez for a 10-pitch walk and eventually scored the tying run. It looked like the Yanks would win it in the 10th when the loaded the bases with no one out, but Hill hit into a home-to-first double play and the Mets survived. Then in the 12th, the Yanks had them loaded with one out…and Luis Sojo popped up. The crowd had to be feeling like the game would never end. Finally, little-known Jose Vizciano hit a two-out single to left to give the Yankees a 4-3 win.
Clemens was on the mound for Game 2 and all the talk was about his impending battle with Piazza. In an interleague game that year, Clemens had beaned Piazza, sending him to the hospital. Clemens, apparently genuinely concerned, according to those that knew him, called to talk to the catcher. The call was refused and bad blood ensued.
The fireworks ratcheted up in this game. Clemens threw a pitch that broke Piazza’s bat. As the catcher ran the play to first, Clemens flipped a piece of the wood at him. The pitcher swears he was so amped up he didn’t realize what he was doing—this a little less believable than his concern over Piazza’s health in the summer—but it didn’t stop the media from eating the story up.
Nor did it stop the Yankee lineup from eating up Hampton and holding a 6-0 lead through eight. The Mets then made a furious rally, started by a two-run shot from Piazza. Rivera came in, but Jay Payton hit a three-run shot off him. Finally the Yankees got the last out and won 6-5, but the closer had nearly blown big leads on two different occasions in these playoffs.
Shea Stadium would host Games 3, 4 & 5 and the Mets made sure there would be a Game 5 when they gave the ball to Rick Reed and he kept the Yankee offense at bay. With the score 2-2 in the eighth, the Mets got two runs to get the lead. It wouldn’t have been the 2000 World Series if this didn’t get hairy again, as Knoblauch reached base as the tying run in the ninth, but Benitez got Justice and Jeter to preserve the victory.
The following night, the Yankees scored single runs in each of the first three innings—one of which came from a home run by Jeter to start the game– led 3-2 after five and then let the bullpen salt away the last twelve outs of a win that put them on the brink.
For Game 5, it was Pettite on the mound, and the game was again 2-2 after six innings. The ’00 Series had to have been one of the best “bad” Series ever played. It was bad, because it ended in short order and there was never a point—at least after the ninth inning of Game 1—where you could really think the Mets were going to win a championship. But every game was such a battle that it was plain the teams were fairly evenly matched.
In such a situation it’s often that one team has championship know-how that makes the difference. A game-tying home run by Jeter in the sixth was one example. And in the top of the ninth, after two were out, Posada drew a walk. Brosius and Sojo hit consecutive singles and the Yankees chipped away at Leiter for two runs. Rivera came in and this time it was vintage Mariano, with a fly ball to Williams ending the game and the Series.
The 2000 New York Yankees weren’t one of the great teams in the franchise’s long history of championship teams. But they were the one that completed the three-peat. No one else has even won two in a row since.