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Three's Company
Tom Verducci
November 08, 1999
With a trio of titles in four years, the Yanks rank with baseball's alltime best
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November 08, 1999

Three's Company

With a trio of titles in four years, the Yanks rank with baseball's alltime best

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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 pitcher."

In New York's 22-3 buzz-saw run through the 1998 and '99 post-seasons, 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.

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