ATLANTA — ATLANTA -- Jim Leyritz will never have to pay for a steak or a beer in New York again, and will forever be mentioned in the company of October Yankees heroes Don Larsen and Bobby Richardson.
With one swing last night, he brought the Yankees back from almost certain defeat in the World Series. New York, trailing 6-0, scored three in the sixth, and Leyritz tied the game with a three-run homer off Braves closer Mark Wohlers in the eighth. Two innings later, Steve Avery walked pinch hitter Wade Boggs to force in the lead run, and the Yankees beat Atlanta, 8-6, and tied the series at two games apiece.
The victory guaranteed that the best-of-seven series will end at Yankee Stadium. The game ended at 12: 36 p.m. EDT, after 4 hours, 17 minutes of play, the longest game in World Series history.
The Yankees' comeback matched the second greatest ever. The Philadelphia Athletics overcame an eight-run deficit to beat the Cubs, 10-8, on Oct. 12, 1929, and the Brooklyn Dodgers came back from a six-run deficit to beat the Yankees on Oct. 5, 1956.
Leyritz hit a hanging forkball to tie the game in the eighth, and Avery, a left-hander, took over for Wohlers in the 10th. Avery retired the first two hitters, but walked Tim Raines. Derek Jeter singled, and with switch-hitter Bernie Williams coming up, manager Bobby Cox walked to the mound to discuss the options with Avery.
Williams is a much better right-handed hitter than left-handed, and Cox could've brought in reliever Brad Clontz to make Williams bat left-handed. Instead, Cox left Avery in the game, and ordered him to intentionally walk Williams and load the bases.
"It was the smart thing to do," said Cox. "He's carried [the Yankees] in Texas, he carried them in Baltimore, he's knocked the hell out of us."
Yankees manager Joe Torre said, "I was talking with [bench coach] Don Zimmer, and he said, 'I've done that before.' I don't think there's a second guess there."
Oh, yes, there will be, especially after what happened.
Yankees utility man Andy Fox, who hadn't batted in the postseason, was due to bat, but Boggs, the last position player available for New York, pinch hit. Boggs fell behind one ball and two strikes, and took a close pitch for ball two; Braves catcher Eddie Perez jerked a hand in the air, thinking it was strike three.
It wasn't, and Boggs took two more pitches to walk, the last a slider, and force in the lead run. Braves first baseman Ryan Klesko misplayed an infield pop, scoring the other run.
"A lot of things went wrong for us," said Cox.
Torre said, "Coming back from six runs back against anybody, much less the Atlanta Braves, is a terrific lift. We have a lot of confidence right now."
A core of New York fans stood behind the Yankees' dugout after the game, cheering and waving banners for 20 minutes.
The Yankees had nearly taken the lead in the top of the ninth, loading the bases on three straight singles after Wohlers retired the first two hitters in the inning. New York second baseman Mariano Duncan hit a soft, sinking liner to right, and had it fallen, it would've scored two runs. Right fielder Jermaine Dye, who earlier committed two defensive mistakes that contributed to the Yankees' comeback, raced in and made a staggering catch before falling.
The Braves had runners at first and second with one out in the bottom of the ninth, but Graeme Lloyd, the scourge of New York since being traded to the Yankees in August, got Fred McGriff to bounce into a double play and end the rally.
The Yankees completed one of the greatest comebacks in postseason history in the 10th.
Yankees starter Kenny Rogers fell apart in the second inning, and left in the third inning, eventually charged with five runs. Atlanta added a run in the fifth, and you wouldn't have blamed Braves officials for checking possible parade routes.
But the Yankees scored three in the sixth inning, a rally set up by two misplays by Braves right fielder Dye -- he missed one foul pop-up and let a single skip away, an error. Afterward, Cox blamed right-field umpire Tim Welke for the missed pop-up. "The umpire stood there and Dye couldn't catch the damn ball," Cox said. "That's out No. 1 [in that inning]."
Nonetheless, Braves reliever Mike Bielecki came in, and with two runners on base, he struck out Duncan and pinch hitters Paul O'Neill and Tino Martinez in order. He turned over the 6-3 lead to Braves closer Wohlers in the eighth.
Yankees third baseman Charlie Hayes led off by hitting a swinging bunt, topping a ball that rolled slowly down the third-base line and stayed in fair territory. Darryl Strawberry ripped a single to left. Duncan smashed a harder grounder to shortstop, where defensive replacement Rafael Belliard knocked it down and got a force at second -- but no double play.
Wohlers was struggling, his control erratic. Leyritz had several good swings, fouling off pitches, and Wohlers tried to finish him off with a slider. The pitch stayed high in the strike zone, Leyritz launched it over the left-field wall, and the Yankees' dugout erupted in celebration. From six runs down, the Yankees had tied the game that had started miserably with Rogers. "I don't think he's hit a bigger home run in his life," said Torre.
They saved Rogers from a devastating loss. Yankees owner George Steinbrenner walked up to the left-hander after the Game 2 loss, poked a finger in Rogers' chest and said, "I haven't seen the best of you yet."
Somebody asked Yankees pitching coach Mel Stottlemyre before last night's game about Steinbrenner's comment, and whether Rogers might be bothered by the perception that he lacks fortitude.
"I think if he gets out there and thinks about those things," said Stottlemyre, "we'll be in trouble."
Steinbrenner has now seen the worst of Rogers, who crumbled like a soggy Graham Cracker. Rogers retired the Braves in order in the first inning, but fell behind first baseman McGriff three balls and one strike. Rogers challenged McGriff with a fastball, the pitch he must throw effectively to win, the pitch that is often a barometer of how good Rogers is on a given night.
McGriff reached out and blasted the pitch over the center-field wall. Rogers stood on the mound, called for another ball and blew on his hand. Virtually every pitch Rogers threw thereafter was low and outside, steering clear of each hitter the way a mailman might avoid a house guarded by a Doberman.
He walked Javy Lopez, and Torre went to the mound to say something to him. Rogers walked 19-year-old Andruw Jones. He fell behind in the count to Dye two balls and no strikes, and reliever Brian Boehringer got up in the bullpen and started warming up. Dye flied out to right, and Lopez tagged up and moved to third.
Rogers tried nibbling against Jeff Blauser, batting .143 in the postseason, fell behind two balls and no strikes, and two pitches later Blauser bunted toward first, a safety squeeze. Rogers hustled over, turned to throw to first -- where there were no Yankees infielders in sight. Cecil Fielder had moved toward the plate and veered off to the mound, rather than stay at first. Lopez scored, Jones moved to second, and Blauser was safe at first.
Denny Neagle bunted both runners ahead, to second and third, and Marquis Grissom hit a grounder up the middle, and when the ball died in short center field, he scampered into second with a double. Both runners scored, and the Braves led, 4-0. Steinbrenner sat in his private box, gesturing wildly with his right hand.
Rogers gave up back-to-back singles to open the third and he was finished. The Braves would score another run, leaving Rogers' ERA at 14.14 in his three postseason starts.
And the Yankees have won all three of his starts.
New York Yankees vs. Atlanta Braves
Best of seven
(Series tied 2-2)
Tonight: Yankees' Andy Pettitte (21-8, 3.87) at Braves' John Smoltz (24-8, 2.94), 8: 15
Last night: Yanks, 8-6, 10 inn.
Game 1: Braves, 12-1
Game 2: Braves, 4-0
Game 3: Yankees, 5-2
Saturday: at New York, 8: 01
Sunday*: at New York, 7: 35
*- If necessary
TV/Radio: Chs. 45, 5/ WBAL (1090 AM)
Pub Date: 10/24/96