ATLANTA -- The debate is half over. The New York Yankees slipped out of Georgia last night, leaving nothing in their wake but the growing notion that they are the best baseball team to come along in not just one, but several decades.
Veteran pitcher David Cone gave up just one hit over seven shutout innings and the Yankees blasted the Atlanta Braves, 7-2, to sweep the first two games at Turner Field and take a commanding lead in the 95th World Series.
Team of the '90s? They just might be the most complete team since Cincinnati's Big Red Machine dominated the mid-1970s.
Of course, the Yankees still have to win two more games to win their third world title in four years, but they already have dispensed with premier Braves starters Greg Maddux and Kevin Millwood, and the series shifts to New York for three games at intimidating Yankee Stadium. It looks pretty good for pinstripes and ticker-tape next weekend in Manhattan.
If the Braves are looking for some small consolation, they might recall that they won the first two games of the 1996 World Series in the Bronx only to watch the Yankees prove that it is possible to rebound from a 2-0 deficit on the road. Maybe it could happen again, but not if the Yankees continue to pitch the way they did in games 1 and 2.
Cone was fantastic. He carried a no-hit bid into the fifth inning before catcher Greg Myers broke it up with a single through the middle, then carried a one-hitter through seven to register his second victory of this postseason and extend the Yankees' World Series winning streak to 10 games.
Not bad for a guy who struggled through the second half of the regular season and was questionable for the postseason rotation.
Yankees relievers Ramiro Mendoza and Jeff Nelson allowed the Braves to score a couple of runs in the ninth and turn the one-hitter into a five-hitter, but that did little to diminish Cone's performance.
The veteran right-hander may have pitched his last game in a Yankees uniform. He is eligible for free agency and there is some question whether he'll re-sign with the club this winter, but he has made a convincing case for a new contract in his two postseason starts.
Cone gave up just two runs over seven innings to defeat the Boston Red Sox in Game 2 of the American League Championship Series. He was even more impressive on the way to his eighth career postseason victory last night, even though he was pitching on nine days' rest.
"I felt really good, almost too strong," Cone said. "I almost walked myself into trouble a number of times, but managed to work my way out of some jams."
Braves manager Bobby Cox has seen all this before. Cone was the winning pitcher in Game 3 of the 1996 Fall Classic, which was the beginning of the end of Atlanta's title hopes that year.
"David had great breaking stuff tonight," Cox said. "He didn't have great velocity, but he had good movement. I think the best pitch in baseball is a good moving fastball, and David had that."
He also had a lot of help. The Yankees hammered Millwood and a parade of Braves relievers for 14 hits, blowing the game open before the sellout crowd of 51,226 could find its voice.
The Yankees will ding you to death. They have scored 11 runs on 20 hits in the first two games of the series, and not one of those hits was for more than two bases.
"We are a team that knows what our capabilities are," said Yankees manager Joe Torre. "We don't go outside ourselves. We know that we are a team that has to take it bit by bit. We don't have any home run hitters. We can hit some home runs, but we don't have any home run hitters."
The last thing the Braves wanted to do was play catch-up, but Millwood never got comfortable on the mound. He gave up base hits to the first three batters he faced and was down three runs before anyone in an Atlanta uniform picked up a bat.
Chuck Knoblauch and Derek Jeter greeted him with back-to-back line singles to left, and Paul O'Neill put the Yankees ahead with a grounder through the middle. Tino Martinez and Scott Brosius also contributed run-scoring hits to give Cone a significant margin for error.
Millwood settled down long enough to pitch a scoreless second, but again allowed three straight hits to open the third and bring Cox to the end of his patience.
"Kevin can ride the ball up high or go downstairs, but tonight he was kind of in the middle, where he shouldn't have been," said Cox. "He got right in that area where it's good to hit."
Go figure. This was the same guy who was the hardest pitcher to hit in the majors in the regular season. Opponents batted just .202 against him, but he allowed eight hits in two-plus innings.
"I just didn't do the job," Millwood said. "I felt good when I went out there, but all of my mistakes were over the plate."
Cox clearly was banking on a tighter game. He had shuffled his batting order in an attempt to jump-start an offensive attack that has averaged just 3.8 runs in 12 postseason games. Reserve shortstop Ozzie Guillen was in the No. 2 spot. Utility player Keith Lockhart played second and batted sixth. Myers replaced playoff MVP Eddie Perez, who had bruised a finger in Game 1.
There was no observable improvement in the Braves' offensive attack -- quite the contrary -- but the new double-play combination was a minor disaster. Guillen dropped a soft line drive off the bat of Cone to allow a run to score in the third and Lockhart threw away a double-play relay while another run crossed the plate in the fourth.
Though the Braves cruised through the Division Series and defeated the Mets in six games in the National League Championship Series, Cox's managerial strategy has come under scrutiny on several occasions -- most notably when a double-switch involving Guillen backfired in Game 4 of the NLCS.
This time, the defensive lapses were glaring, but they didn't turn out to be significant. The game already was getting out of hand and Cone was all but unhittable.
"We've just got to turn it around," said Lockhart. "We haven't hit the ball so far. They have had a lot to do with that. We just have to pick out better pitches."
Sun staff writer Joe Strauss contributed to this article.
Atlanta vs. New York Yankees
Yankees lead series 2-0
Last night--Yankees 7, Braves 2
Game 1--Yankees 4, Braves 1
Tomorrow --at New York, 8: 20; Braves (Glavine, 15-11) vs. Yankees (Pettitte 16-11), chs. 11, 4
Wed.--at Yankees, 8: 20
*Thurs.--at Yankees, 8: 20
*Saturday--at Atlanta, 8: 05
*Sunday--at Atlanta, 8: 05
Aside from Roger Clemens' ballyhooed return to Fenway against Pedro Martinez, the Yankees have gotten excellent performances from their starters in the postseason. A look:
Date Pitcher IP H ER Res
10/5 Hernandez 8 2 0 W 8-0
10/7 Pettitte 7 1/3 7 1 W 3-1
10/9 Clemens 7 3 0 W 3-0
10/13 Hernandez 8 7 2 W 4-3*
10/14 Cone 7 7 2 W 3-2
10/16 Clemens 2 6 5 L 13-1
10/17 Pettitte 7 1/3 8 2 W 9-2
10/18 Hernandez 7 5 1 W 6-1
10/23 Hernandez 7 1 0 W 4-1
10/24 Cone 7 1 0 W 7-2