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.
Cone was fantastic. He carried a no-hitter 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.
Three hits in the ninth off Ramiro Mendoza and Jeff Nelson accounted for the Braves' only two runs, but by then it was way too late.
Cone 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.
The veteran right-hander 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 last night, registering his second career World Series victory and improving his lifetime postseason record to 8-3.
He had a lot of help. The Yankees hammered Millwood and a parade of Braves pitchers for 14 hits, blowing the game open before the sellout crowd of 51,226 could find its voice.
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 drive singles to left, and Paul O'Neill put the Yankees ahead with a ground ball 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 manager Bobby Cox to the end of his patience.
Go figure. This was the same guy who was the hardest pitcher to hit in the major leagues during the regular season. Opposing hitters batted just .202 against him, but he allowed eight hits and two walks in just two-plus innings.
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. Utilityman Keith Lockhart played second and batted sixth. Reserve catcher Greg Myers replaced playoff MVP Eddie Perez, who had bruised a finger on his catching hand in Game 1.
"We're just throwing it out there and see if it doesn't change things," Cox explained before the game. "We didn't hit much last night."
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 particularly significant. The game already was getting out of hand and Cone was all but unhittable. The Braves never even threatened to get back in the game, which does not bode well for the next three games at Yankee Stadium.
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