Yankees earn title with bullpen, depth


BY TIM SULLIVAN
The Cincinnati Enquirer

NEW YORK - Down at the bottom of the pile, John Wetteland was yelling. The World Series had ended, and now the New York Yankees were releasing their tensions in a great heap of humanity in the middle of the field.

''I was screaming for someone to get off, because I thought my ankle was going to break,'' the New York reliever recalled. ''I really did. I went from tremendous elation to shooting pain. But if it had broken, I'm not sure I would have felt it.''

Before baseball's new champions could begin dulling their senses with champagne Saturday night, they were filled with the elixir called euphoria. They had rebounded from a two-games-to-none deficit to beat the mighty Atlanta Braves in six games, the last of them by the score of 3-2. They had done it by beating baseball's best two pitchers in consecutive games.

It may get better than this, but not much.

''I have never felt that much emotion,'' said outfielder Paul O'Neill, who played on the Cincinnati Reds 1990 World Series champions. ''I can't believe it is over.''

'They played flawless'

For two games, the minutes had passed like months. The Yankees scored early against John Smoltz and Greg Maddux, and were forced to nurse their narrow leads for long, anxious stretches.

They won with superior bullpen depth, with a deeper bench, and because they continued to make the big play under pressure. New York's 23rd series triumph was achieved with .216 batting average against baseball's best pitching staff. Yet no one could call it a fluke.

''They played almost flawless baseball for the most part,'' Atlanta's Ryan Klesko said. ''When they play like that, they deserve what they get.''

Shut out by Maddux in Game 2, the Yankees reached him for three runs in the third inning Saturday night. O'Neill led off with a double to right field and scored the game's first run on Joe Girardi's one-out triple. Derek Jeter then singled him home, stole second, and scored himself on Bernie Williams' two-out single.

This was the Yankees' only real window of opportunity against Maddux, and they poured through it as if it were a prison break.

''I thought I pitched just as well tonight as I did in the second game,'' Maddux said. ''In fact, I made less mistakes tonight. But you've got to understand, their hitters are going to make adjustments.''

Atlanta blew its chance

The Braves put the bat on the ball consistently against Jimmy Key, but permitted him to squirm out of a fourth-inning jam when Terry Pendleton swung away at a 3-1 pitch with the bases loaded and grounded into a double play.

Key had already walked two hitters in the inning, the second of which had forced in Atlanta's first run. Pendleton had him on the ropes, and relented.

''It was stupid on my part,'' he said. ''I should have made him go to 3-2. Basically, I screwed up.''

Even while ahead, the pressure on the Yankees was profound. After their third-inning explosion, they would not advance another runner as far as second base until after two were out in the seventh. They clung to their lead through exquisite ensemble relief, by David Weathers, Graeme Lloyd, Mariano Rivera and Wetteland, who was named the series MVP.

''We beat them the last two nights at their own game,'' Cincinnati-bred Jim Leyritz said. ''Pitching.''

Leyritz's game-tying home run in Game 4 had turned the tide of the series, and the Braves were never able to reverse it. They were never worried before Leyritz's blow, and they would never lead a game after it.

Four times in a row, Wetteland held the Braves at bay in the ninth inning. They would get a run off him Saturday, and moved the tying run a far as second base with two outs. But Mark Lemke fouled out to third baseman Charlie Hayes, and the celebration was on.

''I'm still shaking,'' Wetteland said, nearly an hour later. ''Even though I feel lucid in my head, my body feels like it's out of control.''

Tim Sullivan is an Enquirer columnist.

Published Oct. 27, 1996.