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#4 Greatest HR in Yankee History

November 4, 2012

Leyritz watches his shot sail to left

Jim LeyritzWorld Series Game 4 | vs. Atlanta Braves | 10/23/1996

After 2 games the Yankees’ first trip to the Fall Classic in 15 years was quickly becoming an embarrassment.  After losing the opener in Yankee Stadium 12-1, the Bombers followed with a 4-0 defeat in game 2 and prepared to face the reality of the next 3 games in Atlanta.  The Yanks scratched out a win in game 3 behind a gutsy pitching performance by David Cone and an 8th inning, 2-run blast by Bernie Williams, but any confidence the Yanks had gained was dispelled 2 innings into game 4.

The Braves pounced on the Yanks’ beleaguered Kenny Rogers, who lasted just 3 innings in his previous start vs. Baltimore in the ALCS, tagging him for 4 runs in the 2nd and another in the 3rd.  The Braves took a 6-0 lead in the 6th on an Andruw Jones double and looked all but unbeatable as Denny Neagle cruised through 5 innings of 2-hit, 0-run ball.

In the 6th the Yankees staged a rally.  Derek Jeter led off with a single to right and Williams followed with a walk.  Back-to-back singles by Cecil Fielder and Charlie Hayes chased the Braves’ young starter from the game and slashed the deficit to 6-3.  Terrell Wade replaced Neagle and walked Daryll Strawberry on 6 pitches, bringing Mike Bielecki in from the bullpen.  The righty sidewinder single-handedly snuffed out the Yankee rally with 15 pitches, striking out Mariano Duncan, Paul O’Neill, and Tino Martinez to preserve the 3-run edge.  Jeff Nelson pitched brilliantly in the 6th and 7th, allowing just 1 walk, but Bielecki kept pace with a scoreless 7th as the game moved to the 8th.

Mark Wohlers left the Braves bullpen, tasked with saving the game for Atlanta.  The all-star fireballer recorded 39 saves and 100 strikeouts in 77.1 innings during the season, occasionally ringing up triple-digits on the radar gun.  Hayes quickly dispelled the aura of his 100 mph fastball, stroking the first pitch he saw for a single.  Strawberry followed with a single of his own, then Duncan grounded out to move both runners into scoring position for back-up catcher Jim Leyritz.  In his 7th season in New York, Leyritz had previously tasted October glory when his 15th inning home run won game 2 of the ’95 ALDS.  It had by far been the biggest hit of his baseball career, but that was about to change.

Leyritz dug in and worked the count to 2-1 before fouling off the next two pitches.  On the 6th pitch Leyritz looked for a fastball.

In the air to left field… back, at the track, at the wall, we are TIED!

| Joe Buck, Fox announcer |

Leyritz took his customary high leg kick, extended his arms at the hanging slider, and launched a 3-run home run that sailed high over the left field wall, ricocheting against the front of the bleachers to the dismay of the leaping Andruw Jones.  The Yankee bench exploded with new life, Leyritz charged around the bases with a smile as wide as the Mason-Dixon, and Wohlers was left rubbing his head, dreading the ire of manager Bobby Cox.  A game that had been a laugher just 3 innings ago turned into a battle, courtesy of the latest in a long line of unlikely October heroes.

Mariano Rivera pitched a scoreless 8th, and Wohlers and Rivera again held the opposing bats in check in the 9th to bring game 4 into extra innings.  Then, in the top of the 10th, the Yankees again staged an unlikely rally.  After a pair of groundouts by Leyritz and Graeme Lloyd, Tim Raines walked, Jeter singled, and Williams was intentionally passed to bring up the pinch-hitting Wade Boggs with the bases loaded.  The future Hall of Famer and 3,000 hit club member worked a 6-pitch walk from Steve Avery to give the Yankees an improbable 7-6 lead.  Hayes followed with a popup that Ryan Klesko lost in the lights to give New York an all-important insurance run.

With a 2-run cushion, John Wetteland emerged from the Yankee bullpen and earned his 2nd save of the series, giving the Yankees a miraculous, rejuvenating 8-6 victory.

That was the hit that made us believe we were going to win this thing.

| Joe Torre |

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