They were called the California Angels then, the visiting team on a beautiful Friday evening in New York. The Yankees had not won a postseason series in 15 years, so the attendance at Yankee Stadium was a modest 19,087 on May 17, 1996.
The Yankees won, 8-5. Rookie shortstop Derek Jeter, batting eighth, tripled home one of the Yankees runs.
The winning pitcher was Andy Pettitte. The save went to Mariano Rivera, the first of his career. The Yankees went on to win the World Series that year, and in 1998, 1999, 2000 and 2009.
On Sunday, the Yankees will celebrate. Pettitte will make his final Yankee Stadium start, after a pregame ceremony to honor Rivera. Pettitte and Rivera will retire after the season. Catcher Jorge Posada retired two years ago.
That leaves the injured Jeter as the last active member of the so-called “Core Four.” Jeter insists he can return as the Yankees’ shortstop next year, but the list of 40-year-olds to play there regularly is ominously short: Luke Appling, Barry Larkin, Omar Vizquel and Ozzie Smith, according to stats guru Bill Chuck.
Wide world of ball
The three most intriguing free agents this off-season might be international players — first baseman Jose Abreu and second baseman Alexander Guerrero, both Cuban defectors, and Japanese pitcher Masahiro Tanaka. The domestic crop of free agents is underwhelming, and the success of Yasiel Puig, Yoenis Cespedes and Yu Darvish could mitigate some of the risk in the minds of Major League Baseball owners.
The Dodgers thought they had Guerrero wrapped up for a reported $32 million, but agent Scott Boras persuaded Guerrero a better deal was out there. So Guerrero signed with Boras, who lost second baseman Robinson Cano to Jay-Z.
It would be quite the dramatic twist if Boras took Guerrero to the Yankees, leaving Cano without pinstriped leverage, but the retirements of Pettitte and Rivera, and the uncertainty surrounding Jeter, should provide the Yankees with the money and the urgency to keep Cano.
The Dodgers and Angels are among the teams interested in Tanaka, who is 22-0 with a 1.23 earned-run average for the Rakuten Eagles. Those statistics became more impressive last week, when Japanese baseball commissioner Ryozo Kato resigned over the secret introduction of a juiced ball this year.
Kato said he had no idea the ball had been changed. Wladimir Balentien, who hit 15 home runs in 511 major league at-bats with the Seattle Mariners and Cincinnati Reds, set the Japanese single-season home run record this year. The old mark, 55 by Sadaharu Oh, had stood since 1964.
Balentien has 58, with games still to play.
Get off our lawn
Willie Bloomquist was far from the only Arizona Diamondbacks player incensed by the Dodgers’ pool party at Chase Field last week. But Bloomquist was willing to stand up and be quoted, so good for him.
This quote was particularly interesting: “I would expect them to act with a little more class than they did. I doubt the New York Yankees would do something like that.”
In 2003, when the Florida Marlins clinched the World Series at Yankee Stadium, the Marlins went crazy in their clubhouse, then came back onto the field to celebrate with family, friends and fans.
The Yankees shut off the stadium lights.