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After replacing Buck Showalter with Joe Torre as manager during the offseason, the Yankees went on to capture their first A.L. East title in 15 years in 1996, finishing the regular season four games ahead of the second-place Baltimore Orioles, with a record of 92-70.  Hardly a dominant team, New York featured neither the American League’s top offense, nor its best pitching staff.  The Yankees finished ninth in the league in runs scored (871), 12th in home runs (162), seventh in stolen bases (96), second in team batting average (.288), and fifth in team ERA (4.65).  

Andy Pettitte was New York’s most effective starter, earning a second place finish in the A.L. Cy Young voting by leading the league with a record of 21-8.  Closer John Wetteland topped the junior circuit with 43 saves, while set-up man Mariano Rivera won eight games, saved five others, compiled a 2.09 ERA, and struck out 130 batters in 108 innings of work.

Tino Martinez, Derek Jeter, Paul O’Neill, and Bernie Williams paced New York on offense.  Martinez batted .292, hit 25 homers, and led the team with 117 runs batted in.  Jeter captured A.L. Rookie of the Year honors by batting .314 and scoring 104 runs.  O’Neill hit 19 homers, drove in 91 runs, and batted .302.  Williams led the team with 29 home runs and 108 runs scored, knocked in 102 runs, and batted .305.  

Awaiting New York in the ALDS were the Texas Rangers, who finished 4 ½ games ahead of the Seattle Mariners in the A.L. West, with a record of 90-72.  Featuring one of the American League’s most potent offenses, the Rangers placed fourth in the junior circuit with 928 runs scored and 221 home runs.  They also finished fifth with a team batting average of .284.  Meanwhile, they tied the Yankees for fifth in the league with a team ERA of 4.65.

Although the Rangers lacked a true staff ace, Ken Hill emerged as their most effective starting pitcher, finishing the year with a record of 16-10 and a team-leading 3.63 ERA, seven complete games, and 251 innings pitched.  Ivan Rodriguez, Dean Palmer, Rusty Greer, and A.L. MVP Juan Gonzalez led the club’s offensive attack.  Rodriguez hit 19 homers, drove in 86 runs, batted .300, and finished first on the club with 116 runs scored.  Palmer hit 38 home runs, knocked in 107 runs, and scored 98 others.  Greer hit 18 homers, drove in 100 runs, scored 96 others, and placed among the league leaders with a .332 batting average.  Gonzalez earned MVP honors for the first of two times by batting .314 and finishing near the top of the league rankings with 47 home runs, 144 runs batted in, and a .643 slugging percentage.

Heading into the ALDS, it appeared that the Rangers held a distinct advantage on offense, while the Yankees had an edge in pitching, particularly in the bullpen.

The series started out well for the Rangers, who took Game One at Yankee Stadium by a score of 6-2.  The Rangers scored five of their six runs against Yankee starter David Cone in the fourth inning, on home runs by Dean Palmer and Juan Gonzalez.  Meanwhile, the Yankees pushed across only two runs against Texas starter John Burkett, who went the distance for the victory.

New York appeared to be in trouble when Texas grabbed an early 4-1 lead  in Game Two on a pair of home runs by Juan Gonzalez against Andy Pettitte.  The Yankees rallied to tie the score, though, scoring single runs in the fourth, seventh, and eighth innings, while Pettitte and the Yankee bullpen kept Texas off the board the rest of the way.  With the score still tied 4-4 in the bottom of the 12th inning, New York pushed across the winning run on a single, a walk, a sacrifice bunt, and a throwing error.  The 5-4 Yankee win evened the series at one game apiece, with the remaining contests scheduled to be played in Texas.

The Yankees took an early 1-0 lead in Game Three on a first inning homer by Bernie Williams.  But another homer by Gonzalez tied the score in the bottom of the fourth.  Texas scored another run in the fifth inning, to take a 2-1 lead that starter Darren Oliver nursed into the top of the ninth.  However, the Yankees scored twice against Oliver and the Texas bullpen in the final frame, to grab a 2-1 series lead.

Game Four was all Texas in the early-going, with the Rangers knocking out Yankee starter Kenny Rogers by scoring four times in the first three innings.  Juan Gonzalez drove in one of the runs with his fifth home run of the series.  But New York’s bullpen shut out Texas the rest of the way on only one hit, and the Yankees rallied again, with two homers by Bernie Williams leading New York to a series-clinching 6-4 victory.  

Williams was the hitting star of the series for New York, hitting three home runs, driving in five runs, and batting .467.  Meanwhile, Mariano Rivera and David Weathers excelled out of the bullpen.  Rivera worked 4 2/3 hitless innings, while Weathers earned a victory by allowing the Rangers only one hit in five scoreless innings.  Juan Gonzalez starred in defeat for Texas, hitting five homers, knocking in nine runs, and batting .438.       

By Bob_Cohen
 

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Tagged:
1996 ALDS1, Andy Pettitte, Bernie Williams (New York Yankees), Buck Showalter, Cecil Fielder, Darren Oliver, Darryl Strawberry, Dave Weathers, David Cone, David Wells, Dean Palmer, Derek Jeter, George Steinbrenner, Ivan Rodriguez, Joe Torre, John Burkett, John Wetteland, Juan Gonzalez, Ken Hill, Kenny Rogers, Mariano Rivera, New York Yankees, Rafael Palmeiro, Rusty Greer, Texas Rangers, Tino Martinez

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