It’s the hard times that make us appreciate when things are good. We learn from our mistakes and we grow from our failures. You can find this sentiment in many social media feeds, splashed on some rustic black-and-white backdrop or blurry stock photo of someone at the beach. It’s not news, and it’s not something you’ve never heard before.
Baseball is a sport built on the hard times. A great hitter fails two thirds of the time, and even the most legendary pitchers allowed at least two runs per game, on average. The entire game is built on making mistakes and then having your team pick you up. Losses come with the territory, and they often come slowly, from a distance, or violently, in a flash. The moral is, though, that you ultimately learn and become stronger as a team.
So what happens when you don’t lose? What happens when all the sentimental quips and inspirational quotes mean nothing, because you just keep winning?
That’s where our story begins: on October 22nd, 1996.
October 22nd, 1996: Day One.
The 1996 New York Yankees were a really good team. They won 92 games in the regular season, then beat Texas and Baltimore in the postseason. Led by Andy Pettite and Bernie Williams, the Yankees had a lot going for them as they rolled into the World Series. There was just one problem.
They were facing a better team: the defending world champion Atlanta Braves, seeking their second straight World Series crown and making their fourth appearance in five seasons (not counting 1994, where there was no World Series).
Led by future Hall of Fame pitchers Greg Maddux and John Smoltz, and breakout young outfielder Andruw Jones, the Braves made quick work of the Yankees in the first two games. They outclassed and outscored New York 16–1.
That was on October 21st, 1996. It had been exactly 15 years to the day since they had won a World Series game. The loss marked their sixth consecutive loss in the fall classic, and they were headed back to Atlanta, where Tom Glavine, the team’s third future Hall of Fame pitcher, waited.
What a difference a day makes.
The Yankees would ambush Glavine early, with Bernie Williams sending Tim Raines home with a first inning single, and they would eventually capture the game by a score of 5–2. Up until then, an entire generation of Yankees fans had grown up never having seen their team win a World Series game. It seemed like a turning point of the series, and it seemed like they had the Braves on their heels.
They would go on to win the next four in a row, swiping the series from Atlanta. The team with more titles than anyone had just snapped their longest title drought since they’d changed their name from the New York Highlanders in 1913.
Jubilation filled the streets of the Big Apple for a time, but after a disappointing postseason exit to the Cleveland Indians in 1997, the city was hungry for more.
1998: David Becomes Goliath
The 1998 San Diego Padres were a good team. They won 98 games in the regular season and had a strong lineup with great pitching to back it up. It seemed like the expansion team from SoCal was primed to make a run at their first ever World Series title. After all, they had conquered the Houston Astros and Atlanta Braves to get to the Fall Classic, so they deserved to be there, and would challenge anyone who came their way.
Yeah, that didn’t happen.
The Yankees made quick work of the Friars, outscoring them 26–13 over four games. They celebrated their second World Series title in as many appearances.
World Series Record since “Day One”: 8–0
1999: a Sequel for the Ages . . . Right?
Here we go again. The Atlanta Braves and their parade of future Hall of Famers had punched their ticket to the World Series for the fifth time in the 1990s, winning 103 games and downing the Astros and Mets in the postseason. They headed to the Bronx to play the team that unceremoniously eliminated them last time: the New York Yankees.
This was the matchup everyone had been waiting for. The team that was once top dog was back to reclaim its status from the team that had taken it. The stage was set, the pieces were in place, and the battle was about to begin.
Eh . . . not so much.
The Yankees dismantled the Braves—winning in four straight games, outscoring them 21–9, and never really losing control of the series, even when Atlanta took them to extra innings in Game 3. It was supposed to be the battle that defined the decade, but instead was a beating that left non-New Yorkers disappointed.
World Series Record since “Day One”: 12–0
2000: War With Neighbors
The Yankees had nothing to prove. They had won three World Series titles in four years, had the most popular players in the game on their team, and had everyone else wanting to be on their team. It was the place to be in baseball when the century turned over. As they rolled into the 2000 World Series against their cross-town rivals, the Mets, it would seem that they were ready to conduct business as usual.
It started out as such: they took the first two games from the Metropolitans, the first in a dramatic 12-inning contest. They could seemingly do no wrong in the World Series. Could ANYONE beat them?
World Series Record since “Day One”: 14–0
October 24th, 2000: Endgame (sorta)
When Orlando Hernández took the mound at Shea Stadium, there was no reason to think that anything out of the ordinary was about to happen. El Duque had been nails in the postseason up to that point, and he was cruising into the eighth inning with the game tied at two apiece. There was no reason to think that the Yankees weren’t going to pull it out, because they always did. The World Series was just automatic for the Pinstripes . . .
Until it wasn’t.
The streak was over. The armor had been dinged, the bullet had landed. The Yankees were, indeed, mortal.
Oh, they ended up winning the next night and taking home their fourth World Series crown. So ya know, all’s well that ends well, I guess. Right?
Winning on that scale, in such predictable fashion, in a sport built on the unpredictable, can be boring. I get it. But if you look just one layer behind the rings at that amazing win streak, it becomes less boring and more . . .