Note: Leverage Index is an average of the leverage of situations, with 1 being average, below 1 being low-pressure, and above 1 being high-pressure.
It was to be the perfect end to the 1990’s. Sportswriters declared it the Series that would decide the “Team of the 90’s”. It certainly decided it, in rather boring fashion. It sparked the beginning of the end of the Braves dynasty, and truly cemented the Yankees dynasty. It was a disappointing series remembered more for events outside the scope of the games than what happened in them.
By 1999, the Atlanta Braves (103-59) were at the zenith of their team-building. Winning 310 games in 3 years, the Braves were an all-around juggernaut. Of course, the whispers had begun. The team had won just one of the 4 World Series they had reached in the decade, and some considered them snakebitten. Of course, several of those Series had come against better teams, and it’s unfair to have really expected more than 2 titles. Snakebitten a bit, sure, but they weren’t drastically underperforming. Unlike the oft-compared Bills, they had a title. Still, after back-to-back playoff exits at the hands of inferior teams, the Braves had something to prove in ’99. The team’s best hitter was, rather unsurprisingly, 3B Chipper Jones (.319/.441/.633), in the midst of his best season, hitting 41 2B, 45 HR, walking 126 times, and stealing 25 bases en route to the NL MVP award. 1B Ryan Klesko (.297/.376/.532) had an excellent season, hitting 21 HR. RF Brian Jordan (.283/.346/.465) scored 100 runs and drove in 115 thanks in part to 23 HR of his own. C Javy Lopez (.317/.375/.533) dealt with injuries but mashed the ball when healthy. The team’s best all-around player was CF Andruw Jones (.275/.365/.483), hitting 35 doubles, 26 homers, and stealing 24 bases while playing all-time great defense. However, like most Braves teams of the era, while the offense was strong, the pitching was the story. In 1999, the Braves allowed the fewest runs per game in the NL (4.08). The HOF triumvirate of Tom Glavine (14-11, 4.11), Greg Maddux (19-9, 3.57), and John Smoltz (11-8, 3.19) were joined by newcomer Kevin Millwood (18-7, 2.68). The rotation was strong, but the bullpen was truly stellar: John Rocker (2.49, 38 saves), Mike Remlinger (10-1, 2.37), Kevin McGlinchy (2.82), Rudy Seanez (3.35), Russ Springer (3.42), and Terry Mulholland (2.98) represented an embarrassment of riches. The Braves looked the part of a title contending powerhouse.
The New York Yankees (98-64) were equally strong, finishing 2nd in the AL in both per game run scoring and run prevention. The Captain, SS Derek Jeter (.349/.438/.552) had the best season of his career, hitting 37 doubles and 24 HR, and scoring 134 runs. CF Bernie Williams (.342/.435/.536) provided Gold Glove defense on top of his 25 HR. 1B Tino Martinez (.263/.341/.458) hit 28 HR. 2B Chuck Knoblauch (.292/.393/.454) hit 36 doubles, 18 HR, and stole 28 bases. RF Paul O’Neill (.285/.353/.459) ripped 39 doubles and drove in 110. 39 year old DH Chili Davis (.269/.366/.445) even homered 19 times. The lineup was fearsome. The pitching was dependable, with a rotation comprised of Orlando Hernandez (17-9, 4.12), David Cone (12-9, 3.44), Andy Pettitte (14-11, 4.70), and Roger Clemens (14-10, 4.60). They didn’t have Atlanta’s bullpen, but they had Mariano Rivera (1.83, 45 saves).
The opener was one of two good games played in the series, with El Duque battling Maddux for much of the game. Hernandez was magnificent early, striking out 7 batters and yielding just a walk through 3 innings. NL MVP Chipper Jones got to him in the 4th, homering for a 1-0 lead. Maddux, after 7 shutout innings of 3-hit ball, went out for the 8th. 3B Scott Brosius singled, PH Darryl Strawberry walked, Knoblauch reached on a error by Brian Hunter, who had entered the game as a defensive replacement for Klesko. With the bases loaded, Derek Jeter singled to tie the game 1-1, thus knocking Maddux out in favor of closer and all around nice guy John Rocker, brought in to face the lefty O’Neill. Despite a track record of struggling against southpaws, O’Neill singled to give the Yankees a 3-1 lead. After a IBB to Williams to load the bases again, Rocker struck out Martinez and C Jorge Posada, but then walked PH Jim Leyritz to extend New York’s lead to 3. Atlanta couldn’t make a dent in NY’s bullpen and the Yankees won 4-1.
Average leverage: 1.13
While Game 1 was a pretty interesting game, game 2 was a dud. Millwood allowed 5 singles and a walk in the opening inning, and the Braves were down 3-0 before even getting an at-bat. In the 3rd, the Yankees tacked on two more thanks to a double from OF Ricky Ledee and an error from SS Ozzie Guillen. By the 5th, they had pushed home two more for a commanding 7-0 lead (win probability: 97%). The Braves scored two relatively meaningless runs in the 9th, and the Yankees won 7-2.
The biggest story of the night was the big reveal of the All-Century Team, which included Pete Rose. Later in the game, NBC’s Jim Gray badgered Rose in an on-air interview. It wound up being arguably the most memorable moment of the Series. In the interview, Gray did more for Rose’s public perception than Charlie Hustle’s years of campaigning and public pleas ever did.
Average leverage: 0.425
The other good game in this series, Game 3, actually went to extra innings. The Braves got things started in the top of the 1st, small balling their way to a 1-0 lead. The Yankees answered in the bottom of the inning, with Knoblauch reaching on an error from Jordan and coming around to score on an O’Neill single. In the 3rd, the Braves reclaimed the lead thanks to a RBI single from Jordan and a 2-run double from Jose Hernandez. An inning later, Braves 2B Bret Boone drove in OF Gerald Williams with a double for a 5-1 lead. When Tom Glavine struck out Brosius for the 2nd out of the 5th inning, the Braves were 90% likely to win the game. But then LF (and future felon) Chad Curtis homered off Glavine to cut it to 5-2. Two innings later Martinez homered off Glavine to make it 5-3. Glavine stuck around for the 8th inning, hoping to get through the 9-1-2 hitters, but C Joe Girardi singled and Knoblauch tied the game with a 2-run HR. Rocker entered and pitched 2 scoreless innings, sending the 5-5 tie to the 10th. Leading off the 10th, future felon Chad Curtis homered off Mike Remlinger to finish the comeback in walk-off fashion. Down 3-0 with 2 more to play in New York, Atlanta’s chances were at this point essentially nil.
Average leverage: 1.075
The game 4 matchup between Clemens and Smoltz was good for 2 innings, but 4 singles and a walk for the Yankees in the 3rd gave the defending champs a 3-0 lead. Through 7 innings, the Braves failed to get a runner into scoring position. That changed in the 8th, as the Braves strung together 3 straight 2-out singles off Clemens and reliever Jeff Nelson to make it a 3-1 score. The Yankees immediately brought in Rivera, who retired Chipper Jones to end the rally. In the bottom of the inning New York got the run back, thanks to a Jim Leyritz HR off Mulholland. Rivera shut things down in the 9th and delivered New York the final World Championship of the 1900’s.
Average leverage: 0.805
New York’s infield was phenomenal. Martinez, Knoblauch, Jeter, and Brosius combined to go 21 for 64 (.328) with 14 runs scored, 2 HR, and 10 RBI. Leyritz batted twice, drawing a bases loaded walk and hitting the game 4 HR. Boone was a force for Atlanta leading both teams in hits (7) and extra base hits (4). Unfortunately, other Braves hitters were generally stifled. Rivera was named MVP, finishing 3 of the 4 games, picking up a win and 2 saves.
For what it was billed to be – a battle between two dynasties – it was a massive letdown. Even when held to regular World Series standards, it was still a pretty big letdown. The Braves really only remained competitive for the bulk of two games, and Yankee pitching rarely got into trouble. It was slightly more competitive than 1963 thanks to the nature of Game 3, but either way, it remains a World Series remembered for how unmemorable and disappointing it was.
Average leverage: 0.859