Earlier in the night, Jim Leyritz was just feeling thankful that at least the Yankees wouldn’t be swept by the Braves in the 1996 World Series. They were down 2-1 in the series and seemingly on their way to a 3-1 hole after Game 4 quickly went off the rails.
In the eighth inning, though, the catcher served as a human defibrillator and brought the Bombers back to life.
Leyritz came to the plate against flamethrower Mark Wohlers and delivered a game-tying three-run home run to spark the Yankees to a win in 10 innings. Two games later, they were World Series champions.
“When I was running the bases, all I could think was we have to win,” Leyritz later told Yankees Magazine. “I was standing right next to the steps when Wade Boggs drew his walk in the 10th inning. We were just pounding the stairs. When we walked into the locker room, before the media came in and it was just us, you could tell that everything had changed. We knew we were going to win.”
The Yankees had fallen behind 5-0 after three innings in Game 4 — leading to Leyritz nodding in agreement when Pat Kelly said in the dugout, “Well, thankfully we won yesterday, so we won’t get swept,” The Post’s Joel Sherman reported in his book, “Birth of a Dynasty, Behind the Pinstripes with the 1996 Yankees.”
They had chipped away to make it a 6-3 deficit by the time Leyritz walked to the plate with one out and runners on the corners in the eighth inning. He was using one of Darryl Strawberry’s extra bats, since he only had two of his own left and didn’t want to risk breaking one against Wohlers’ fastball that could reach triple digits.
Leyritz fouled off three pitches and worked a 2-2 count before getting a hanging 86 mph slider. He sent it just over the wall in left field to quiet Fulton County Stadium and tie the game 6-6.
“I was on the step waiting to go to the on-deck circle and I looked at [bench coach] Don Zimmer, and asked, ‘Zim, what’s this guy got?’” Leyritz told Yankees Magazine. “He said, ‘Jimmy, this guy throws 100 mph. Just get ready.’ I didn’t even know what Mark Wohlers threw. I guessed fastball/slider because that’s what Mariano [Rivera] had. I didn’t know he had a split-fingered pitch and that it was his second-best pitch. Had I known that, I don’t know if I would have hit the slider out. He threw me a first-pitch fastball and then two sliders. Now I had a look at what he had, so I was a little bit better prepared. But again, I didn’t know he had a split.
“I always say sometimes it’s better to be ignorant than smart. But he ended up throwing a hanging slider, I hit the home run, and it was a pretty special moment.”
Two innings later, Boggs walked with the bases loaded and Charlie Hayes drove in another run when he reached on an error, giving the Yankees an 8-6 lead. John Wetteland shut down the Braves in the bottom of the inning to tie the series at two games apiece.
Leyritz had turned in more playoff heroics the year before. In Game 2 of the 1995 ALDS against the Mariners, Leyritz hit a walkoff two-run home run in the 15th inning to lift the Yankees to a 7-5 win. It gave the Yankees a 2-0 series lead, but they dropped the next three games to bow out of the postseason.
They didn’t let Leyritz’s clutch homer go to waste in 1996, though, riding it to the first of four World Series championships in five years.