David Justice (Courtesy of Jerry Coli / Dreamstime)

October 17, 2000: David Justice powers Yankees to 37th AL pennant in comeback win

This article was written by Mark S. Sternman

David Justice (Courtesy of Jerry Coli / Dreamstime)Nearly a quarter of a century had passed since the New York Yankees had appeared in three straight World Series, a feat last accomplished by the 1976-1978 teams. The veteran 2000 squad (which nearly blew a big American League East lead in the last week of the regular season) matched this record thanks to a stirring rally over the Seattle Mariners.

The Yankees led the Mariners, three victories to two, in the best-of-seven American League Championship Series. For Game Six of the series, New York started Orlando Hernandez, who had a track record of pitching well in the regular season but wonderfully in the postseason. Hernandez struggled in this game. With one out in the first inning, he walked Al Martin, who scampered home on Alex Rodriguez’s double. Yankees playoff nemesis Edgar Martinez doubled Rodriguez home, and the Mariners quickly led 2-0.

Brooklyn-born John Halama protected the Seattle edge with a one-two-three first, and Hernandez likewise faced just three batters in the second after walking Carlos Guillen, who “was caught stealing when the Yankees pitched out and trapped him between first and second.”1

Bernie Williams singled to give New York a promising start to the bottom of the second, but Tino Martinez hit into a 4-6-3 twin killing.

The Mariners doubled their lead in the fourth thanks to another inning with multiple extra-base hits. John Olerud doubled and Guillen, “who homers about as often as Don Zimmer parts his hair,”2 did just that to put Seattle up 4-0. “As he watched the ball land in the upper deck, Hernandez covered his face with his glove, peeking through it as if to confirm the damage,” noted the New York Times. “‘I covered my face because I made a mistake,’ Hernandez said through a translator. ‘I threw it over the plate.’”3 Yankees manager Joe Torre could have hooked Hernandez at this point but stayed with his experienced righty.

New York rallied in the fourth. With one out, David Justice and Bernie Williams both singled. Tino Martinez walked to load the bases. In what would turn out to be the second most critical play of the game, Jorge Posada doubled, scoring two and sending Martinez to third. The Yankees trailed 4-2, but had the tying runs in scoring position and Paul O’Neill coming up. O’Neill had only nine hits in his last 72 at-bats. The New York Post’s Joel Sherman wrote, “This [had] been the worst six weeks in O’Neill’s otherwise glorious, eight-year Yankee run. His bat [had] looked lifeless.”4

Reversing his misfortunes, O’Neill singled to plate Martinez and narrow the deficit to 4-3. Here, Seattle manager Lou Piniella made the move Torre had declined to make by yanking his starter. The move paid off in the short term as Brett Tomko extricated himself from Halama’s jam by getting infield outs off the bats of Luis Sojo and Scott Brosius to protect the slender Seattle edge.

After multiple runs by both teams in the fourth, the pitchers put up zeros over the next five half-innings. New York had two walks (one intentional) and a steal in the fourth, but Tino Martinez could not cash in his mates. In the sixth, after a second Rodriguez double, the New York Post described the events: “El Duque fanned Edgar Martinez on a 2-2 breaking pitch [and] walked … Olerud intentionally with Mike Stanton warming up in the pen. Raul Ibanez hit what should have been an inning-ending, 6-4-3 double play but the one-hop smash glanced off Derek Jeter’s glove as he dove for the ball. A heads-up … Sojo retrieved the ball and stepped on second to force Olerud for the second out.”5 Hernandez walked Guillen to load the bases, but Jeter redeemed himself by making a fine play on a Mark McLemore grounder to keep the Yankees deficit at one run.

The bottom of the seventh proved the most decisive in the ALCS. Seattle skipper Piniella upgraded his outfield defense by moving Stan Javier to left and inserting Mike Cameron in center. He pulled Tomko, who had walked a pair but had not given up a hit in facing 10 batters, in favor of Jose Paniagua, who went a perfect 3-0 in 2000 and had not given up a run in six prior playoff appearances. Torre countered the Piniella maneuverings by batting Jose Vizcaino for Brosius. “Vizcaino,” according to the New York Times, “topped a slow roller to the right side, just out of reach of the first baseman … Olerud. Second baseman … McLemore gloved the ball and threw to Paniagua covering the bag – too late to get Vizcaino.”6

Of such puny plays do big innings begin. Chuck Knoblauch sacrificed and Jeter singled. New York had runners on the corners with one out. Seeking the platoon advantage, Piniella brought in Arthur Rhodes to face Justice although he observed after the game that Justice “hangs in there … against left-handed pitchers. He did in this series, especially tonight.”7 The logical move backfired in the worst way possible for the Mariners as Justice “launched a viciously swift and hard line-drive home run that sailed into the right-field upper deck. In an instant, the Yankees had turned a 4-3 deficit into a 6-4 lead.”8

“I’ll tell you what,” said Justice. “I never thought I would hit a homer that compared to the one I hit to win [the 1995] World Series [for Atlanta 1-0]. But that just exploded. I don’t think I ever hit a ball that hard in a game this big.”9

Like many good teams, New York added to its lead. Williams singled and Martinez doubled him to third. Seeking the platoon advantage again, Piniella had Rhodes walk Posada, but O’Neill inflicted more left-on-left harm with a two-run single that pushed Posada to third and the Yankees’ lead to 8-4. Rhodes had faced four batters and retired none of them in addition to blemishing Paniagua’s line by allowing both of his inherited runners to score. Jose Mesa walked the light-hitting Sojo, and Vizcaino had his second productive plate appearance of the seventh with a sacrifice fly that put New York up 9-4. Knoblauch walked to reload the bases, but Mesa got Jeter looking to end the decisive frame.

With Sojo now playing third and Vizcaino at second, Seattle gamely rallied in the eighth. Rodriguez homered for his third extra-base hit to make the score 9-5. Martinez walked, and Torre replaced Hernandez with Mariano Rivera. Boston Globe columnist Dan Shaughnessy compared the Yankees starter to another Cuban righty, noting that Hernandez “has won with great stuff and with mediocre stuff, like he had [in this game]. But like Luis Tiant (163 pitches in Game Four in 1975), he stays in the game long enough to win.”10

Usually untouchable, Rivera bent but did not break. While Olerud’s double pushed Edgar to third, it appeared Rivera would emerge unscathed by retiring the next two batters without a runner scoring. But McLemore hit a clutch two-run double to pull the Mariners considerably closer at 9-7, before Rivera fanned pinch-hitter Jay Buhner to escape.

The Yankees went quietly in the eighth and needed just three outs to return to the World Series. In a final move, Torre brought in Clay Bellinger to replace Justice, who had delivered the mighty blow of the game, in left. Rivera got the first two batters, but Rodriguez got his fourth hit of the game with two outs. He went to second on defensive indifference, with Edgar Martinez the terrifying (for Yankees fans) tying run at the plate. Of all the batters Rivera faced in his career, Martinez finished with the second highest OPS, but on this day, in a confrontation that involved three future members of the Hall of Fame, Rivera induced a groundball to Jeter, who threw out the slow-footed Martinez. The outcome, with the crosstown Mets having won the NL pennant the night before, sealed the Subway Series matchup that so many New Yorkers had sought.

Yankee fans recall this as the David Justice game, but the 2000 Yankees won this game and would win the World Series due to the performance of far less heralded bench warmers like Sojo and Vizcaino, both pressed into extended action due to the throwing troubles of Knoblauch, who had played only second base in the postseason prior to 2000 but would never again do so.

Torre had to tread especially carefully with Knoblauch, who had “caused a stir … prior to the Yankees losing [ALDS] Game 4 … when he didn’t take ground balls … during batting practice… Knoblauch pointed out that … there was no reason to tax his less-than-100 percent right elbow.”11 Torre thus deserves great credit for the success of this team. Unlike the wildly talented 1998 and 1999 squads, the 2000 club played good but not great baseball (the team’s .540 winning percentage was its lowest between 1993 and 2012). Torre needed to protect some of the fragile egos of key members of his squad while moving around many pieces of the player puzzle just to get the Yankees past the Mariners and back to the World Series.



In addition to the sources cited in the Notes, the author consulted Baseball-Reference.com and Retrosheet.org,



Photo credit: David Justice (Courtesy of Jerry Coli / Dreamstime).



1 Bob Hohler, “Yankees Derail Mariners to Set Up the Subway Series,” Boston Globe, October 18, 2000: 81.

2 Wallace Mathews, “Yanks Nearly Missed Train – Now They’ve Gotta Watch Step,” New York Post, October 18, 2000.

3 Joe Lapointe, “Hernandez Overcomes His Failings,” New York Times, October 18, 2000: D4.

4 Joel Sherman, “Gritty, Not Pretty – Just Like the City,” New York Post, October 18, 2000.

5 George A. King III, “Yanks Climb Aboard as Justice Is Served – David’s Three-Run Dinger Puts Yanks Back in Series,” New York Post, October 18, 2000.

6 Buster Olney, “Yanks Win 37th Pennant With a Comeback Effort,” New York Times, October 18, 2000: A1.

7 Murray Chass, “New York, New York,” New York Times, October 18, 2000: D1.

8 Tom Verducci, “N.Y., N.Y.: The Mets Dusted the Cardinals, Then the Yankees Extinguished the Mariners to Set up the First Subway Series in 44 Years,” Sports Illustrated, October 23, 2000.

9 Jay Greenberg, “MVP Award True Justice – David’s Done Nothing but Deliver in Postseason,” New York Post, October 18, 2000.

10 Dan Shaughnessy, “New Yorkers Are All Aboard for Fall Classic,” Boston Globe, October 18, 2000: 81.

11 George A. King III, “Knobby Gets Nod as Leading Man – Disgruntled Chuck Returns to Lineup as DH for Game 5,” New York Post, October 9, 2000.

Additional Stats

New York Yankees 9
Seattle Mariners 7
Game 6, ALCS

Yankee Stadium
New York, NY


Box Score + PBP:

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