The Yankees were the two-time defending World Champions in 2000, but they were getting old. They struggled to an 87-74 record in the 2000 regular season, which was good enough to win the AL East but left them without home-field advantage in that year's ALDS. Their opponent in the first round was the Oakland Athletics, champions of the West, who were in the playoffs for the first time in eight years.
The upstart A's won the first game of the series, coming from behind to beat Roger Clemens. The Yankees won the next two before an 11-1 thumping by the A's sent the series back across the country to Oakland. Andy Pettitte, who had shut out the A's in Game 2, was on the mound for New York. The Athletics responded with Gil Heredia, the Game 1 winner.
It was obvious from the beginning of the game which team was the confident two-time defending champion and which team was the overwhelmed newcomer. Six of the first seven Yankees reached base against Heredia, with the only out being a sacrifice fly that scored a run. It was 4-0 with only one out in the first when the Athletics mercifully took Heredia out. After adding two more runs, the Yankees were up 6-0 before Oakland had even come to bat. Game, set, match.
But not so fast. Oakland loaded the bases in the bottom of the second, scoring two runs on a two-out single by Randy Velarde. An Eric Chavez double in the third made it 6-3. David Justice hit a solo home run for New York in the fourth inning, providing an early insurance run. The Yankees didn't know at the time how important that seventh run would be, but they would find out soon enough.
Fast forward to the bottom of the inning. The A's loaded the bases with nobody out, and striding to the plate came big Jason Giambi, that year's AL MVP. There was nobody Oakland would have rather had at the plate in that situation. The crowd was rocking, Pettitte was reeling. It seemed like the A's had their chance.
Giambi lifted a high fly ball to center field that at first seemed destined for the seats. But the ball died in Bernie Williams' glove. It was a sacrifice fly, cutting the deficit to 7-4, but it seemed like it should have been much more. The A's added another sacrifice fly in the fourth and knocked Pettitte out of the game. Though they had cut the deficit to 7-5, they had to feel sick about the runs they left on the field.
That fourth inning probably kept getting replayed in Oakland minds through the rest of the game, as the A's kept going down against the Yankees bullpen. Through the next four innings, the A's only got two hits, and they entered the ninth still trailing 7-5.
In the ninth, the great Mariano Rivera got the first two outs without a problem before giving up a two-out single to Miguel Tejada. With Eric Chavez representing the winning run at the plate, the A's had one more chance. On the first pitch from Rivera, Chavez hit a high pop up in foul territory to the right of first base. And that was a problem. In most ballparks, that ball would have landed harmlessly in the seats. But in Oakland, with its huge amount of foul territory, it was a lazy popup. Tino Martinez closed his glove on it, and the Yankees advanced to the ALCS.
While the 2000 Yankees weren't as good as the previous two teams, they still had the killer instinct. After beating the A's, they knocked out Seattle in the ALCS before winning the World Series to take their third straight title. With the same core of players, they advanced to the World Series in 2001, as well, carrying a lead into the bottom of the ninth in Game 7 before seeing their chance at a four-peat slip away.
For Oakland, 2000 was the start of a stretch of bittersweet success. In each of the next three years, Oakland made the playoffs, only to lose each year in a five-game ALDS. By the time the A's finally did win a playoff series, in 2006, most of the key players from their 2000 team had left.
21. N.Y. Yankees 7, Oakland 5 (2000 ALDS)
22. Los Angeles 4, Houston 0 (1981 NL West Division Series)
23. Montreal 3, Philadelphia 0 (1981 NL East Division Series)
24. N.Y. Yankees 7, Milwaukee 3 (1981 AL East Division Series)
25. Seattle 9, California 1 (1995 AL West tiebreaker)
26. Chicago 5, Atlanta 1 (2003 NLDS)
27. Houston 12, Atlanta 3 (2004 NLDS)
28. N.Y. Mets 5, Cincinnati 0 (1999 NL Wild Card tiebreaker)
29. Cleveland 8, Boston 3 (1948 AL tiebreaker)
30. Houston 7, Los Angeles 1 (1980 NL West tiebreaker)