The 1996 American League Championship Series (ALCS), the second round of the 1996 American League playoffs, matched the East Division champion New York Yankees against the Wild Card team, the Baltimore Orioles. The Yankees had the home field advantage in the series because they had won their division and the Orioles were the Wild Card team.
The two teams were victorious in the AL Division Series (ALDS), with the Yankees defeating the West Division champion Texas Rangers three games to one, and the Orioles defeating the Central Division champion Cleveland Indians three games to one. The Orioles were the first wild card team to advance to the LCS. The Yankees won the series four games to one to become the American League champions, and won against the National League champion Atlanta Braves in the 1996 World Series.
New York won the series, 4–1.
Wednesday, October 9, 1996, at Yankee Stadium (I) in Bronx, New York
The first game of the series is most notable for the infamous "Jeffrey Maier Incident." With the Yankees trailing 4–3 in the bottom of the eighth, rookie Derek Jeter hit a fly ball to deep right field off Orioles reliever Armando Benítez. Right fielder Tony Tarasco backed up to the wall, but twelve-year-old Yankees fan Jeffrey Maier reached over the fence and brought the ball into the stands and out of the field of play before Tarasco could attempt to catch the ball for a possible out. Tarasco immediately pointed above and protested that it was fan interference, but right field umpire Rich Garcia controversially ruled it a home run and his call was upheld by the other members of the umpiring crew. The game then went into extra-innings, where Bernie Williams ended it in the eleventh with a walk-off home run into the left field seats off Baltimore's Randy Myers.
Thursday, October 10, 1996, at Yankee Stadium (I) in Bronx, New York
Deadlocked at 2–2 in the top of the seventh, Rafael Palmeiro drove a Jeff Nelson slider high over the right field fence for a two-run home run, and the Orioles evened the series behind strong pitching from David Wells, who out-dueled future teammate David Cone. Trailing 5–3 in the ninth, the Yankees put runners on first and second with one out before Armando Benítez came on to slam the door on the budding rally. Cone was wild, walking five batters in six innings of work, while Wells won for the tenth time in eleven career decisions at Yankee Stadium. The Yankees continued a trend that started in Game 1 by stranding eleven men on base, bringing their total to 24 for the series.
Friday, October 11, 1996, at Oriole Park at Camden Yards in Baltimore, Maryland
The Orioles got on the board in the first inning with a Todd Zeile two-run homer, his second of the series. After that, Jimmy Key cruised allowing only one more hit through eight innings. Meanwhile, Mike Mussina pitched well also, but it all unraveled with two out in the top of the eighth inning, four outs away from victory. Jeter started the rally with a double, and scored on Bernie Williams' RBI single to tie the game. Tino Martinez followed by spanking an opposite field double to left. As the relay came in from left field, Todd Zeile caught the ball and then faked a throw towards second. However, the ball slipped out of his hand and straight towards the ground. As the ball trickled away from him and shortstop Cal Ripken on the infield, Williams, who had been content to stay at third on the double, alertly scampered home to give the Yankees a 3–2 lead. Mussina, undoubtedly flustered, served up a hanging curveball to the next batter Cecil Fielder, who blasted it into the left field stands making the score 5–2.
Saturday, October 12, 1996, at Oriole Park at Camden Yards in Baltimore, Maryland
Sunday, October 13, 1996, at Oriole Park at Camden Yards in Baltimore, Maryland
1996 ALCS (4–1): New York Yankees over Baltimore Orioles
After winning this series, the Yankees went on to defeat the Atlanta Braves in the World Series in six games. They would go on to win four out of the next five world series and two more pennants in 2001 and 2003.
The Orioles would return to the ALCS the following year but were defeated by the Cleveland Indians. The Orioles would not reach the Postseason again until 2012 after 14 straight losing seasons. The Orioles defeated the Texas Rangers in the first ever American League Wild Card game that same year to advance to the American League Division Series, where they would once again face the Yankees, who defeated them in five games.