The New York Yankees felt like they’d missed an opportunity in the 1997 playoffs when they lost to the Cleveland Indians in the Division Series. The 1998 New York Yankees took it out on the rest of baseball with a display that, even allowing the many great teams this organization has fielded over the years, was the absolute best.
There have been numerous cases in Yankee history, especially recently, where the team seems a store-bought collection of stars. The 1998 edition wasn’t one of them. They were well-balanced and did everything well.
Ten players had on-base percentages over .350. Eight players hit at least 17 home runs, but no one hit more than 28. David Cone anchored the pitching staff with 20 wins, while David Wells went 18-4 and Andy Pettite won 16.
New York won 114 games and set a new American League record (three years later, the Seattle Mariners would break it with 116 wins, tying the overall MLB record). The Yankees ran away with the AL East, swept the Texas Rangers in the Division Series and opened the American League Championship Series by dropping five runs in the first inning on the Cleveland Indians, winning the opener.
Then the Yankee run hit its first snag. They lost a bizarre 12-inning game in Game 2. Second baseman Chuck Knoblauch argued a call at first base, oblivious to the fact the ball he had was still in play and Indian runners circled the bases with the winning runs.
The series reverted to Cleveland and the potent Tribe offense, led by Manny Ramirez and Jim Thome lit up Pettite with four home runs in a 6-1 win.
Suddenly the Yankees were on the road and facing a Game 4 they realistically had to have. Orlando Hernandez would get the ball. “El Duque”, as he was called, had the best ERA on the staff at 3.13, though he had started only 21 games. Any concern over his big-game worthiness were put to rest when he threw seven shutout innings and won 4-0.
Wells pitched well in a Game 5 win, his second victory of the series. It was enough to make him ALCS MVP two nights later when the Yankees clinched the pennant at home in Game 6.
The San Diego Padres were the World Series opponent, and the threshold moment came in the series opener in the Bronx.
San Diego led 5-2 in the bottom of the seventh, when New York unloaded for seven runs and a 9-6 win. The Yanks rolled the momentum right into Game 2, scoring three runs in the first and three more in the second, en route to a 9-3 win.
Third baseman Scott Brosius would hit .471 for the World Series and end up being named Series MVP. The biggest moment came in Game 3. With New York trailing 3-0 after six innings, Brosius homered twice in the final three frames, keying the rally to a 5-4 win. Pettite got the ball in Game 4 and the Yankees clinched with a 3-0 shutout. The last out, appropriately enough was a ground ball to Brosius.
It was the second World Series title in three years for the Yankees, and the first of what would be the first three-peat since the Oakland A’s did it in 1974. All of that alone was enough to make the 1998 New York Yankees memorable. But their unparalleled excellence would be enough even if they were remembered by this season alone.