As the New York Yankees celebrate the 20th anniversary of the 1998 Championship season over the weekend, let’s take a look back on how that once-in-a-lifetime season came about.
From Derek Jeter to Tim Raines, the 1998 Yankees had the perfect mix of young players and experienced veterans, even without having the most talented team ever. They had a team full of 25 guys all striving for one goal, with every single one of them being able to execute their jobs and bring something to the table. There wasn’t one guy that stood out, no seasoned superstar, but everyone together created something special.
In a season full of home runs, a season in which was in the middle of the steroid-era where Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa both broke Roger Maris’ home run record, the Yankees didn’t revolve around the long ball. How about that, the “Bronx Bombers” didn’t have one hitter with more than 28 home runs, but found other ways to score runs, as they led the league in runs scored.
A big part of the Yankees success that season was the high performance of the pitching, the starting rotation and the bullpen providing a big push throughout the season and the playoffs. David Cone led the rotation with 20 wins, a 3.55 ERA and 209 strikeouts in 207.2 innings, and Mariano Rivera led the bullpen as the closer with 36 saves and a 1.91 ERA in 54 appearances. Rivera seemed unstoppable all season and teams definitely did not want to have to face him, they felt the only way to beat the Yankees was having the lead through 7 innings.
The Yankees spent 135 of the 162 game season in first place, and it was never really in doubt that they were going to claim the AL East title. The complete dominance of the team as a whole continued into the postseason, as they completely dominated the Texas Rangers in the Division Series, sweeping them in the best-of-five series. They would only surrender one run and 13 hits combined throughout the three games, as they proved themselves to being serious World Series contenders.
They fell off slightly in the Championship Series against the Cleveland Indians, falling behind two games to one. But a Paul O’Neill home run in the first inning in Game Four sparked the team, and they wound up winning the next three games, and thus the series to propel them into the World Series. David Wells won the ALCS MVP, pitching to two masterful outings, winning both of them. He pitched to a 2.87 ERA and struck out 18 over the two games.
As the Series started against the San Diego Padres, the Yankees were down, but obviously never out. They faced a 5-2 deficit in Game One, until second baseman Chuck Knoblauch bashed a tying, three-run home run in the 7th inning. Later that same inning, Tino Martinez smashed a go-ahead grand slam to put the Yankees up 9-5, a lead that would never go away. Mariano Rivera would earn a four out save while striking out two and allowing no runs or hits.
Scott Brosius would end up earning MVP honors for the World Series, and a big part of that was when he hit a go-ahead three-run home run in the eighth inning of Game Three off of now Hall of Fame closer Trevor Hoffman. Rivera came up with the save once again, this time converting a five out save. Andy Pettitte was masterful in Game 4, shutting the Padres offense down through 7.1 innings, only allowing five hits and striking out four. The Yankees would win the game, with Rivera converting another five out save, and complete the sweep of San Diego to win their 24th World Championship.
The Yankees finished the season with 125 combined wins, which is still a Major League record to date. Winning 114 games in the regular season was already a great accomplishment, but it all would’ve meant nothing if they did not accomplish the ultimate goal of winning the championship. Especially with George “The Boss” Steinbrenner at the helm, who never expected less than that.
The 1998 New York Yankees team won’t be remembered for being the most flashy team ever, but they will be remembered for doing everything they can to win it all.