As the 20th anniversary celebration of the 1998 season continues on this weekend, there have been plenty of opportunities to revisit some of the most memorable moments of Yankee fandom. Given the way the 2018 Yankees have been playing, it feels like the celebratory weekend came at a good time to look back on the team that almost never lost.
By so many different standards, whether it be wins, playoff performance or run differential, the 1998 Yankees were the greatest baseball team ever. Despite their dominance over the entire league, there were still thrilling comebacks and dramatic finishes that helped make the season so special. Let’s take this time to remember the best of the best. Here’s the top five, with an honorable mention to follow:
May 17: Boomer is Perfect
A capacity crowd of over 50,000 fans came to the Bronx on this day for a Beanie Baby, but they left with something far more memorable. They all got to say they witnessed the first perfect game by a Yankee since Don Larsen in the 1956 World Series.
David Wells had it working on May 17th, particularly the big overhand curve that helped him rack up 11 strikeouts. Wells struck out the side in the third and cruised to the greatest game he ever pitched. The only brief sign of trouble was a hard grounder in the eighth inning off the bat of Ron Coomer, but after a brief mishandle by Chuck Knoblauch, he recovered and threw out Coomer to keep Wells perfect. The anniversary of Wells’ brilliance was celebrated this year with a pretty cool bobblehead.
May 19: The Benitez Brawl
Our next 1998 classic comes in the very next game after Wells was perfect. The Yankees were down early to the Orioles, but picked away at the Baltimore bullpen for what would be a six-run eighth inning, including a game-tying three run shot from Bernie Williams, which angered Orioles reliever Armando Benitez, to say the least. He promptly fired a cheap shot right at Tino Martinez’s back, clearing the benches and sparking a wild brawl that saw Graeme Lloyd chase Benitez as if he were a heat-seeking missile.
Once order was finally restored, Tim Raines gave the Yankees the lead with a two-run homer and the Bombers never looked back. The wild and dramatic win put the Yankees 20 games over the .500 mark.
October 10: The comeback (and the revenge) begins
This game wasn’t a classic in terms of dramatic finishes or one specific memorable moment, but it was one of the only times in 1998 that it felt like the Yanks were really up against the ropes and needed a boost. After taking a 1-0 ALCS lead against a Cleveland team that knocked them out of the 1997 playoffs, the Yanks dropped a 12-inning heartbreaker in game two, and lost to Bartolo Colon (yes, he’s old if you haven’t heard) in game three to fall behind in the series. Cleveland was looking for the crushing blow at home in game four, but the Yankees and Orlando Hernandez had other ideas.
In what was the first major display of his big-game ability, Hernandez twirled a beauty on the road to pull the Yankees back even in the series. His seven shutout innings set the tone, as did Paul O’Neill’s first inning home run off former teammate Dwight Gooden. The victory sparked a seven-game postseason winning streak that carried the Yanks through the World Series.
October 10: Seven runs in the seventh
The Yankees’ postseason winning streak appeared to be in peril to start the World Series, but they quickly turned a 5-2 deficit into a 9-5 lead behind two home runs, a three-run shot by Knoblauch and a grand slam by Martinez, all in an eventful seventh inning.
Martinez almost didn’t have the chance to be the hero when he took a ball that could have easily been ruled strike three, but Rich Garcia (who by then had become the Yankees’ favorite umpire after the Jeffrey Maier home run in 1996) ruled it a ball to run the count full and give Martinez another shot to play the hero. He didn’t waste it.
October 20: Brosius earns his MVP
The Yankees put a fork in the Padres in Game Three, and it was Scott Brosius who delivered the knockout punch(es). With former Yankee Sterling Hitchcock blowing through six shutout innings, the Yankees needed some offense, and Brosius delivered. He led off the seventh with a solo shot off Hitchcock to put the Yanks on the board, trailing 3-1. One inning later, Brosius launched a three-run homer to dead center off of Trevor Hoffman to give the Yanks a 5-3 lead.
The comeback led by Brosius put the Yanks up 3-0 in the series, which they would close out the following night to solidify themselves as the greatest team in baseball history, with a total record of 125-50.
Honorable mention: A wild home opener
The Yankees started their home schedule of the ‘98 season in the craziest way imaginable, claiming a 17-13 win over the A’s in what was at the time the highest scoring game in the old Stadium’s history. The Yanks fell behind 5-0 after a rocky start from David Cone, but scored 12 unanswered runs before the A’s responded with eight straight of their own, with all eight coming in fifth inning. New York scored the last five runs of the game to cap off a crazy day that saw 32 hits, 18 walks and four errors. The nine inning game lasted over four hours. Amazingly enough, the only home run of the game came off the bat of Martinez. Jason Giambi went 3-6 for the A’s.