The 1998 Yankees are almost certainly the most dominant Yankees team that most of us will see in our lifetimes. Considering that most of us have also seen several other World Series-winning teams, and hopefully will again sometime soon, it’s remarkable that they’re so clearly ahead. Even as late as June and July, the 2022 Yankees were off to a pace that could’ve matched what the 1998 team did, and they didn’t come close. Say what you will about the foibles of the 2022 team, but that’s proof that it’s incredibly hard to compare with winning 114 games like ‘98 did.
However, all that meant nothing when the playoffs start. As evidenced by what happened on the National League side this past season, anything can happen in a smaller sample size in baseball. For all the good work the 1998 Yankees did throughout the year, they still had work to do in the World Series. In Game 1, it became some extremely timely work.
Final Score: Yankees 9, Padres 6
Game MVP: Tino Martinez
After sweeping through the ALDS, the Yankees were pushed a bit in the ALCS. Cleveland took a 2-1 lead on them before the Yankees rattled off three-straight wins to return to the World Series for the second time in three years. Waiting for them on the other side was a bit of a surprise package in the San Diego Padres.
The Padres were an excellent team in 1998, winning 98 games with a roster that featured Hall of Famers Tony Gwynn and Trevor Hoffman, plus future Yankee Kevin Brown, who arguably should’ve been NL Cy Young that season. That being said, they were definite underdogs in the NLCS against the Braves, who won 106 games that season. However, San Diego jumped out to a 3-0 lead in the series, knocking off Atlanta’s trio of John Smoltz, Tom Glavine, and Greg Maddux. The Braves made the series somewhat close, but San Diego eventually closed it out by beating Glavine for a second time in Game 6. Instead of a ‘96 rematch, it was the Padres who would take on the Yankees in the Fall Classic.
The Game 1 pitching matchup would feature Brown for San Diego and David Wells for New York, coming off a season which featured his perfect game.
The Yankees got the series off to a pretty good start, when Ricky Ledee doubled home two runs off Brown in the bottom of the second.
However, the Padres quickly answered in the third. Greg Vaughn hit a two-run homer off Wells, evening things up. Soon after, San Diego would take control of the game. A pair of home runs by Gwynn and Vaughn gave the Padres a 5-2 lead in the fifth inning.
While Wells was struggling, his Padres’ opponent wasn’t exactly dominant either. Brown had come into the game battling a sinus infection and had also been struck on the shin by a Chili Davis liner in the second inning. He had put up a 1.44 ERA in 25 innings across the first two playoff rounds, but he wasn’t as dominant against the Yankees, possibly due to the aforementioned issues. Through the first six innings, 11 Yankee at-bats went at least five pitches. However, they Yankees couldn’t quite deal him a killer blow. In the fifth, they had two on with just one out, but failed to cut into their deficit. While Wells eventually managed to battle through seven innings, going into the bottom of the seventh, the Yankees were nine outs away from defeat.
After Brown got the first out of the seventh, he then allowed a single to Jorge Posada and walked Ledee on four pitches. That would bring an end to his day, as Padres manager Bruce Bochy went to Donne Wall to face Chuck Knoblauch. Up to that point, Knoblauch had not had the best postseason, having gone 6-for-36 and making a pretty big miscue in one of the ALCS losses. However, he made up for it taking the third pitch of the at-bat just over the wall and Vaughn’s leaping attempt.
With the home run, the Yankees had new life and still had the meaty part of the lineup due up. Derek Jeter added a single, leading to Bochy going back to the bullpen. Mark Langston came in and got Paul O’Neill to fly out, but then threw a wild pitch, which got Jeter into scoring position. San Diego then opted to pitch around Bernie Williams and put him on with an intentional walk. However, that didn’t quite work as he then issued a regular walk to Davis, loading the bases.
That brought Tino Martinez to the plate. Like Knoblauch, Martinez had really struggled through the postseason to that point, having put up a .583 OPS through the first two rounds. He had drawn a walk earlier in this game, but otherwise had gone 0-for-2.
Against Langston, Martinez worked the count to 2-2 before getting one of the more infamous single pitches of the series. Home plate umpire Richie Garcia called a very close pitch a ball, taking the count to 3-2 instead of getting the Padres out of the inning with the game still tied.
Looks like the right call to me, blue. Maybe.
That ended up being a massive turn of events, as just one pitch later...
Martinez’s grand slam completed a seven-run inning for the Yankees, as they turned a three-run deficit into a four-run lead.
The Yankees then brought in Jeff Nelson to face the heart of San Diego’s order. He got two outs, but not before allowing a single to Gwynn and walking Ken Caminiti. At that point, Joe Torre went to his closer, Mariano Rivera, to get a four-out save.
The first batter Rivera faced was Wally Joyner, and the two battled. On the 10th pitch of the at-bat, Joyner grounded one to Knoblauch, who couldn’t handle it. He somewhat misjudged it, as the ball deflected just over his glove and into the outfield, scoring a run. Knoblauch would make the play on a grounder in the next at-bat, but the Yankees’ lead was down to three.
In their chance in the eighth, the Yankees left the bases loaded, failing to pick up some potentially helpful insurance runs. However the ninth inning was much cleaner for the Yankees as Rivera struck out two before getting Quilvio Veras to pop up to end the game.
It took a crazy sequence, but the Yankees got their World Series off to a perfect start with a Game 1 win. However, it wouldn’t be the last time they needed some heroics on their journey to the title.