Yankees fans look back on the 1998 season as the greatest season in living memory, if not of all time, in the franchise’s storied history. Not only did they set the record for most regular season wins by a team that went on to win the World Series, they stormed their way through the playoffs (for the most part), displaying how head-and-shoulders dominant over the rest of the field that squad was. However, you can be sure fans would not look back on that team with such fondness if they had not secured the ultimate prize, and on a temperate October night in San Diego, it appeared Scott Brosius made it his personal mission to drag the team to that goal.
Final Score: Yankees 5, Padres 4
Game MVP: Scott Brosius
The Yankees were riding high following thrilling wins in the first two games of the series at Yankee Stadium, lending further credence to the feeling that the team had righted the ship after a slight stumble in the ALCS against Cleveland and were back on the commanding track the team had followed for most of the season. Having rattled off five straight wins, their World Series run had reacquired the sense of inevitability bred by the historic regular season. That being said, they still had to fly into San Diego and attempt to close out the series on enemy territory.
Glancing at the starting pitching matchups, this one promised a pitchers’ duel, and the two hurlers did not disappoint. David Cone took the ball for the Bombers, making his fourth start of the postseason. Fresh off a top-10 season among starters in the league, Cone carried that red-hot form into the playoffs. He pitched 5.2 scoreless two-hit innings in Game 3 of the ALDS against the Rangers before twirling an absolute gem in Game 2 of the ALCS — eight innings allowing just a run. He may have hit a bit of a bump in the clinching Game 6 of the ACLS over Cleveland, allowing five runs in five innings, but his offense exploded to render his start a footnote.
Opposite him stood old friend Sterling Hitchcock, having himself a decent second act with the Padres after departing the Yankees in the 1995 trade with the Mariners that netted New York Tino Martinez and Jeff Nelson. He was arguably the hottest pitcher from either side in the World Series, having just won the NLCS MVP for winning both his starts allowing just a run across ten innings.
The two pitchers traded zeroes through the first five innings, combining to allow just four baserunners with over half the game in the books. Still decades before the third-time-through penalty would enter the public consciousness or indeed affect game strategy, there was likely little thought of lifting Cone from his start after just five frames in and with his pitch count below 70. However, it appears Torre left the veteran righty in an inning too long, and he allowed the Padres to land the first broadside of the contest.
The Yankees actually had a chance to tip momentum in their favor in the top of the sixth, loading the bases with one out, but Hitchcock retired Bernie Williams and Martinez to leave the bases juiced. They immediately paid for that squandered opportunity, as Cone yielded a leadoff single to Hitchcock followed by a Quilvio Veras walk to put a pair on with no outs for Tony Gwynn. That’s the last person you want with runners on and he immediately showed why, singling to right field where a Paul O’Neill throwing error allowed both runners to score and Gwynn to advance to third. He would score on a Ken Caminiti sacrifice fly and all of a sudden the Yankees we staring at a three-run deficit with three to play.
They answered back immediately in the top of the seventh, Scott Brosius leading off with a home run to breakup the shutout followed by a Shane Spencer double to knock Hitchcock from the game. Joey Hamilton was brought on in relief and on his first pitch spiked a wild pitch that allowed Spencer to advance to third. With two outs and Cone’s spot in the order up to bat, Chili Davis was called upon to pinch-hit and delivered a groundball that Caminiti booted at third, allowing Spencer to score and reducing the Yankees’ deficit to 3-2.
Graeme Lloyd and Ramiro Mendoza combined to pitch a 1-2-3 bottom of the seventh, bringing us to that fateful eighth inning. San Diego reliever Randy Myers issued a leadoff walk to O’Neill, prompting Bruce Bochy to go to his legendary closer Trevor Hoffman to see the final innings out. As we know, things didn’t quite go according to plan for the Padres, with Hoffman walking Martinez to bring Brosius to the plate with a pair on. He crushed a center-cut 2-2 fastball to dead center for his second blast of the game. Thus in one swing, the Yankees plated three against the vaunted opposition closer, grabbing their first lead of the game, 5-3, and putting them two innings away from grabbing a commanding 3-0 series lead.
Things got a bit hairy in the final two innings, Mendoza issuing a one-out double to Veras in the eighth to cause Torre to call on his own legendary closer for the five-out save. It was far from a vintage outing from Mariano Rivera, who surrendered a single to Gwynn to put runners on the corners before a Greg Vaughn sac fly made sure this game would head to the ninth at a fever-pitch in tension, 5-4.
A pair of two-out singles by Carlos Hernández and Mark Sweeney gave the Padres one final chance to send the game to extras if not walk it off, but Rivera struck out Andy Sheets to lock down the win.
The win set up the Yankees to win the series in emphatic style, and that’s exactly what they did the following night, Andy Pettitte making quick work of the San Diego lineup en route to a 3-0 title-clinching victory.