Once down 2-1 in the American League Championship, the Yankees now took a 3-2 lead back to the Bronx looking to clinch their spot in the World Series. With two straight wins behind them in Cleveland, David Cone and the Bombers had their sights set on the Fall Classic. But, as they had proven thus far in the series, Cleveland’s formidable lineup would make Game 6 anything but easy.
Playoffs: Won ALCS 4-2 (121-50 overall)
David Cone was making his second start of the series, the first of which was in the dramatic Game 2, which the Yankees lost in 12 innings. Cone was excellent though, as he went eight innings giving up just one run and striking out five. Just as he did in Game 2, he would once again square off with Charles Nagy for Cleveland, who had a very solid start in his own right.
Cone picked up where he left off, striking out the side in the first, while the Yankee bats got to work right out of the gate. After back-to-back one-out singles from Derek Jeter and Paul O’Neill, Bernie Williams added a third and knocked in the first run of the game. In the next at-bat, Chili Davis came through once again with a sac fly into right field, growing the lead to 2-0 as the first inning came to an end.
They’d be back at it in the second, however, with Chuck Knoblauch doubling in another run after Joe Girardi reached on a single. All the while, David Cone was cruising, allowing a handful of baserunners, but striking out six and keeping Cleveland out of the run column through three innings.
With a pair of runners on base thanks to an error, the Yankees delivered what seemed like a crushing blow at the time. On Nagy’s first pitch of the at-bat, Scott Brosius got his arms extended and launched it over the wall in dead center field, giving New York a 6-0 lead in the third.
Despite the six-run deficit, Cleveland would not go down with a fight. Three consecutive singles from Enrique Wilson, Kenny Lofton, and Omar Vizquel loaded the bases, and David Justice got things rolling with an RBI walk. Cone struck out Manny Ramírez, but up came Jim Thome, who brought his team back into this game in grand fashion.
The slugger’s grand slam into the upper reaches of the third deck made this a one-run game on the blink of an eye. Cone’s day was done after the fifth, all of a sudden giving up five earned runs in as many innings of work. Ramiro Mendoza came on in relief, and give the Yankees exactly what they needed.
He worked a 1-2-3 inning in the sixth, giving the bottom of the Yankee lineup a chance to add some insurance. Brosius reached on an error to lead things off, and Joe Girardi followed with a walk. With two on and one out, Jeter then slashed a ball off the right-center field wall in the way only he could:
The massive triple knocked in a pair of runs to give the Yanks some much-needed breathing room, while Williams added another for good measure with an RBI single to bring the score to 9-5.
Mendoza continued to keep Cleveland quiet working around a single in the seventh, and setting them down in order in the top of the eighth. The righty worked three scoreless innings out of the ‘pen, allowing just one hit, and more than effectively delivering the ball to Mariano Rivera.
With the lineup going quietly once again in the bottom of the eighth, one of baseball’s greatest teams ever was three outs away from the World Series, and they had the absolute best guy on Earth for the job in Rivera. And with ease, Mo crafted a 1-2-3 ninth inning, and closed out the ‘98 ALCS.
For a team of such dominance, the American League pennant was just the next logical step in the Yankees’ historic ‘98 season. In fitting fashion Jeter put the final touches on offense, while Rivera closed things out officially. One of the sport’s greatest teams was now on to the Fall Classic, as they looked to continue their dominant run to history.