Hosting the opening two games of the 1998 World Series in the Bronx, the Yankees left up 2-0, but it wasn’t as easy as that. Game 1 required a big late rally and some timely hits. Game 2 was way more comfortable, but the Padres showed that they weren’t going to be a complete pushover the road to the Yankees’ coronation.
Game 3 showed that as well, but in the end, the Yankees came away with a crucial win, getting within touching distance of the cherry on top of a historic season.
October 20, World Series Game 3: Yankees 5, Padres 4 (box score)
Playoffs: Lead World Series 3-0 (124-50 overall)
Battling on the mound in Game 3 was David Cone for the Yankees and Sterling Hitchcock for the Padres. The matchup marked a bit of a reunion for Hitchcock, who had been drafted by and began his career in the Bronx with the Yankees, making his major league debut in 1992. He was a decently high rated prospect to the point where he was the centerpiece of the Yankees’ December 1995 trade with the Mariners that brought Tino Martinez to the Yankees. Hitchcock spent one so-so year in Seattle before being traded to San Diego, where he had begun to carve out a role for himself. After an okay regular season, Hitchcock had impressed in the playoffs, winning NLCS MVP after two very good outings against the Braves.
Early on in this one, Hitchcock carried over his form from the NLCS, while Cone was matching him every step of the way for the Yankees. The game went into the sixth inning still scoreless. The Yankees’ offense had recorded just two hits and a walk in the first five innings, while Cone had allowed just two walks in five no-hit frames to start the day. Then in the sixth came what could’ve been a series-changing moment for a lesser team.
In the top of the sixth, the Yankees got off to a good start when Cone himself and Chuck Knoblauch both hit singles to start things off. After Derek Jeter struck out, Paul O’Neill added a single to load the bases, with Cone arguably not scoring due to him being a pitcher running the bases. Despite the Yankees being in a good spot, Hitchcock managed to get out of the jam against the heart of the order, retiring Bernie Williams and Tino Martinez to end the inning.
After not scoring himself, Cone then ran into trouble in the bottom of the inning. He too had an issue with the pitcher’s spot, allowing a single to Hitchcock. After a Quilvio Veras walk, Tony Gwynn stepped into the plate. Two on, nobody out is not a spot you would want to deal with with such a pure hitter like Gwynn up, and he indeed made the Yankees pay. He singled to score two runs, with the Padres getting some help from a Paul O’Neill error that also allowed Gwynn to go to third. While Cone eventually got out of the inning after that, San Diego added another run when Gwynn scored on a sacrifice fly.
As mentioned, a lesser team might’ve let things get away from them after missing out on a big chance and then giving up a couple runs. However, the 1998 Yankees went right to work. Scott Brosius led off the top of the seventh with a home run, getting the Yankees on the board.
Shane Spencer followed that with a double, moving to third on a passed ball in the next at-bat. The Yankees were then also beneficiaries of an error as Ken Caminiti committed one on a Chili Davis ground ball, plating another run.
Replacing Cone, Graeme Lloyd and Ramiro Mendoza combined to throw a 1-2-3 bottom of the seventh. O’Neill then got things off to a great start in the eighth, working a lead-off walk. Needing a win to have any real chance in the series, Padres manager Bruce Bochy decided not to mess around and brought in future Hall of Fame closer Trevor Hoffman for a potential six-out save. He promptly got Williams to fly out, but then issued a walk to Martinez. That brought Brosius to the plate, creating arguably the most iconic moment of the series.
After working the count to 2-2, Brosius took a Hoffman pitch over the fence in dead center field. Just like that, the Yankees had their first lead of the day, going up 5-3.
Six outs away from a 3-0 series lead, Joe Torre stuck with Mendoza to start the bottom of the eighth. While he got the first out, Veras came up with a double, at which point Torre went to his own soon to be legendary closer and brought in Mariano Rivera. The move didn’t quite work at first, as Gwynn added a single, with Veras then scoring on a sacrifice fly, getting the Padres within a run when the inning ended.
The Yankees’ offense couldn’t get any insurance runs, and Rivera came back out for the bottom of the ninth. He got off to a perfect start, retiring Wally Joyner and Steve Finley in the first two at-bats. However, singles from Carlos Hernández and Mark Sweeney kept the game alive and put the tying run 90 feet away. That left the game in the hands of Andy Sheets, and he was not quite a match for Mo. On the fourth pitch of the at-bat, he swung and missed at strike three, ending the topsy turvy game.
With that win, the Yankees took a commanding 3-0 lead in the series. While a few seasons later, it became clear that wasn’t an insurmountable lead (allegedly), it was hard to see anyone being able to beat the 1998 Yankees in four-straight do-or-die games. I guess we’ll have to wait and see if anyone could. (Wink, nudge.)