Twenty-five years ago today, it was “three down, one to go,” as the Yankees and Padres headed for a potentially decisive Game 4 of the 1998 World Series. After the Bombers took the first two in the Bronx, and snagged a narrow third victory in San Diego thanks to Scott Brosius’ heroics, one of the most dominant teams in baseball history was on the brink of an appropriately dominant sweep.
The two sides played to a dead heat through five, as it was quiet on the sport’s biggest stage. But ultimately, this historic team was able to put the finishing touches on their incredible season.
October 21, World Series Game 4: Yankees 3, Padres 0 (box score)
Playoffs: Won World Series 4-0 (125-50 overall)
Andy Pettitte had the honor of potentially sending the Yankees to the promise land, as he was making his third start of the postseason. His last had been a bit of a dud, where he gave up six runs over 4.2 innings of work in the ALCS. He would face off with Kevin Brown, one of the more underappreciated players of his time, who was playing his one and only season in San Diego. As the staff ace, he also pitched Game 1 of the series, where he went 6.1, allowing four runs on six hits while battling the flu. The big-name pitching matchup did not disappoint in the early going, even with Brown on just three days’ rest.
Both lineups were set down in order in the first, as both starters notched a strikeout in the process. Brown did the same in the second, and while a couple Padre baserunners reached in former Yankees Jim Leyritz and Rubén Rivera, Pettitte worked around it without harm.
The same held true in the third inning of Game 4, and although the Yanks got their first baserunner in the top of the fourth via Derek Jeter’s single, it was still crickets on offense. Pettitte kept rolling with a 1-2-3 frame in his turn, thanks in part to some nifty defense from Jeter, and this game pressed onward.
Tino Martinez singled to lead off the fifth, and was followed by a one-out double from Ricky Ledee (polishing off a .600 World Series). Two quick outs at the bottom of the order ended the inning without damage, keeping Game 4 scoreless.
In the top of the sixth, however, the Yankees finally broke the seal. With one man down, Jeter reached on his second hit of the game, and was followed by Paul O’Neill’s double into right field. With perhaps their best hitter in Bernie Williams due up, this was a prime opportunity that wouldn’t be missed, as the switch-hitter slashed a high chopper back to Brown that allowed Jeter to score and give New York the lead.
Now up 1-0, Pettitte worked another scoreless inning in the seventh, and set the stage for some insurance in the top of the eighth. Jeter walked, O’Neill singled (with an assist from a bad decision by Leyritz at first), and Martinez was intentionally walked after an out to load the bases. The Game 3 hero Brosius was due up, and kept his heroics going with a single into left to score Jeter and put the Yanks up by two. For good measure, Ledee added another with a sac fly that scored O’Neill, and brought the score to 3-0.
Pettitte came out to start the eighth, retiring the first two batters, but was removed after allowing a single. After 101 pitches his night was done, and he was excellent. The lefty went 7.1 scoreless innings, allowing five hits and striking out four. A combination of Jeff Nelson and Mariano Rivera closed out the eighth, and the Yankees were three outs away from history.
After the Yankees went down quietly in the top half, it was Rivera’s chance to close out the 1998 season.
First up was Mo’s cousin, the erstwhile Baby Bomber Rubén, who had already tallied a pair of hits, and he added another with a single to lead things off. Carlos Hernández, however, promptly grounded into a 6-4-3 double play. In the blink of an eye, the Yankees were one out away. Rivera worked the count to 0-2, and he and his teammates were staring down a second championship in three years.
I would like to diverge here briefly, to talk about endings. I have always found the end of the baseball season an emotional experience, in a good way, regardless of who’s involved at the very end. I’m not sure I can give it justice, but it’s this long, deep, unfolding story that we experience, alone and in crowds, all culminating in a final moment. I think the most important part of an album is often its final song, and a movie its closing scene.
There were 46 different players that made an appearance for the ‘98 Yankees, each of them a page in the book, a long book that would end here.
Anyhow, back to San Diego. With that 0-2 count in hand against Mark Sweeney, Rivera sawed him off, and induced a grounder to (who else?) Scott Brosius. He fielded it cleanly and threw a strike to first. Just like that, the Yankees were on top again.
Scott Brosius claimed World Series MVP honors, after he OPS’d nearly 1.300, and seemed to come through in every big moment (John will have more later on him). But this was a team filled to the brim with stars and their 125 total wins stands as good evidence of just that. Perhaps baseball’s most dominant team ever, had now properly capped things off with a fitting sweep in the Fall Classic.
This diary series has gone through each and every day of the historic ‘98 run, and has been a fun way to experience a great season I didn’t get to enjoy in real time. Hopefully I am not the only one who feels this way, but we are surely not alone in appreciating just how special the 1998 Yankees were.