There were very few moments in the 1998 season where the Yankees were truly up against it. Sure, they started the season a little slowly, going 1-4 in their first couple games. However, while an April losing streak isn’t what you want, there’s still plenty of time to turn things around. There was also a bit of a late August swoon, but by then it’s not like a losing streak had any actual effect on their playoff position.
The only real time you could say the 1998 Yankees had their backs against the wall came when they dropped Game 3 of the ALCS, to fall behind in a series for the first time all playoffs.
October 9, ALCS Game 3: Yankees 1, Cleveland 6 (box score)
Playoffs: Trail Cleveland 2-1 in ALCS
After Cleveland capitalized on a mental mistake from Chuck Knoblauch to tie the ALCS in Game 2, the series shifted to Ohio where the home team would give the ball to a (much later in the) future Yankee, as Bartolo Colon got the start in Game 3. After starting out the season on fire, Colon had struggled in the second half of the season. However, the 25-year-old had made his playoff debut in the prior series, going 5.2 solid innings as the Indians beat the Red Sox in the ALDS.
On this day, the Yankees got off to a pretty nice start against Bartolo. Chuck Knoblauch led off the game with a single and was bunted over to second by Derek Jeter. Two batters later, Bernie Williams singled him home to give the Yankees a quick lead.
Meanwhile, the Yankees gave the Game 3 start to Andy Pettitte. He worked around a hit and a walk in the first inning, but wouldn’t be as fortunate in the second. Jim Thome led off the frame by obliterating a pitch to right-center field, tying things up. Then after a Mark Whiten double, Enrique Wilson gave Cleveland the lead with a single.
After that first inning, Colon settled down a bit. While he wasn’t putting up perfect innings, he kept putting up zeroes, including getting inning-ending ground ball double plays in both the third and fourth innings. All that allowed Cleveland to have the lead when they got to Pettitte in a big way in the fifth.
While he got two quick outs to start the bottom of the fifth, things then quickly went pear-shaped. Manny Ramirez — still in the early days of annoying the Yankees in the postseason — took Pettitte deep to make it 3-1. Things only got worse after that. Following a walk to Travis Fryman, Thome and Whiten would go back-to-back off Pettitte, turning it into a 6-1 game and knocking the Yankees’ starter out of the game.
Pettitte finished with a line of six runs allowed on eight hits and three walks in just 4.2 innings.
As for their offense, the Yankees had really missed a chance at getting some offense against Colon. After being give a five-run advantage, Colon really got into a groove. He retired all but one of the batters he faced in the sixth, seventh, and eighth innings. The one he didn’t — Knoblauch via a walk — was immediately erased when he got Jeter to ground into a double play.
Three outs away from victory, Cleveland sent Colon out for the ninth to try and finish off a playoff complete game. He got two quick fly outs, leaving the game up to Tino Martinez. Colon then finished off his gem, striking out Martinez to give Cleveland the win.
In nine innings, Colon allowed just one run on four hits and four walks. He also gave his team a 2-1 lead in the series, putting the Yankees’ backs up against the wall for arguably the first time all season. Thanks to Orlando “El Duque” Hernandez, they wouldn’t stay there for long.