Opening Day is always exciting. Beyond just getting to watch baseball games that count for the first time in months, it’s also a time for hope. Sure, you can have your opinions on what teams and players you think will be good or bad, sometimes backed up by data and well-formed arguments. You just never know until the players take the field.
The flip side of Opening Day optimism is the disappointment if your team loses the first game. Opening Day losses can hit different than ones on, say, June 4th. It can be a bit annoying if you’ve waited months for this game and the first impression your team gives is them having a stinker. All of that is magnified if your team is supposed to be good, like perhaps the Yankees were in 1998.
We all know that the Yankees ended up being quite good in 1998. There’s a reason we’re commemorating the season 25 years late. However, Opening Day didn’t go ideally for them.
April 1: Yankees 1, Angels 4 (box score)
Record: 0-1, .000 (1 GB)
The Yankees opened the 1998 season in Anaheim to take on the Angels, managed by future Mets skipper Terry Collins. With the game somewhat near Hollywood, all the stars were out for the occasion. Er, at least one star was.
After rain delayed the start of the game, both starting pitchers — Andy Pettitte for the Yankees and Chuck Finley for the Angels — pitched like they were throwing in the rain. Finley walked three batters over the first two innings, while Pettitte had to get out of a bases-loaded jam in the first after issuing a pair of free passes with two outs. Despite putting on at least one base runner over all of the first three innings, the Yankees’ offense couldn’t take advantage of Finley’s wildness and went hitless until the fourth. A Paul O’Neill single got the Yankees into the hit column, and Bernie Williams immediately followed that with one of his own. However, the Yankees couldn’t do anything with the two on and nobody out spot and stranded the runners. That ended up being costly.
Former Yankee Cecil Fielder, who had departed for Anaheim in free agency, led off the bottom of the fourth with a single, and would move to third on a Norberto Martín double. That brought light-hitting catcher Matt Walbeck to the plate. In his first game as an Angel, Walbeck came up big with a triple, getting some help from a bit of funny looking defense from Williams in center on the wet field.
Further hits from Gary Disarcina and Darin Erstad put the Yankees in a 4-0 hole.
After missing out on yet another chance given to them by Finley in the fifth, the Yankees finally got on the board in the sixth. However, that also happened in the most annoying way possible. With runners on the corners after singles from Williams and Tino Martinez and nobody out, newcomer Chili Davis was robbed of a hit by Martín, who started a 4-6-3 double play.
Williams did score on the play, but a nice opportunity for a rally had been quickly curtailed.
Pettitte ended up going six innings, having allowed four runs on nine hits and three walks. Meanwhile, Finley went seven frames, allowing just the one run on four hits and an impressive six walks. The Yankees didn’t do much better against the Angels’ bullpen, as they finished 0-for-6 with runners in scoring position on the day.
Thankfully, the Yankees turned out to be quite a bit better on offense after Opening Day in 1998.