As we’ve chronicled here, the 1998 Yankees got off to a bumpy start, dropping four of their first five games, a few of them in particularly ugly fashion. They did stabilize to win their second series of the year, on the road in Seattle, to get back home at 3-4.
They played their home opener on April 10, the 75th Opening Day in Yankee Stadium’s history. Joe DiMaggio, still referred to as “The Greatest Living Ballplayer,” threw out the ceremonial first pitch on a bright, cool spring day in the Bronx. The Yankees gave the Opening Day assignment to one of their top arms, David Cone. He was opposed by journeyman Jimmy Haynes of the Oakland Athletics. The opportunity was there for the Yankees to grab a heartening home-opening victory and get back to .500.
What followed was one of the most chaotic games of the 1998 campaign.
April 10: Yankees 17, Athletics 13 (box score)
Record: 4-4, .500 (2.5 GB)
The game opened innocently enough, with both starters keeping the opposing lineup off the board in the first. By the second, all hell broke loose. With two on and one out, Rafael Bournigal opening the scoring with an RBI single. Cone bounced back to strike out Rickey Henderson, but issued a walk to load the bases with two down.
Cone grooved a first-pitch fastball to Ben Grieve, who lined it to right for a two-run single and a 3-0 lead. Next batter, Matt Stairs laced one over Paul O’Neill’s head for two more runs and a 5-0 advantage. O’Neill did not get a good read on the ball, and with a better route might have had a play, but instead, the Yankees were in a massive hole.
The Yankees immediately responded, though not to the fullest extent possible. They loaded the bases with no outs in the bottom of the second against Haynes, giving themselves an opportunity to tighten the game right up. The best they could manage, though, was back-to-back sac flies from Chad Curtis and Scott Brosius, bringing the score to 5-2. The Yankees were still in the game, though the chance for a big inning dissipated.
But it wouldn’t be long before they found themselves a crooked number. Cone managed an uneventful top of the third, giving the Yankees another chance to crack Haynes, and crack him they did. Walks to O’Neill and Bernie Williams set things up for Tino Martinez. Tino climbed the ladder on an elevated 3-2 fastball from Haynes, sending it out to right to tie the game and ignite the Bronx crowd:
That ended Haynes’ day, and the A’s brought in future 2005 Yankees savior Aaron Small. He would be no savior today, as he promptly yielded a walk and three straight singles to let the Yankees surge ahead. The last two singles were of the RBI variety, off the bats of Brosius and Joe Girardi, and the Yankees were up 7-5 after three innings of play.
The hurt continued in the bottom of the fourth. Small issued three walks, and gave up a double to Darryl Strawberry that plated two and made it 9-5. After one more walk, A’s manager Art Howe finally pulled Small in favor of Jim Dougherty. (I imagine a recurring theme of this retrospective series will be just how long ‘90s managers were content to let some of their lesser arms get beat up out there.)
Brosius greeted Dougherty with a two-run single, and Chuck Knoblauch followed with a run-scoring groundout to make it 12-5. With Cone seemingly settled in after his nightmarish second inning, and the Yankees now in full control, the story seemed to be written. The Yankees would cruise to a big win in their home opener, right?
Not so fast. Cone had one more implosion on the day, allowing three singles and a double in the top of the fifth before Joe Torre decided he’d seen enough. In came Darren Holmes, still ahead 12-7 but with two on and one down. Holmes let up two more singles and hit Grieve with a pitch, and his day was done.
Next was Mike Buddie, with the lead now at 12-9 and two men still on base. Buddie got a groundball to third, but Brosius couldn’t quite handle it, allowing a run to score. Jason Giambi singled home two more to tie the game at 12, and Dave Magadan chipped in one more RBI single. All of sudden, the Yankees trailed 13-12, leaving the home crowd flat-out stunned.
But there was one last twist in this positively wild contest. The Yankees absorbed Oakland’s huge counterpunch, and responded with one more heavy swing of their own. O’Neill worked a leadoff walk in the bottom of the fifth, and Williams reached on a bunt single to quickly put the Yankees back in business.
Martinez continued his big day with a two-run double:
The Yankees were back in front, and time it would stick. Strawberry and Knoblauch both added RBI singles of their own in the fifth, leaving the Yankees ahead 16-13..
Thankfully, at least for those whose hearts were under severe strain after the rollercoaster that was the first five frames of this game, the A’s didn’t have another rally in them. Oakland put two on with two out in the eighth, but that was their last threat of the game. Girardi tossed in an RBI single in the seventh for good measure, putting New York up 17-13, which would be the game’s final score.
Martinez led the way with five RBI on the day, while Brosius drove in four and Strawberry three. Girardi went 4-for-5, while Martinez and Williams each reached base five times. The 17 runs would be the most the Yankees would score in 1998, and the 13 runs allowed would tie for the second most they would yield on the year.
In a remarkable season full of remarkable games, it’s fitting that the home opener was one of the most incredible.