It took until the second week of the season for the 1998 Yankees to claw above .500. After a bad road trip to start the year, the club got up to 4-4 with a crazy home opener victory over the Athletics. The Saturday affair was considerably less dramatic, but saw New York finally pull themselves out of the water for the first time all season, and they never looked back.
Andy Pettitte was tasked with following up David Cone’s home opener, and he did that and then some, throwing six innings of one-run ball to earn his first win of the season — despite pretty poor control.
April 11: Yankees 3, Athletics 1 (box score)
Record: 5-4, .556 (2.5 GB)
After a strong first inning, Pettitte ran into real trouble in the second. Kevin Mitchell and Jason Giambi opened the frame with singles, and after a Mike Blowers strikeout, our old friend Scott Spiezio walked to load the bases. AJ Hinch’s sac fly got his club on the board, and although Pettitte continued to struggle with the strike zone, that was the sole run he allowed.
On the other side of the ball, the Yankees ran absolutely wild on knuckleballer Tom Candiotti, who threw an absurd 146 pitches over eight innings. New York went 6-7 on stolen base attempts, including a pair of double steals in successive innings. Tino Martinez was the beneficiary of some of that speed, bouncing a groundball up the middle after Derek Jeter and Paul O’Neill swiped third and second respectively.
Up 2-1 now, Pettitte still allowed baserunners, facing the minimum in the fourth thanks to a double play before sandwiching strikeouts around a single in the fifth. A pair of Yankee hits in their half set up Tino and Darryl Strawberry to see 15 (!) pitches between them, a walk and strikeout to set the Yankees up with the bases loaded and two out.
I don’t know if Candiotti was gassed by this point or not, but he threw four straight out of the zone to Chad Curtis to bring Jeter home and extend the lead to 3-1. Andy had another unpleasant inning in the sixth, walking two and working around the trouble, but finished the day with just the one run allowed despite a 7:4 K:BB ratio.
In a direct contrast to Pettitte’s control issues, Jeff Nelson and Mike Stanley faced the minimum in their three innings of work with a trio of Ks. Blower did manage a single in the ninth to give the Athletics a glimmer of hope, but a double play and strikeout ended that opportunity.
The Yankees still didn’t look like the all-world club they would be by the end of 1998, but the wheels were turning. They wouldn’t drop down to .500 for the rest of the season, going an unconscious 110-44 “down the stretch” after this mediocre start. At the same point in the season, the 2023 Yankees were better than the 1998 squad, a pertinent reminder of just how long the baseball season lasts — for those who start slow, and those who start 9-0.