Even the greatest teams in sports history go through their issues. Some have to battle through injuries. Some will have to battle through moments of having their backs against the wall. Then there’s some that have moments of internal strife.
On this day in 1998, the Yankees dealt with a bit of internal strife. However, because they’re one of the greatest teams of all time, they were able to overcome it, both on the field that day, and in the long run.
May 6: Yankees 15, Rangers 13 (box score)
Record: 22-6, .786 (2.5 GA)
With the Yankees wrapping up a series against the AL West-leading Rangers, they got off to a very good start. Chuck Knoblauch led off the game with a homer, with Paul O’Neill following with another two batters later, as the opened up a quick lead against noted father Bobby Witt.
Then in the second, they seemed to really break the game open. After Witt walked the bases loaded, Derek Jeter lined a ball into the gap. All three runners scored as Jeter raced to third with a triple.
After a couple more RBI hits, the inning was capped off with a homer by Tim Raines, giving the Yankees a huge 9-0 lead. At that point, the Yankees’ chances of winning according to Win Probability stood at 97 percent.
On the mound that day for the Yankees was David Wells, who had struggled through April, putting up a 4.61 ERA in 41 innings across six starts. He began his May with two fairly easy frames, but things got bad in the third. After getting one quick out in the third, Wells allowed singles to noted father Fernando Tatís and Tom Goodwin, and walked Mark McLemore. While Rusty Greer’s groundout plated a run, the Yankees still had a big lead and would’ve certainly traded the out for the run. An out away from escaping the inning, Wells very nearly did that as Juan González hit one right towards Knoblauch. However, the Yankees’ second baseman couldn’t corral it, as it went for a two-run scoring single.
After being so close to getting out of the inning only for it not to happen, Wells melted down. Following a Will Clark double, future Hall of Famer Iván Rodríguez scored two more runs with a single. Mike Simms then took a Wells pitch over the fence in right, and suddenly it was a 9-7 game.
Joe Torre then opted to remove Wells from the game. The New York Post recently printed an excerpt from Jack Curry’s upcoming book on the ‘98 Yankees, and the piece dealt a lot with the aftermath of this particular Wells performance. Despite the struggles, Wells was not pleased with being pulled, and didn’t make eye contact with Torre as the manager took to the mound.
After the game when being asked about the pitcher’s performance, Torre wasn’t very complimentary about Wells, talking about his body language and said the pitcher had ran out of gas and was possibly “out of shape.” That comment incensed Wells, who had planned to fire a barb back to Torre through the media. However, David Cone talked him down from that plan, who urged him to instead set up a meeting with the manager and pitching coach Mel Stottlemyre. The meeting helped clear the air and — considering a certain event that is coming up soon in our ‘98 Diary series — seemed to help Wells.
Back on the field, the Yankees were now back in a close game. They helped get some breathing room back with a four-run fourth inning that included RBI from Raines, Jeter, and Scott Brosius.
Reliever Willie Banks had replaced Wells, but he too struggled, allowing a three-run homer to González in the bottom of the fourth. Mike Buddie replaced him and stayed in for a couple innings, but eventually left after putting two runners on in the sixth. At that point, Torre turned to swingman Ramiro Mendoza, who promptly allowed two hits. The second of those — a double by Rodríguez — allowed the Rangers to come all the way back, evening the game at 13-13.
The game remained knotted until the eighth inning. After Bernie Williams had led off the frame with a triple, the next two hitters went down in order, leaving the golden opportunity up to Jorge Posada. The catcher came through, singling home Williams to give the Yankees the lead again.
Jeter added yet another run with his ninth inning homer, before the Yankees turned to Mariano Rivera for bottom of the ninth. After a game of dramatics, there were none from Mo, as he threw a 1-2-3 inning to seal a wild win.
(A bonus highlight in that video is if you go back to the very beginning of it, you can watch highlights of Kerry Wood’s legendary 20-strikeout game, which happened elsewhere in baseball that day.)
David Wells was not the star of this game, obviously. After it, his ERA sat at 5.77. Yet, you could argue his performance was the most consequential, considering what happened to him in the weeks that followed.