Normally a series against the defending World Series champions would be one to mark on the calendar, but the 1998 Marlins were not your typical reigning champs. They would only win 54 games, the first World Series winner to lose more than 100 games the next season, as the stench of one of the sport’s most famous teardowns lingered over Jim Leyland’s squad.
To have one of the worst baseball teams of all time take on perhaps the best seems cruel from the go, and sure enough the Yankees swept the Marlins right out of town. Today we’re looking at the middle game of the set, and Bernie Williams’ big fly.
June 6: Yankees 4, Marlins 2 (box score)
Record: 43-13, .767 (10.5 game lead)
It says something about the random, grinding nature of baseball that a 54-win team actually had respectable scores in three losses to a 114-win team — the Yankees didn’t really blow Florida away, rather they just ground out good solid wins. All their offense came in a big third inning, as the game’s best lineup quickly adjusted to starter Jesús Sánchez the second time through.
Chuck Knoblauch led off the inning with a single and swiped second, coming home to open the scoring on Luis Sojo’s RBI hit. Paul O’Neill followed with an infield single of his own, before Bernie hammered the 1-0 offering down the left field line, making it 4-0 Yankees. To Sánchez’s credit, he settled down after that bad inning and ended up throwing up seven frames, although he did allow multiple baserunners twice more and New York couldn’t convert.
Ramiro Mendoza didn’t quite face the same challenge. The righthander gave up just three hits across 7.1 innings, allowing a solo home run to Todd Dunwoody. He would be charged with a second run after being relieved by Graeme Llyod, who entered with two on and one out. Pinch-hitter Dave Berg slapped an RBI double to cut the lead to two. Mendoza ended up with just a single strikeout against two walks, but the Marlins weren’t enough of a threat for it to matter.
This series, and the season as a whole, was such an indictment on MLB’s handling of the Marlins franchise. That one of the representative clubs of its monopoly could disrespect a fanbase like that should have spurred reform about who is allowed to own a team and how it must be run — instead, the 1998 Marlins were a trial balloon for tanking, deliberately being terrible in order to reduce financial burdens.
The Yankees tossed them aside in this series, but taking wins against teams like this are often hollow. They all count in the standings, but it must have felt more like a coup de grace than an actual baseball game.