One for the Ages
AP/Wide World Photos
Things were looking grim for the New York Yankees on April 4, 1998. Their ace David Cone had just given up seven earned runs to the Oakland A's and they dropped to 0-3 for the first time in 13 years. Needless to say, they didn't exactly throw in the towel. What they did do was win 114 of their next 159 games to win the A.L. East by a whopping 22 games and set an American League record for regular season wins.
Their phenomenal success in the regular season might have caused other teams (especially those in New York) to feel immense pressure to carry their success into the postseason. But for this team, talent transcended pressure. The Yankees methodically tore through the Texas Rangers in three games, then polished off Cleveland in six to set up a World Series matchup with the San Diego Padres. Behind the fierceness and dominance of pitchers Kevin Brown and Trevor Hoffman, the Padres had one of the best seasons in franchise history, recording 98 wins and upsetting the Braves in the NLCS to reach the World Series.
The Yankees, however, simply weren't to be denied as they made quick work of the Padres with the World Series' first sweep since 1990. Their final victory in San Diego was the team's Major League record 125th of the season. Third baseman Scott Brosius batted .471 in the series and cracked two home runs in a come-from-behind game three victory to grab the MVP award. But as was the case during the regular season, the Yankees didn't boast one or two standouts but had tremendous depth and no weaknesses in their lineup. To that, add in the best starting pitching outside of Atlanta and one of the game's best closers and what you've got is a team that rivals the 1970's Reds and the Yankees teams of the 1920's and early 60's as one of the greatest of all time.
While the Yankees were doing their thing through August and September, it was the fabled Roger Maris home run chase that had even the most casual sports fans glued to their televisions. Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa lifted baseball up onto their wide shoulders as they each broke Maris' legendary mark of 61 set in 1961. And not only did they break it, they destroyed it.
On Sept. 8, in just the 144th game of the Cardinals' season, McGwire hit No. 62 off Cubs starter Steve Trachsel. It was his shortest of the year, just 341 feet. Five days later, Sosa blasted No's 61 and 62 against Milwaukee to pass Maris and tie McGwire. The two sluggers see-sawed back and forth with Sosa matching McGwire homer for homer until McGwire finally said “enough.” In his last three games, he belted five round trippers, the last one No. 70 off Montreal rookie Carl Pavano to take the lead for good. Sosa wound up with 66 but unlike McGwire, led his team to the postseason as the Cubs defeated the San Francisco Giants in a one-game winner-take-all playoff game at Wrigley Field.
The 1998 season was the one in which the world was introduced to Chicago Cubs pitching prodigy Kerry Wood. The 20-year-old Texan won the N.L. Rookie of the Year award and had his coming out party on May 6 as he tied Roger Clemens' mark, striking out 20 in a 2-0 Cubs win over the Astros. Wood gave up just one seeing-eye single and, like Clemens, walked no one in one of the best pitching performances in history.
While Wood gave up one hit, the Yankees' David Wells did him one better just 11 days later, becoming the 15th player to hurl a perfect game with his 4-0 masterpiece against the Minnesota Twins. The pudgy Wells silenced his detractors in 1998, using the perfect game to springboard him to an 18-4 regular season mark and a 4-0 record in the postseason.
Orioles third baseman Cal Ripken Jr., never too comfortable in the spotlight, grabbed his share on Sept. 20. And it wasn't for something he did, but rather for something he didn't do. For the first time in 2,632 games (over 16 years), Ripken decided to skip the Orioles' game against the Yankees. He just thought it was time. It was just another memorable moment in one of the greatest baseball seasons ever.