1998 World Series
In 1998, the perennial champion New York Yankees set a new standard for excellence in baseball outplaying the 1927 franchise considered by most expert analysts as the greatest team ever to play the game. With an all-star lineup known as "Murderer's Row", New York outscored its opponents by nearly four-hundred runs and hit .307 as a team in 1927. Babe Ruth, perhaps the greatest ever, set the original single season mark with sixty homeruns which was more than any other American League team had combined. The Sultan of Swat also had plenty of help from his fellow sluggers in pinstripes. Outfield counterparts, Earle Combs in center and Bob Meusel in left, hit .356 and .337 respectively. Lou Gehrig had his first big season, batting .373 with forty-seven home runs and a league leading one-hundred seventy five runs batted in. Second year man Tony Lazzeri ranked third in the loop with eighteen home runs. The pitching staff boasted four men who won eighteen or more wins, led by Waite Hoyt at 22-7. Herb Pennock and Wilcy Moore gained nineteen victories apiece while Urban Shocker added eighteen. This lethal trio complemented the dominant offense by claiming the league's three best ERAs. Moore, who pitched primarily in relief, led the way with a 2.28 mark. With a 110-44 record, the Bronx Bombers ran away with the American League pennant, winning by a staggering nineteen games.
If '27 was considered the best, then 1998 certainly was the greatest. Manager Joe Torre's version had finished the season with one-hundred fourteen regular-season wins and eleven postseason victories (the most by any team in one-hundred twenty-three years of Major League baseball). Their line-up card included names like Derek Jeter, Tino Martinez, Paul O'Neill, Bernie Williams and Scott Brosius. In the year of the "pinstriped homer", eight Yankees hit fifteen or more and ten players hit at least ten home runs for an amazing two-hundred seven total. New York's newest rotation was equally lethal and featured David Cone, Orlando Hernandez, Ramiro Mendoza, Andy Pettitte, Mike Stanton, David Wells and the game's top closer in Mariano Rivera.
Their opponents, the San Diego Padres, would certainly have their work cut out for them and although they didn't have any all-time records, they sure had their share of National League All-Stars including Andy Ashby, Kevin Brown, Trevor Hoffman, Greg Vaughn and fan favorite Tony Gwynn. After finishing 98-64, the Padres took the division 3-1 over the Houston Astros, then defeated the Atlanta Braves (four games to two) in the National League championship. Manager Bruce Bochy's team had scored seven-hundred forty-nine runs (behind the Yankees nine-hundred sixty-five) but only allowed six-hundred thirty-five (under New York's six-hundred fifty-six) with a strong pitching staff led by Kevin Brown and Sterling Hitchcock.
Game 1 opened with a "touch of class" at Yankee Stadium with Tony Bennett singing the National Anthem and Sammy Sosa throwing out the first pitch. David Wells, better known as "The Boomer" took the hill for the home team against Kevin Brown and company. After New York tallied two runs in the second inning, San Diego answered back with two of their own in the third. Brown was replaced by Donne Wall - who was replaced by Mark Langston - who was replaced by Brian Boehringer - who was inevitably replaced by Randy Myers. However, no reliever in a Padres uniform could match up to Jeff Nelson or Rivera who closed the doors on the visitors with a 9-6 opening win. Both Chuck Knoblauch and Martinez dented the cheap seats and were matched by Gwynn and Vaughn (who had two). Game 2 belonged to the home team as El Duque Hernandez (with support from Stanton and Nelson) held on for a 9-3 triumph that featured home runs from both Williams and Jorge Posada.
Now down two-games-to-none, the Padres hoped to fare better back at their own Qualcomm Stadium. Hitchcock (and three relievers) were given the unenviable task of turning the Series around, but failed to overcome the power trio of Cone, Mendoza and Rivera who maintained the 5-4 advantage. Brosius nailed two homers during the heartbreaker adding to his ever-growing stats that topped out at eight hits, two homers and six runs batted in. The third baseman would go on to win the Series MVP award finishing with a whopping .471 batting average. On the brink of elimination, the National League champions had one last opportunity to prevent a sweep and extend their "Cinderella" season for another day. Brown and Pettitte went head-to-head for five innings, but the Padre pitcher stumbled in the fifth (for one) and the eighth (for two) before being pulled in favor of Dan Miceli and Myers. Although neither would surrender any additional runs, it was too little - too late as Nelson and Rivera (who finished with a 0.00 ERA) went on for the 3-0 clincher and their twenty-fourth World Championship. It was the perfect ending to a perfect season and was summed up perfectly by the players: "Tell them, it wasn't easy. When they look back and see one-hundred twenty-five wins, tell them we never took a single one for granted. Teach them about our passion and our patience. If they ask who was our star, give them twenty-five names. And if you forget our names, just tell them we were YANKEES. And in the season of our lives, we became a team. A team that made people believe that baseball could be magic, and men could be perfect."