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The New York Yankees encountered their most difficult challenge in pursuit of their 24th world championship in 1998 when they faced the Cleveland Indians in the American League Championship Series.  After establishing a new American League record by winning 114 games during the regular season and similarly dominating the Texas Rangers in the ALDS, the Yankees sought to exact revenge on the team that eliminated them from the postseason tournament one year earlier.  Yet, the Yankees would have made a huge mistake had they considered Cleveland just another easy mark not likely to offer them much resistance as they moved inexorably towards their inevitable destiny of establishing themselves as world champions.

The Indians captured their fourth consecutive A.L. Central title, finishing the regular season nine games ahead of the second-place Chicago White Sox, with a record of 89-73.  They then defeated in four games in the first round of the playoffs a Boston Red Sox team that won 92 games during the campaign.  Although no longer the offensive powerhouse they were a few years earlier, the Indians still boasted one of the American League’s better offenses.  They finished sixth in the junior circuit with 850 runs scored and a team batting average of .272, seventh with 198 home runs, and third with 143 stolen bases.  Manny Ramirez was Cleveland’s top offensive threat, earning a sixth-place finish in the A.L. MVP voting by batting .294, scoring 108 runs, and finishing fourth in the league with 45 home runs and 145 runs batted in.  Ramirez received a considerable amount of help from David Justice, Jim Thome, Travis Fryman, and Kenny Lofton.  Justice hit 21 homers, drove in 88 runs, and scored 94 others.  Thome hit 30 home runs, knocked in 85 runs, scored 89 others, batted .293, and led the club with a .413 on-base percentage.  Fryman hit 28 homers, drove in 96 runs, and batted .287.  Leadoff hitter Lofton batted .282, scored 101 runs, and finished among the league leaders with 54 stolen bases.

Meanwhile, the Indians featured their deepest starting rotation since first establishing themselves as the class of the A.L. Central.  Placing fifth in the junior circuit with a team ERA of 4.44, Cleveland boasted a starting staff that included four pitchers who won at least 12 games.   Charles Nagy and Dave Burba tied for the team lead with 15 victories apiece.  Bartolo Colon was the club’s most effective starter, finishing 14-9, with a team-leading 3.71 ERA, six complete games, and two shutouts.  Jaret Wright chipped in with 12 victories.  The Indians also had one of the American League’s top closers in Michael Jackson, who compiled a 1.55 ERA and finished among the league leaders with 40 saves.

Yet, when the ALCS began in New York, the Indians became just another of the Yankees’ victims in Game One, losing the opening contest by a score of 7-2.  New York scored five times against Cleveland starter Jaret Wright in the first inning, giving David Wells more than enough runs to post a 7-2 victory.  RBI singles by Paul O’Neill, Bernie Williams, Jorge Posada, and Scott Brosius brought in four of the five runs, with a wild pitch plating the other.  Posada later delivered New York’s sixth run with a solo homer in the sixth inning.  The Indians scored their only two runs off Wells on a ninth-inning homer by Manny Ramirez.  Wells surrendered five hits to Cleveland in 8 1/3 innings of work, before giving way to Jeff Nelson, who recorded the final two outs.

Game Two featured a pitcher’s duel between Charles Nagy and David Cone, each of whom allowed only one run to the opposition.  The Indians scored their lone run off Cone on a fourth-inning homer by David Justice.  Scott Brosius delivered New York’s only run against Nagy with an RBI-double in the last of the seventh.  With both starters having turned the ball over to their respective bullpens, the score remained tied at 1-1 heading into the top of the 12th inning.  At that juncture, the most unusual play in the Series occurred.  Jim Thome led off the inning with a single.  After Enrique Wilson pinch-ran for Thome, Travis Fryman laid down a sacrifice bunt that pitcher Jeff Nelson fielded.  As Nelson attempted to record the out at first base, his throw hit Fryman in the back, causing the ball to roll past a covering Chuck Knoblauch.  With the Yankee second baseman foolishly choosing to argue the call with the umpire instead of pursuing the rolling baseball, Wilson scored all the way from first base.  The Indians ended up scoring two more times, en route to tying the Series with a 4-1 victory.  

Appearing somewhat unsettled after displaying an uncharacteristic lack of composure at the end of Game Two, the Yankees found themselves hopelessly outclassed by the Indians when the Series shifted to Cleveland’s Jacobs Field for Game Three.  Bartolo Colon silenced the Yankee bats, allowing New York only one run on four hits, in going the distance.  Meanwhile, the Indians reached Andy Pettitte for six runs on eight hits, in less than five innings.  Jim Thome delivered Cleveland’s first run with a second-inning homer off Pettitte.  The Indians scored four more times in the bottom of the fifth, with home runs by Mark Whiten, Manny Ramirez, and Thome driving in all the runs.  The Indians’ 6-1 victory gave them a 2-1 Series lead.

Desperately needing a win in Game Four to restore their self-confidence, the Yankees turned to Cuban refugee Orlando “El Duque” Hernandez.  Making his postseason debut, Hernandez gave the Yankees exactly what they needed, throwing seven shutout innings and allowing the Indians only three hits.  Paul O’Neill gave the Yankees their first run with a solo home run off Dwight Gooden in the first inning.  New York scored two more runs in the fourth, and added another in the ninth, to even the Series at two games apiece with a 4-0 victory.

New York scored four runs against Cleveland starter Chad Ogea in the first two innings of Game Five to jump out to an early lead.  Although Kenny Lofton and Jim Thome reached David Wells for solo homers, the Yankee left-hander allowed the Indians little else in his 7 1/3 innings of work.  Wells left the contest with the Yankees ahead 5-3, and New York’s bullpen prevented the Indians from getting any closer.  The 5-3 win gave the Yankees a 3-2 lead in the Series, with the remaining games scheduled to be played in New York.

The Yankees scored six early runs against Charles Nagy in Game Six, to jump out to a 6-0 lead after only three innings.  However, the Indians refused to go quietly, scoring five times against David Cone in the top of the fifth, with the big blow being a grand slam home run by Jim Thome.  But New York’s bullpen kept Cleveland off the scoreboard the rest of the way, allowing the Indians just one hit over the final four frames.  Meanwhile, the Yankees padded their lead with three runs in the bottom of the sixth inning, with two of the runs scoring on a Derek Jeter triple.  Mariano Rivera closed out the game for New York, giving the Yankees a Series-clinching 9-5 victory and putting them in the World Series for the second time in three years.   

By Bob_Cohen
 

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Tagged:
1998 ALCS, Andy Pettitte, Bartolo Colon, Bernie Williams (New York Yankees), Chad Ogea, Charles Nagy, Chuck Knoblauch, Cleveland Indians, Dave Burba, David Cone, David Justice, David Wells, Derek Jeter, Enrique Wilson, Jaret Wright, Jim Thome, Jorge Posada, Kenny Lofton, Manny Ramirez, Mariano Rivera, Mark Whiten, Mike Jackson, New York Yankees, Omar Vizquel, Orlando Hernandez, Scott Brosius, Tino Martinez, Travis Fryman

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