Angered by their early exit from the postseason the previous year, and bolstered by the offseason acquisitions of second baseman Chuck Knoblauch, third baseman Scott Brosius, and much-heralded Cuban pitcher Orlando “El Duque” Hernandez, the New York Yankees ran roughshod over the rest of the American League in 1998, establishing a new league record by winning 114 games during the regular season. New York’s extraordinary performance enabled them to finish 22 games ahead of the second-place Boston Red Sox in the A.L. East. The Yankees so overwhelmed their opposition that they scored a total of 965 runs over the course of the season, while allowing their opponents to cross the plate only 656 times. In addition to leading the league in runs scored, New York topped the circuit with a .364 on-base percentage and a 3.82 team ERA. The Yankees also finished fourth in the league with 207 home runs and a .460 slugging percentage, and they placed second with 153 stolen bases and a .288 team batting average.
David Cone anchored New York’s deep starting rotation, leading the league with 20 victories, while also placing among the leaders with 209 strikeouts. Andy Pettitte won 16 games. David Wells finished 18-4, en route to leading the league with a winning percentage of .818. He also topped the circuit with five shutouts and placed second with eight complete games. Orlando Hernandez excelled after joining the club in early June, compiling a record of 12-4 and an ERA of 3.13. Meanwhile, Mariano Rivera continued to dominate opposing hitters, finishing 3-0, with 36 saves and a 1.91 ERA. Ramiro Mendoza ably assisted him in the Yankee bullpen, posting a record of 10-2.
New York’s lineup was equally impressive. Leadoff hitter Chuck Knoblauch hit 17 home runs, drove in 64 runs, scored 117 others, and led the team with 31 stolen bases. Scott Brosius had a career-year, hitting 19 home runs, driving in 98 runs, scoring 86 others, and batting .300. Tino Martinez batted .281, scored 92 runs, and led the team with 28 homers and 123 runs batted in. Paul O’Neill hit 24 home runs, scored 95 runs, and finished second on the club with 116 runs batted in and a .317 batting average. Despite missing a month of the season due to injury, Bernie Williams hit 26 home runs, drove in 97 runs, scored 101 others, and led the league with a .339 batting average, en route to earning a seventh-place finish in the league MVP balloting. Derek Jeter placed third in the voting by hitting 19 homers, knocking in 84 runs, leading the league with 127 runs scored, and placing among the leaders with 203 hits and a .324 batting average. The Yankees’ exceptional team balance made them the prohibitive favorite to defeat the A.L. West champion Texas Rangers in their first-round playoff matchup.
The Rangers earned the right to face New York in the ALDS by finishing three games ahead of the Anaheim Angels in the Western Division, with a record of 88-74. Although the Rangers lacked New York’s outstanding pitching, they had an equally powerful offense. Texas finished a close second in the league to New York with 940 runs scored. The Rangers also finished right behind the Yankees with 201 home runs, and they finished just ahead of New York with a .462 slugging percentage and a league-leading .289 team batting average.
The quartet of Ivan Rodriguez, Will Clark, Rusty Greer, and Juan Gonzalez led the Rangers’ offensive attack. Rodriguez hit 21 homers, drove in 91 runs, and batted .321. Clark hit 23 home runs, knocked in 102 runs, scored 98 others, and batted .305. Greer hit 16 homers, batted .306, and finished second on the team with 108 runs batted in and 107 runs scored. Gonzalez captured A.L. MVP honors for the second time in three seasons by batting .318, scoring 110 runs, hitting 45 home runs, and leading the league with 157 runs batted in and 50 doubles.
As impressive as the Rangers were on offense, they were equally unimpressive on the mound. Texas finished just 12th in the league during the regular season with a team ERA of 4.99. Rick Helling and Aaron Sele were the club’s only reliable starters. Helling finished 20-7 with a 4.41 ERA, while Sele went 19-11 with a mark of 4.23. Meanwhile, closer John Wetteland compiled a 2.03 ERA and placed among the league leaders with 42 saves. However, no one else on Texas’ staff distinguished themselves over the course of the season. The Yankees hoped to take advantage of their huge edge in pitching over the Rangers once the ALDS got underway.
Ironically, it was not the Rangers’ pitching staff that came up short against the Yankees in the playoffs, but, rather, their lineup. New York scored twice in the second inning against Texas starter Todd Stottlemyre in Game One at Yankee Stadium. But Stottlemyre shut out the Yankees the rest of the way, allowing them a total of only six hits. However, David Wells was even better, allowing Texas no runs on just five hits over eight innings, before turning the ball over to Mariano Rivera, who worked a perfect ninth. The Yankees scored the only two runs of the game on an RBI single by Scott Brosius and a fielder’s choice.
Pitching was the story of Game Two as well, with Andy Pettitte getting the better of Rick Helling. The Texas starter allowed New York three runs on eight hits in six innings of work, before giving way to the bullpen. Unfortunately for Helling, two of the hits were home runs. Shane Spencer reached him for a solo shot in the second inning, before Brosius delivered a two-run blast in the fourth. The three runs turned out to be all Pettitte needed to put the Yankees up in the Series, two-games-to-none. The Yankee left-hander allowed the Rangers only one run on three hits over seven innings, before the tandem of Jeff Nelson and Mariano Rivera shut out Texas over the final two frames. The 3-1 victory left Texas in the precarious position of having to win three consecutive games against a team that lost just 48 times all year long.
The Rangers fared no better after the Series shifted to Texas for Game Three. Four Yankee pitchers shut them out on only three hits, as New York completed the three-game sweep with a 4-0 victory. The Yankees scored all four of their runs in the sixth inning on a solo homer by Paul O’Neill and a three-run blast by Shane Spencer. David Cone got the win, allowing Texas only two hits in 5 2/3 innings.
Dominating the Rangers just as they dominated the rest of the American League all year long, the Yankees outscored Texas 9-1 in the Series. They also outhit the Rangers 23-13, out-homered them 4-0, and held them to a team batting average of just .141.By Bob_Cohen
- 1998 ALDS1, Aaron Sele, Andy Pettitte, Bernie Williams (New York Yankees), Chuck Knoblauch, David Cone, David Wells, Derek Jeter, Ivan Rodriguez, John Wetteland, Juan Gonzalez, Mariano Rivera, New York Yankees, Orlando Hernandez, Rick Helling, Rusty Greer, Scott Brosius, Shane Spencer, Texas Rangers, Tino Martinez, Todd Stottlemyre, Will Clark