Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Was Losing their First Three a Good Omen?

Could the Yankees have done the smart thing by dropping their first three games to Tampa?  Maybe. They lost their first three in 1998 and went on to have a pretty good season. One of the best of all time. To view their scores go to

It seems so long ago. Seinfeld was still on TV (its last season) and Bill Clinton had just turned the Oval Office into the Oral Office. In baseball the Yankees' new General Manager Brian Cashman had to struggle with a measly $74 million payroll.  It was the second year of Interleague play and new teams in Arizona and Tampa Bay had been added.  Steroids had been added too, and the juice was changing the game. Up 8-6 in the ninth Cincinnati's Buck Showalter ordered his pitcher to walk Barry Bonds - with the bases loaded! In June Sammy Sosa broke Rudy York's record for home runs in a month that had stood for years. Later that season Mark McGwire broke Roger Maris's record. 

There was other bad news. Cal Ripken Jr.'s streak ended. Bud Selig was elected commissioner. Beloved announcer Harry Caray died, and Catfish Hunter was diagnosed with Lou Gehrig's disease. He would die the next year.

But 1998 was a glorious year for the Yankees. A remarkable thing about them and their 114 wins was that no single player had an outstanding season or set a Yankee record - not a single one, in spite of their success. Remarkably, the team set only one Yankee team record - the most double-digit home run hitters (10). Tino Martinez led the way with just 28 home runs, Bernie Williams was next with 26.

Four Yanks hit .300,  temperamental perfectionist Paul O'Neill topping the league at .339. Derek Jeter led the AL with 127 runs scored. The team led the league in runs, walks, and OBP. (Yankee games were getting very long as their hitters worked the count.)

One uncharacteristic element was that two Yankees (Chuck Knoblauch and Jeter) stole more than 30 bases, Chad Curtis had 21 and Williams and O'Neill had 15 each. That's a lot for a Yankee team. 36- year-old Darryl Strawberry and 38-year old Tim Raines got into the act too with 8 each and even Joe Girardi stole a couple.

On the mound the team allowed the fewest hits, runs, and home runs in the American League. Two Davids led the way. Cone was 20-7 and Wells was 18-4. His .818 percentage led the league - as did his five shutouts. One of those was a perfect game. You won't see that many shutouts from a Yankee pitcher now with the manager going to the bullpen so often. Maybe Gerardi will beat the 2004 Yankee team record of fewest complete games - 1. 

When you win as many games as that team did a lot of pitchers are naturally going to have great won-lost records. Ramiro Menoza was 10-2 and Orlando Hernandez was 12-4. Two Mikes - Stanton and Buddie went 4-1 and Grahame Lloyd was 3-0. The other starters were Andy Pettitte (hey isn't that guy still playing?) who was 16-11 and Hideki Irabu who sucked, just 13-9. I don't know how Darren Holmes managed to go 0-3 but it landed him with the Tucson Sidewinders the next year. Mariano Rivera, in his second year as the closer, finished 49 games saving 36. 

The only thing that made fans nervous was whether they'd used it all up in the regular season and would bow out quickly in the playoffs. That didn't happen of course as they got by the Rangers (3-0) and the Red Sox (4-2) before sweeping the Padres in the World Series. It was truly a great year to be a Yankee fan - but it didn't look good three games in.

Notes on Last Night: I really found myself pulling for the Blue Jays in their home opener. After an impressive Spring and opening weekend the Toronto newscasts were full of stories of fans packing the Rogers Centre. It's too bad they sent 48,000 home disappointed after going down down in the ninth. 

In Texas Yu Darvish was making the Wright kind of debut. That would be a Jared Wright kind of debut. Darvish gave up five runs (four in a painful first) in his highly anticipated major league debut and still won, just like Cleveland's Jared Wright in '97.

Derek Jeter may have felt like it was the old days when he got four hits in the Yankees' first win. Dare New York fans dream of another '98?


Rick Blechta said...

"Dare New York fans dream of another '98?"



Will Braund said...

Beating the Orioles two straight doesn't really count as a return to glory.