Saturday, October 15, 2022



In the 1998 American League Championship Series, your New York Yankees steamrolled the Cleveland Indians pretty easily in Game 1. That wasn't unexpected. After all, the Indians, at 89-73, had finished the equivalent of 25 games behind the 114-48 Yankees. 

But Game 2 was a different story—a contest that would become permanently known for an enormous mental miscue. 

Home plate umpire Ted Hendry, having an even worse day than the appropriately named Jeremie Rehack had yesterday, turned the game into a farce with a strike zone that seemed to change with every hitter.  I was in the Stadium that afternoon, and I remember player after player, on both teams, fuming and shaking their heads as they stalked back to the dugout, the managers of both clubs gesticulating and barking at Hendry.  

Twenty strikeouts, 12 innings, and 4 hours and 28 minutes into it, Hendry and his crew  added to the piece de resistance to their piece de crap of a game, by making the wrong call on a sacrifice bunt. But of course the real villain of the piece was Chuck Knoblauch, who inexplicably decided to stand around and argue that call while Enrique Wilson went stumbling and flopping around the bases, to score what would turn out to be the winning run.

Yes, the Blauch-head game!

The two teams then reconvened in Cleveland, where Bartolo Colon shut down the Yankees in a complete-game, 4-hit masterpiece, before nearly 45,000 howling, chanting, tom-tom thumping fans. Suddenly, the Yanks were in trouble.

Forget that 25-game gap in the regular season. The Indians didn't have much of a starting staff behind Big Sexy. But they did have a good bullpen, and a formidable, all-star lineup.

Cleveland starters included Jim Thome, Omar Vizquel, Travis Fryman,  Manny Ramirez, Kenny Lofton, David Justice, and Sandy Alomar, Jr.—who had just helped oust the Yanks from the postseason the year before, with his stunning, opposite-field home run off Mariano. On the bench were Richie Sexson, Pat Borders, Shawon Dunston, and Cecil Fielder.

The Indians had been in the World Series two of the previous three seasons, and had come within a hairsbreadth of winning it in 1997. They were established winners, a veteran team that was not going to beat itself.

What happened the next night?

Paul O'Neill homered in the top of the first inning. In the bottom of the first inning, he made a terrific catch to snuff out an Indian rally.

That was all starter Orlando Hernandez—what was his nickname again?—needed. He pitched 7 innings of three-hit, shutout ball, before turning it over to Stanton and then The Great One for an inning apiece.

The Yanks never trailed again in the series.

The day after, it was David Wells, snarling and jawing back at the Cleveland fans as they showered he and his mother with insults. 

Then, back in New York, Derek Jeter lined a ball over Manny's head to clinch the pennant before a wild, jubilant crowd.

It was on to the World Series, where The Greatest Team What Ever Was clinched their title by sweeping the San Diego Padres, including two wins in games started by Padres ace Kevin Brown, whose un-clutch pitching and sniveling, excuse-bleating comments convinced a young Brian Cashman that Brown was the very man to lead Yankees staffs in the future.

(He also decided that the Cleveland pitcher they knocked out of the box in Game 1, Jaret Wright, would be a perfect addition. And Enrique Wilson. Sigh.)

But I digress.

Sure, the 1998 version of our favorite ballteam was light years ahead of this outfit—which is not their fault. 

But the lesson here is that even that team could easily have been derailed by a sudden, unexpected turn of events: an umpire befuddled by the afternoon shadows of Yankee Stadium in autumn; a veteran ballplayer making a wildly stupid decision in the heat of the moment. A big pitcher with many wives, suddenly at the peak of his game.

They didn't let any of that stop them. That's what pros are all about.

If this Yankees team is only a shadow of the 1998 squad, well, the Cleveland team they're playing is not exactly invincible, either. What remains to be seen is if the Yanks of now have the mental and emotional resilience to shake off a jolting loss, stay focused, and get right back at it.

That's what champions do.

1 comment:

Beauregard Jackson Pickett Burnside said...

If only the Yankees could delete that first inning.