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'98 Yanks reminisce about Wells' perfect game

Teammates mark 20th anniversary of lefty's masterpiece vs. Twins
MLB.com @_dadler

On Thursday, 20 years to the day after David Wells threw the first perfect game at Yankee Stadium since Don Larsen's in the 1956 World Series, Jorge Posada turned on ESPN Classic and got to watch it all happen again.

Of course, the longtime Yankees catcher, who was behind the plate on May 17, 1998 -- when Wells made history in front of 49,820 fans in the Bronx -- doesn't need a two-decade-old broadcast to remember it.

On Thursday, 20 years to the day after David Wells threw the first perfect game at Yankee Stadium since Don Larsen's in the 1956 World Series, Jorge Posada turned on ESPN Classic and got to watch it all happen again.

Of course, the longtime Yankees catcher, who was behind the plate on May 17, 1998 -- when Wells made history in front of 49,820 fans in the Bronx -- doesn't need a two-decade-old broadcast to remember it.

"I didn't talk to [Wells] the whole day," Posada recalled Thursday. "We talked before the game. We talked after the game. It's a perfect game -- you don't want to jinx anything. … He was throwing everything I wanted him to throw, locations and pitches and counts. It doesn't happen often, so it was a very special day."

Posada and an accompaniment of other Yankees from that legendary '98 team were at a reception hosted by Wells in Midtown Manhattan in honor of the anniversary of the big left-hander's accomplishment, a 4-0 victory over the Twins.

"It definitely puts you on the map," Wells said of the perfect game. "New Yorkers, they get it. They understand, and they really embrace you when you do something like that. Regardless of if they like you or they don't like you, they're not going to forget a perfect game."

Thursday's event benefited Wells' Perfect 33 Foundation, which helps support members of the military and their families, and Posada's Puerto Rico Relief Foundation. Posada had just flown in from Puerto Rico, where he's been helping with the ongoing relief efforts after Hurricane Maria devastated the island last year.

So it was with a good cause that the '98 Yankees reunited. Wells, Posada, Mariano Rivera, Bernie Williams, David Cone and Joe Torre were among those on hand to celebrate, many of the key members of the dynasty that won the first of three straight World Series that season. Wells' masterpiece was just one of the magical moments along the way.

Video: Wells, teammates reflect on on legendary perfect game

"The thing I recognize more than anything," Torre said, "he was just standing very tall on the mound. You could just read his face: 'I dare you.' That's what he took out there with him. It was pretty special. I was gonna say it was perfect, but I think we all know that."

Wells' historic 27-up-27-down performance occurred in front of a packed house (on Beanie Baby giveaway day) in an electric atmosphere.

"I never saw the stadium so vibrant in a regular-season game," Williams said. "Counting Jim Abbott's no-hitter, counting Dwight Gooden's no-hitter, David Cone's perfect game. … Boomer just lit the whole city up."

"The stadium has always been electric, but that day it was amazing," said Rivera. "Amazing. Every pitch. Every out."

Wells, like many starting pitchers, had his rituals on the days he pitched. He would, for instance, blast metal music in the clubhouse.

"Not my cup of tea," Torre said, "but we give in to starters who need certain things on the day they pitch."

Rivera put it simply: "We all knew David was pitching."

But routine isn't the same as superstition, and as the perfect game went on, Wells didn't want to follow the one where a pitcher avoids interacting with his teammates at all costs.

"It's always been said that there's this unwritten rule, every time you get somebody trying to throw a no-hitter, you're not supposed to even look at the person," Williams said. "But David, I think he broke all those molds. He was like, 'Why is nobody talking to me?'"

The problem was, Wells' teammates were ignoring him -- until Cone, who threw a perfect game a year later, broke the tension by cracking that Wells should throw the Twins a knuckleball.

"He just was trying to get my mind off of things. I knew what he was doing. But he buckled me with the knuckleball [comment]," Wells said. "For that slight moment, it took the edge off of what I was going through. And that's what you need. Because the fans already were making me nervous enough, every pitch."

With a few key plays preserving the perfect game -- a strikeout of Paul Molitor on a full count in the seventh inning, and a fine defensive play by Chuck Knoblauch on a Ron Coomer hot shot to second in the eighth -- Wells finished the job. The final out was a Pat Meares fly ball down the right-field line, easily corraled by Paul O'Neill.

"I ran out -- I thought it was a fly ball to the catcher," Posada recalled Thursday. "The ball was in right field and I'm running out there. [Wells] was so excited, and he's looking for me on the mound."

Video: MIN@NYY: Wells throws first pitch on bobblehead day

Wells' teammates carried him off the field, with the pitcher thrusting his cap into the air in what became an iconic image. It was the 15th perfect game in Major League history, and one of just 23 thrown to date. Even though Wells was only a Yankee for four seasons (he was sent to the Blue Jays in the Roger Clemens trade that winter, then returned to the team as a free agent for 2002-03), fans in New York have embraced him since.

"When they do the Roll Call, the Bleacher Creatures out there, I don't know if I was the first one to acknowledge it, but I loved that," Wells said. "That was off the charts. Every five days at Yankee Stadium, when I'd hear my name out there, that fired me up. I was already fired up, but that was icing on the cake. You get those guys that really embrace you and believe in you, and that's something. When I walk around New York City, I don't have a problem, I feel at home."

The perfect game helped cement his legacy in New York. So did Wells' stellar performance the rest of the year: 18-4 with a 3.49 ERA, an All-Star selection, third place in the American League Cy Young Award voting and leading the Yankees to their World Series title by winning all four of his postseason starts.

"I think his performance in that game was obviously an omen of great things to come for that particular year," Williams recalled. "We had an awesome year, arguably one of the best in the history of the game. As a player, I'm really glad and proud, and 20 years later, looking back on it, it's like, 'Wow. We accomplished that. We're part of the history and the tradition of the organization.' It's a great thing."

David Adler is a reporter for MLB.com based in New York. Follow him on Twitter at @_dadler.

New York Yankees