Yanks' pregame ceremony honors 1998 squad

Torre, Wells, Rivera, Pettitte, Posada among team members in attendance

August 18th, 2018

NEW YORK -- The trophy signifying the 24th World Series title in Yankees history rested atop the mound, and as members of the franchise's winningest team jockeyed for position to snap cell-phone selfies with the prized memento, they marveled at how swiftly two decades had seemed to pass.

The majority of the 1998 roster reunited before Saturday afternoon's 11-6 win over the Blue Jays, with the Yankees celebrating the 20th anniversary of an unforgettable championship season. Those '98 Bombers were the definition of a team, seemingly elevating a different hero every day while charging to a then-record 114 regular-season victories before sweeping the Padres in the Fall Classic.

"I don't look at 114. I look at 125," Jorge Posada said. "Because at the end of the day, if you don't win, it doesn't mean anything. To be able to finish those 11 games that matter the most, that's what you really remember the most."

The 1998 squad boasted a complete lineup, a deep bench, stellar starting pitching and a lockdown bullpen. In a season when the rest of baseball was fascinated by home runs, Tino Martinez paced the club with 28 long balls, yet the Yankees paced the Majors with 965 runs scored.

"Literally every day we'd come to the ballpark and be like, 'We're going to win today,'" Andy Pettitte said. "You don't always have that. It was like, no matter what happened, it seemed we were going to overcome that. We were going to win. It was just a great team."

Members of the roster were ferried to the mound on golf carts from the loading dock in left-center field, their exploits recounted by Bombers voices John Sterling and Michael Kay.

Unable to attend in person, Derek Jeter and World Series Most Valuable Player Award-winner Scott Brosius (now the Mariners' third-base coach) prepared messages that were played on the center-field screen. Jeter apologized for his absence, adding, "I'm pretty sure everyone in attendance understands if you have children, you cannot miss your daughter's first birthday party."

Joe Torre's club had stumbled to begin 1998, losing four of five games before a clubhouse meeting in Seattle corrected their course. Following Torre's tongue-lashing, they won 14 of 15 games, including a wild, 17-13 victory over the Athletics in the home opener. The Yankees claimed first place on April 30 and never let go.

"To me, winning is a byproduct of doing everything right," Torre said. "We just weren't playing well. I've always preached, 'Don't lose this game. Make somebody beat you.' We were losing games because we weren't playing up to our ability. I was upset with it. I was very upset in that meeting."

"Joe let us talk. He said, 'Does anybody want to talk?'" Posada said. "Then [Paul] O'Neill talked, [David] Cone talked, most of the veterans talked. We kind of got on each other, kind of pointing fingers. … We remembered what kind of team we had. And that was it."

A season with seven walk-off wins and 16 shutouts was highlighted by David Wells' May 17 perfect game, as the Yankees only once lost more than three straight games, compiling five winning streaks of eight games or more.

"No one cared who the hero was. No one cared who got the headlines," Jeter said. "We just wanted to win, and that's what made it special. I'm a little bit biased, but in my mind, it's not only one of the greatest teams in history but one of the greatest sports teams of all time."

Charging into the postseason, the Yankees swept the Rangers in the American League Division Series, then rode a key Game 4 start from Orlando Hernandez to avenge their season-ending defeat from an October earlier and advance past the Indians in the AL Championship Series.

"The things that I remember: David Wells being carried off the field after a perfect game," Brosius said. "Bernie Williams winning a batting title and coming out and taking a curtain call in his flip-flops and a T-shirt. I think about El Duque bursting onto the scene and coming up huge in Cleveland. Shane Spencer going all Babe Ruth on us in September. Great memories."

The Padres won 93 regular-season games to claim the National League West by 9 1/2 games, but they were outclassed by the history-making Bombers. Martinez electrified the Bronx with a grand slam off Mark Langston in Game 1 and Hernandez pitched well in Game 2, sending the Series to Southern California.

"We didn't think about it," Mariano Rivera said. "We just wanted to play the game that we love and we know how to play. And the result was, after that, hopefully we were having it our way. And that's exactly what happened."

There, the Yankees rallied late in Game 3, with Brosius slugging a three-run homer off Trevor Hoffman. Pitching behind a roster that had already been rocked by Darryl Strawberry's late-season colon cancer diagnosis, Pettitte fired a gem in the clincher, spinning 7 1/3 scoreless innings.

"The World Series was kind of a blur for me," Pettitte said. "My dad had open-heart surgery that year. I wasn't here for a couple of the games during the World Series; I flew into San Diego and met the team and pitched the game and almost immediately left. That was a weird World Series for me. Obviously it was great, but at that time I was wondering if my dad was going to make it through an open-heart surgery."

Rivera induced the final out, a ground ball to Brosius at third base. Brosius leapt into the air, hands high above his head, and raced to the mound to participate in a dog pile that he called "truly a dream come true." That set off a celebration so wild that it actually spilled across a border.

"I remember we won in San Diego, and some guys went to Mexico and Tijuana," Posada said. "And we were like, 'Hopefully they get back.' I was scared for that. Most of us stayed in San Diego. It was fun. I think that parade was probably the most loudest and the most people I saw, in all five of them."