As I mentioned in my David Wells perfect game post on Friday, I graduated from college in upstate New York in the Spring of 1998 so the first game I was able to watch, without having to rely on a friendly bartender who thought a girl liking baseball was a novelty, happened to be the game between the Yankees and Baltimore Orioles on Tuesday May 19, 1998. Some people may not remember or even know, depending on their age , why this particular game is significant. Well, I'm about to post the reason why.
On May 19, the Yankees found themselves with a 29-9 record, and were about to go on a hot streak of epic proportions, spurred on an unfortunate incident in a game between division rivals. The Yankees had an off-day on the 18th so this game against the Orioles would be their first baseball action following that history-making game for Wells.
The Orioles scored five runs off starter David Cone - one in the second, three in the third and one in the fourth - to open up a 5-1 lead in the game. The Yankees got two back in the bottom of the seventh thanks to a Paul O'Neill RBI double and a Tim Raines RBI single.
So in the bottom of the eighth inning and still down 5-3, the Yankees mounted a comeback.
Sidney Ponson started the inning for the Orioles but manager Ray Miller began to play the matchup game. After Ponson induced a flyout for the first out of the inning, he walked Jorge Posada and Chuck Knoblauch.
Miller called upon reliever Alan Mills to take care of Derek Jeter. He did, getting Jeter to fly out to short right field on the first pitch for the second out. Miller then went to the bullpen again so Norm Charlton could pitch to O'Neill. O'Neill delivered the first scoring blow of the inning with a single int the third base-shortstop hole that scored Jorge Posada and to cut the score to 5-4.
Miller ambled to the mound again, this time he summoned Armando Benitez to the bump in the hopes that Benitez could get the third out of the inning.
Bernie Williams had another idea and took Benitez's fourth pitch into the right field seats for a three-run home run to put the Yankees up 7-5.
While the crowd was still celebrating Williams' heroics, Tino Martinez stepped up to the plate against Benitez and on the first pitch of the at bat, Benitez drilled Martinez between the 2 and the 4 on his back.
Benitez's pitch was obviously intentional and because of his defiance after the fact, this is what unfolded:
After the dust cleared, nearly 16 minutes later, Bobby Munoz was the new pitcher for the Orioles and Tim Raines was the batter for the Yankees. And before you could even blink your eyes, Raines took Munoz deep on his first pitch, giving the Yankees a 9-5 lead.
How's that for dramatic?
My brother happened to be taping the game because he wasn't going to be home for the entire thing and I recall for months after the game, putting the tape into the VCR (remember those?) and just watching the brawl over and over again.
Now, I'm not a fan of violence at all but I am a fan of a team banding together to defend one of their own. That brawl actually used to get me pumped up after I watched it. The tape is now in a box somewhere in my attic collecting dust and is more than likely warped after 14 years of changing temperatures upstairs, but thanks to the wonders of YouTube, things I thought were lost forever were found again.
It was a strange dichotomy during that week in May 1998. Two days prior you had the perfect game when the Yankees carried their teammate off the field on their shoulders, celebrating a rare feat in baseball, and on that Tuesday night in the Bronx, you had the imperfect game when the Yankees defended their teammate and ultimately, let their bats do the talking. Both games resulted in wins and they both helped to define the team that went on to win a record 125 games and capture their second World Series in three years.