The New York Yankees blew the rest of major league baseball off the map in the 1998 baseball season. The Bombers won 114 regular-season games, dismissed the Rangers and Indians in the playoffs, and swept the National League champion San Diego Padres to win their record 24th World Championship.
But even the Yankees' achievements could not overshadow the feats of sluggers Mark McGwire of the Cardinals and Sammy Sosa of the Cubs.
McGwire, who had smashed 58 long balls in 1997, exploded for an all-time record of 70, obliterating Roger Maris's old mark of 61 by a wide margin. "Big Mac," who also knocked in 147 runs for St. Louis, was hotly pursued in the race by Chicago's Sammy Sosa, the eventual National League MVP who hit 66 home runs of his own.
The race between McGwire and Sosa, which both fans and the media found endlessly fascinating, was the talk of the baseball world all summer. Mac crushed No. 62 on September 8, hugging Maris's children after the dramatic blow. He then blasted five long ones on the final weekend -- two in the final game -- to reach the magical 70.
Rookie pitcher Kerry Wood made
an impact on the Cubs in 1998.
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While McGwire finished ahead in the home run race, Sosa's Cubs, also fueled by the emergence of rookie strikeout pitcher Kerry Wood, won a dramatic battle for the National League wildcard slot by defeating the San Francisco Giants in a one-game playoff.
San Diego rode the strong arms of starter Kevin Brown (18-7) and closer Trevor Hoffman (53 saves) and the power bat of Greg Vaughn -- who hit "only" 50 homers and drove in 119 -- to an unlikely National League West championship. They then defeated favored Houston, who featured a balanced attack and five strong starting pitchers (including Randy Johnson, 10-1 after a midseason trade to the Astros), to advance to the NLCS.
The Atlanta Braves, paced by five 15-game winners on their pitching staff including Cy Young Award winner Tom Glavine, had the senior circuit's best record at 106-56. After whipping the Cubs in the Division Series, the Braves came up against San Diego -- and were beaten in six games. The Braves scored just three runs in their four losses and went home unsatisfied yet again.
Ken Griffey Jr. paced the American League with 56 homers after also connecting for 56 the season before. However, his Mariners finished a poor third. American League West champion Texas featured Juan Gonzalez, who hit .318 with 50 doubles, 45 homers, and 157 RBI to win his second MVP in three seasons.
After losing four of their first five contests, the Yankees then captured 25 of their next 28 games and were 9-1/2 games up in the American League East by late May. The race was never close, but the runner-up Red Sox compiled the league's second-best record on the strength of a good overall effort and the right arm of pitcher Pedro Martinez (19-7, 2.89 ERA). The only reason Martinez didn't win the American League Cy Young was Roger Clemens of Toronto, who picked up his fifth such trophy by pacing the league in wins, ERA, and strikeouts.
In the American League playoffs, the Yankees quickly disposed of the Rangers, while the Red Sox fell in a close series to the Indians. Cleveland, which won the American League Central with power and a fine bullpen, was not as strong as in previous seasons and bowed to New York in a six-game ALCS.
The Yankees seemed to regard each challenge as an opportunity to reaffirm their greatness. DH Chili Davis missed most of the season with injuries, and several other players took turns on the DL as well. Yet the Yankees, led by shortstop Derek Jeter and batting champ Bernie Williams, overcame every obstacle. While San Diego often played well in the 1998 World Series, the Padres never really had a chance against the Bombers.
The next page provides headlines and summaries for some of the top stories of the 1998 baseball season.
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