The 1998 Yankees won 114 regular-season games, pretty much bludgeoning anyone in their way. The Cubs of 1906, in just 152 games, and the 2001 Mariners, won 116 regular season games. But neither really matters.
Both those teams failed in the postseason.
“Amazing, having 114 victories out of 162 games?” said Mariano Rivera, history’s greatest closer, who was part of the 1998 Yankees aircraft carrier team. “That wasn’t the big thing. What was were the next 11 wins. That was the thing, to wrap up everything, because Seattle won 116 but they didn’t win the championship.”
So the Yankees, who staged a reunion of that 1998 championship squad at Yankee Stadium on Saturday, reflect on the 114, but savor primarily the 11 that brought the total to 125 with the last one securing the World Series victory over the Padres. This year’s Yankees watch the Red Sox — currently on pace for 114 wins — but know the regular season is essentially the undercard. If you don’t win it all, you really haven’t won anything.
You need so much, not the least of which is a heckuva lot of talent. But there’s everything else.
“The thing about ’98, we were very healthy. Other than [Darryl] Strawberry going down, that team stayed on the field. … They need to stay healthy to see what they can do,” said Jorge Posada, who admits he does not want to see Boston surpass 114. “As a Yankee, you don’t really want to root for the Red Sox.”
The Yankees staged an on-field ceremony before their 11-6 win over the Blue Jays as golf carts delivered 28 players and staff from the bullpen. Derek Jeter was not in attendance because of his daughter’s first birthday party, but sent a video message, as did Scott Brosius, the Mariners’ current third base coach. One painfully obvious absence was Joe Girardi, a catcher on the 1998 team whose managerial contract was not renewed after last season. The only Girardi reference was his inclusion on a scoreboard highlight film commemorating the ’98 season.
But this was a day to celebrate the near surreal accomplishments of a team from 20 years ago.
“Not a group of All-Stars, but we played so well together,” Andy Pettitte said. “The level of confidence we had when we got into the playoffs — ‘This is our deal, we’re winning this thing’ — was just I felt like amazing. We felt it was our championship to always win.”
You get that feeling while kicking the stuffing out of opponents 114 times, which is hard to do.
“It is. You can’t even comprehend it,” Pettitte said. “You don’t know exactly how it happens except literally every day, we’d come to the ball park like, ‘We’re winning today.’ ”
And they usually did. But even 114 wins would not have mattered without the final 11.
“When you get to the playoffs, there is a whole lot of pressure on you because, as proven by Seattle in ’01, they won 116 and you have to remind people they did that because they didn’t go anywhere. They won a division but didn’t beat us,” said Joe Torre, who managed the ’98 bunch to one of four titles he won with the Yankees.
The Yankees’ current manager, Aaron Boone, has a team on pace for 101 wins — and yet Boston leads by double-digit games. So 114 wins?
“I realize what a sick pace that is,” Boone said.
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