American League: New York Yankees (114-48); 35th World Series (won 23 previous times)
National League: San Diego Padres (98-64); second World Series
In 97 American League seasons, only one other team had won 114 games. In 1998, the Yankees joined the '54 Indians in reaching that incredible milestone; while the Indians were shockingly swept in the World Series that year, nobody expected a similar fate to befall the Yankees. The main reason for that was their opponent.
The Padres were a legitimately good team, winning 98 games in '98. However, like the Yankees, their win total was inflated with the expansion that occurred that year. In truth, the Padres were likely the third-best team in the National League that year, but they had the hottest pitcher. One year after almost single-handedly pitching the Marlins to the World Series, Kevin Brown did the same for San Diego, leading the Padres to playoff wins over Houston and Atlanta.
The World Series looked to be starting well for San Diego, as they rode two home runs from Greg Vaughn and one from Tony Gwynn to a 5-2 lead entering the seventh inning of Game 1. With Brown still on the mound, they looked primed to take a 1-0 series lead. But then the Yankees struck. One of the many things that made the Yankees so good in 1998 was their depth. Scott Brosius, their typical no. 9 hitter, batted .300 and drove in 98 runs.
That deep lineup meant that when the Yankees offense started to get going, it was hard to get them to stop, and the Padres learned that first-hand in the bottom of the seventh of Game 1. First, a three-run home run from leadoff hitter Chuck Knoblauch tied the game. Then, four batters later, Tino Martinez hit a grand slam to make it 9-5.
After that, the Yankees got out their other major weapon by putting Mariano Rivera on the mound. The other thing that had made them so good in 1998 had been the presence of Rivera in the bullpen. With him ready to go, the Yankees could essentially turn each game into a seven-inning affair, knowing Rivera would shut things down from there. And that's what happened in Game 1, setting the tone for the series.
The Yankees didn't need Rivera in a 9-3 Game 2 win, but he pitched the final two innings of both Games 3 and 4, helping the Yankees get the sweep and establish themselves as the Team of the 90s.
Game 1. The Padres gave the Yankees everything they had in the opening game, used up all their ammo, and it still wasn't enough. That game showed them, and the rest of the sports world, just how good this Yankees team really was.
The voters went with Brosius, who hit .471 and led the Yankees with two home runs and six runs batted in, but they could have just as easily named Rivera for how effortlessly he closed down three of the four games.
(Home team in Bold)
I'm ranking all the World Series, from worst to best. Here's the ones I've done so far:
104. 1998 - New York (A) def. San Diego (N) 4-0
105. 1989 - Oakland (A) def. San Francisco (N) 4-0
106. 1928 - New York (A) def. St. Louis (N) 4-0
107. 1917 - Cincinnati (N) def. Chicago (A) 5-3