It’s May 17, 1998.
It’s 8:30 a.m.
It’s a Sunday.
There is nothing remotely perfect about David Wells’ state of mind as he’s on the receiving end of a Senton Splash — as popularized by the Hardy Boyz of WWE fame from that era — from his son Brandon. Having poured himself into bed a mere 210 minutes earlier, Wells’ mind couldn’t be further from where it needs to be in a matter of hours — a date with the Minnesota Twins just after 1:30 in the afternoon.
The Yankees are in the midst of a wonderful start in what ends up being a legendary season, though Wells isn’t quite yet pulling his weight. Last time out, Wells mowed down a forgettable Royals lineup — though it did feature future Yankees stalwart Johnny Damon — on the way to his fourth win of the season. But the time out before that, Wells was throttled by the Texas Rangers, giving up seven earned runs while recording only eight outs in a game the Yankees won, 15-13.
That early May game pushed his season ERA to 5.77, and while Wells would get his revenge that October as the Yankees eliminated the Rangers in the division series in three straight games — thanks in large part to Boomer throwing eight shutout innings with 11 strikeouts before handing the ball to Mariano Rivera — he had to turn his attention to a Twins team that was closer to contraction than contention in 1998.
So Wells was headed into Sunday’s matchup with the Twins with a 5.23 ERA and one hell of a f*cking headache.
If anything big was brewing, it wasn’t taking place between Boomer’s ears.
Ask anyone about something that happened 20 years ago, and you’re bound to get hazy answers. Hell, it’s hard to remember 20 days ago for most folks. But when reminded of a particularly noteworthy event, the details around it come into focus.
There is one indisputable fact from this particular Sunday — no Twins reached base against Wells.
A lot of other details start to file into place when reminded of that fact. But the weird thing is that most people remember the weather from that day. It’s really strange, too, because it really isn’t all that notable. The official record for the game records the temperature as 59 degrees, overcast and breezy.
“It was the perfect weather for daytime baseball,” Kaat recalled.
Reliever Greg Swindell — who recorded the final two outs of the eighth for the Twins — recalls the weather similarly, though he did note that from the bullpen, it was really hard to grasp the gravity of what was happening around them.
“It was a warm day at Yankee Stadium,” he said. “In the bullpen, you’re so far away from the action that we didn’t really know what was happening.”
Paul Molitor was playing the twilight of his career with the Twins, 20 months plus one day clear of his 3,000th hit and in the midst of his final season. He’s now the manager of the Twins — oh, and a Hall of Famer, too — and that was the first thing he said in a one-on-one at Target Field recently.
“It was a beautiful day for baseball,” he said. “They had some promotion at the ballpark that day, too.”
The giveaway Molitor recalled for that game that couldn’t be more 1998 if the guys from Savage Garden were handing them out; the Yankees were giving away Beanie Babies that day.
Current Twins television play-by-play man Dick Bremer had the call on Midwest Sports Channel (MSC), the predecessor to what is the team’s current home, Fox Sports North. He was joined by a legendary pitcher as well, as Bert Blyleven — who had 287 wins to Kaat’s 283 — was in the midst of his third season covering the Twins.
Ironically enough, the seat next to Bremer was held by Kaat during Twins telecasts from 1988-93 — as well as Tommy John — so there was plenty of familiarity going on in the press box at old Yankee Stadium that day.
Bremer, meanwhile, didn’t bring up the weather, but instead recalled almost immediately the Beanie Baby he got — one he had Wells himself autograph.
That might be one of the coolest, most unique pieces of memorabilia in existence.
According to his book “Perfect I’m Not,” which was released in 2001, Wells got his son and father off to the airport for a trip to Tampa, then hopped into the shower in hopes of making a “mad dash toward sobriety.”
“I brush my teeth four times,” Wells said. “I guzzle coffee. And when all’s said and done, I head off to the stadium feeling like…shit. I’m gonna get shelled.”
Wells ducks into the clubhouse around 10 a.m. — three-and-a-half hours before first pitch — and spies a half-pot of coffee on the burner. “I drink it all,” Wells recalled. He pops an indeterminate amount of Excedrin — not insignificant when considering the pain-relieving measures he took in his career in order to simply pitch — showers himself in Right Guard and downs a box of Tic-Tacs like it’s a single-serve container.
“Keep it together, I’m thinking. Don’t let ‘em see how you’re hurting,” Wells said.
Wells goes through his warm-up routine under the watchful eye of legendary pitching coach Mel Stottlemyre. It’s a cat-and-mouse game, as Wells keeps telling Stottlemyre he feels great during warm-ups, while he’s certain the drill sergeant isn’t buying his lies.
“I trudge toward the bullpen mound now, promising God that if he’ll just get me through this one measly start, my lips will never touch alcohol again,” Wells said.
“God’s not buying. He’s been burnt by this lie too many times.”
Wells doesn’t feel right in his routine, and he’s not sure where it came from. “Is it the alcohol? The caffeine? The complete lack of sleep?” Wells wonders.
“The answer is D: All of the above.”
Wells gets through his warm-up routine, but is thoroughly convinced he’s going to get hammered. By the Twins, that is.
But Stottlemyre keeps assuaging his big lefty, telling him he looks fine. According to Boomer, Mel doesn’t mess around. “He’s not a phony,” Wells says. “(He’s) a flat-out, no-bullshit, straight shooter.”
Wells heads into the clubhouse, turns up some Metallica and prepares to kick some ass.
For as bad as the Twins were in 1998, they shared a few common ties with the Yankees. Or at least more than one might think between a team that won 114 games with a team that won 70.
The most obvious is second baseman Chuck Knoblauch, the scrappy second baseman and leadoff hitter who was just a handful of games into his Yankees tenure after spending seven seasons with the Twins, including winning a Rookie of the Year award, a pair of Silver Sluggers, a Gold Glove and, of course, a World Series ring in 1991.
By this time, though, Knoblauch’s career was clearly on its downside. Well, at least looking at it now. After two incredible years with the Twins in 1995 and 1996, his slugging percentage tailed off more than 100 points while the team was absolutely dreadful in 1997.
The first year in New York was not kind to Knoblauch in 1998. While Knoblauch’s future battle with the yips at second base really didn’t take hold until 2000 — when he famously pegged sportscaster Keith Olbermann’s mother with an errant throw — those issues come up early in the broadcast on this day as well.
The seed has been planted.
Four years after his departure, Knoblauch — whose throwing woes became so egregious that he was forced to play left field — was pelted by numerous hot dogs during Dollar Dog Night at the Metrodome in his final season with the Yankees.
Twins manager Tom Kelly — who had Knoblauch as a player for his entire tenure with the team — came out and put his arm around Chuck and also implored fans to stop during a 12-minute delay that ultimately saw Yankees manager Joe Torre wave his team off the field.
The game was again delayed in the eighth inning, and more than 40 fans were ejected. Minnesota nice? Bad luck, Chuck.
Molitor also brought up that he and Wells had been teammates — albeit briefly. Wells was in camp with the Toronto Blue Jays in 1993 — Molitor’s first year with the club — but had been released at the end of spring training.
But Molitor saw plenty of Wells throughout the years. Wells started his career in Toronto and spent five of his 21 MLB seasons in the American League. Molitor began with the Brewers — who were in the AL at that time — and ultimately played all 21 of his MLB seasons in the AL.
And for what it’s worth, Molitor faced Wells 51 times — and with great success. Molitor was a career .340/.392/.532 hitter against Wells with 16 hits in 47 at-bats.
The Twins had also gone through a spell where they had young pitchers come up with incredible physical tools but next to no polish. One of those pitchers was Pat Mahomes, whose own son is more famous than him by virtue of being one of the current 32 starting quarterbacks in the NFL.
Mahomes’ career went through Boston and also New York, but in this case, it was the Mets.
Another was Willie Banks, who had gotten a cup of coffee with the 1991 World Series club but found his way out of the Twins’ plans following the 1993 season. That was his finest year — he went 11-12 with a 4.04 ERA but a WHIP of 1.54 — but the final damage for his Twins tenure was a 4.61 ERA, a 1.59 WHIP and 17 wild pitches in just under 260 innings.
Banks even went so far as to call out Twins pitching coach Dick Such as well as Kelly in spring training in 1994 with the Chicago Cubs.
“Last year was frustrating,” Banks told the Chicago Tribune. “I never felt I could talk to anybody in Minnesota. I didn’t feel I could talk to T.K. or the pitching coach, Dick Such. Sometimes it was like a power trip for them.”
The divorce wasn’t particularly fruitful for either side, as the Twins didn’t finish over .500 again until 2001 and didn’t win the division again until 2002 — which happened to be Banks’ final season in the big leagues.
Banks wrapped up his career with Boston that year as a 33-year-old reliever, and the final freight on his career was a 4.75 ERA — 4.85 after Minnesota — and only one more win after leaving the Twins (17) than he had put together in his three seasons with the team (16).
But anyway, Banks was with the Yankees for a brief spell in 1998 — including this fateful May day at Yankee Stadium. In fact, the MSG cameras spot him in the bullpen and recall the comments about Such.
Oh, by the way? Another one on the mound that day for the Twins was a 25-year-old thoroughbred with a big fastball, whose ERA would end the season right around where Wells’ started that day.
This guy entered his age-29 season with a career ERA of 5.78. His WHIP was 1.64. He’d thrown nearly 700 MLB innings, and only once was his ERA under 5.00.
Fourteen years later he’d hang up his cleats at the age of 42 and join the team’s front office as a player ambassador.
His name? LaTroy Hawkins.
The first three innings are pretty uneventful. Matt Lawton opens the game with a fly ball to left, Brent Gates follows with a pop fly to Bernie Williams in center, and Molitor pokes the first pitch he sees to — who else? — Knoblauch for a quick first inning.
Kaat mentions that Molitor has been battling a shoulder issue, and it has kept him from turning on the baseball like he might prefer to as a hitter.
Molitor shrugs it off.
“No, I don’t remember that,” Molitor said. “It was my last year. My shoulders weren’t too particularly good. Too many headfirst slides where you popped the joint. Cumulative effect.”
Molitor’s injury history is a big part of who he was as a player. He broke his jaw while playing in an offseason collegiate league, and during his professional career he battled issues with his hamstrings, rib cage, groin, elbow as well as other physical maladies that relegated him to mostly full-time DH duties by the time he left the Brewers after the 1992 season.
To start things in the Yankees’ half of the first, Hawkins gives up a single to Derek Jeter — a trademark right-field bloop job — and allows him to steal second before setting down the side with no trouble.
Wells comes back with a grounder off the bat of Marty Cordova where he makes a nifty play to his left, then gets his first strikeout of the game swinging against Ron Coomer, who is currently doing radio play-by-play work for the Chicago Cubs. Coomer, who according to the Yankees telecast had terrific numbers against Wells, hits a screaming foul ball down the right-field line, but comes up empty.
Coomer finished his career 15-for-35 against Wells (.429/.429/.514) with a homer and 14 singles.
The final out of the inning is a foul pop to the catcher from Alex Ochoa, a former top prospect whose carrying tool wound up being his prodigious throwing arm from right field. Baseball America ranked Ochoa a top-100 prospect four times from 1993-96, and he wound up being a plus-6.4-win player — according to the WAR metric on Baseball Reference — in eight years and just over 800 games.
Early on, Kaat does a bit of foreshadowing, as he notes that Torre has made the fewest pitching changes in the AL that season.
Not bad if you’re a fortune-teller.
The Yankees broke through against Hawkins in the second, as Williams leads off the inning with a line-drive double to left that Cordova mangles — badly. In fact, Kelly can be seen in the dugout looking none too pleased about it. Cordova does a better job on the subsequent fly ball to left off the bat of Darryl Strawberry, but then Williams picks up third when Hawkins’ pitch cannot be corralled by catcher Javier Valentin.
It goes as a passed ball against Valentin, who is now the hitting coach at Double-A Chattanooga in the Twins’ system.
Chad Curtis is at the plate when the passed ball occurs, and he’s out on a grounder to Hawkins, whose arm talent is on display perhaps more than anywhere else all day on his throw to Coomer at first. Curtis hits a chopper near the plate, and Hawkins darts off the mound — showing off the athleticism that led him to be offered a full scholarship to play basketball at Indiana State in addition to being selected by the Twins — and fires an absolute seed to get the speedy outfielder.
But, in true Hawkins fashion, he uncorks a wild pitch and Williams scampers home with the game’s first run.
It’s in the third inning where Wells really turns on the heat.
He completes his first trip through the order by fanning Jon Shave, Valentin and shortstop Pat Meares on 19 pitches. Valentin is nearly hit by a pitch and is his first three-ball count of the day — he has four total, and Valentin sees nine pitches — but again, the inning exhibits the kind of dominance Wells had on display.
Wells had all of his pitches working that afternoon, as he fanned Shave on a curveball, Valentin on the fastball and got Meares to wave through a devastating changeup to retire the side.
It can’t be coincidental that in the third inning with Meares at the plate, Kaat mentions the potential for a perfect game for the first time all day.
The Twins were absolutely awful in 1998.
They had been close to mediocre in 1994 (53-60), terrible in 1995 (56-88) and carried back to mediocrity in 1996 (78-84) despite the untimely retirement of Kirby Puckett thanks to the terrific seasons from offseason acquisition Molitor (.858 OPS, 113 RBIs), Knoblauch (.341/.448/.517) a solid sophomore campaign from Cordova (.309/.371/.478 with 111 RBIs).
The 1997 season was an abject failure (68-94), and it was during that year that team owner Carl Pohlad claimed he was close to selling the team to a businessman named Don Beaver who was planning to move the club to the Greensboro/Winston-Salem/High Point area of North Carolina after a deal to build a new stadium where the present-day Guthrie Theater is located in Minneapolis never came to fruition.
It was also after that season that Knoblauch’s discontent came to a head, and he forced his way into Yankee pinstripes for a four-player package — Eric Milton, Cristian Guzman, Brian Buchanan, Danny Mota as well as cash — which, ironically enough, led to Milton throwing a strange no-hitter in a Twins uniform.
But that’s another story for another day.
When asked if Bremer sensed something was special about that 1998 Yankees squad even that early in the season, his answer went more in-depth than was expected.
“I guess from the standpoint, I relate things to, you know, how they look, how they perform in relation to the team that I cover,” he said. “And it was a mismatch obviously with all the great players they had. Now back then, they would go out and get the Paul O’Neill’s and the Tino Martinez’s. The Scott Brosius’ who had established themselves with other organizations. (Guys like) Knoblauch, and bring them to New York and just let them play at the best of their ability. Very often they got those players in their prime.”
Meanwhile, the Twins were shopping in the Brent Gates bin over the offseason.
“But you know, against a lot of teams (the Twins) did not field a competitive team,” Bremer continued. “Certainly that was the case against the Yankees. So you put that in perspective and you understand why someone could throw a perfect game against them.”
Considering the starting lineup put forth by Kelly that day, Bremer’s point is well-taken.
Nevertheless, with the Twins playing uninspired ball, Bremer and the MSC crew tried to drum up intriguing broadcast angles any way they could. “We felt perfectly at liberty to invite on-air guests whenever we could,” Bremer said.
Since they were in New York City, it wasn’t unusual to peer into the luxury box of The Boss — George Steinbrenner, for the uninitiated — and see who he was entertaining that evening. As was custom with Steinbrenner, it was usually an A-lister of some type, and Bremer said the worst thing that could happen if they asked that person to join the telecast for an inning or so was that they’d decline the invite.
Nothing wagered, nothing lost, right?
It was a four-game series starting on Thursday night, and legendary boxer Evander Holyfield — a little less than a year after “The Bite Fight” with Mike Tyson — was chilling in the suite with The Boss. Bremer’s people asked Holyfield if he’d be willing to do an inning on the air, and he agreed and was on for the fourth.
Friday night it was Frank Robinson, Hall of Fame outfielder for the Reds, Orioles, Indians, Angels and Dodgers and in later years, manager of four franchises, including most recently the Washington Nationals. The stage manager asked, Robinson accepted, and he too spent the fourth inning on the horn.
On Saturday, Bremer and Blyleven rubbed shoulders with broadcasting immortality. “Saturday night it is Walter Cronkite,” Bremer said in his trademark bass croon. “And Mr. Cronkite, for some reason, says he’d love to come over, and he spends the fourth inning with us.”
Bremer to this day calls a very matter-of-fact, dry but informational broadcast. That doesn’t mean he’s bland, though much of his wit comes at his own expense. When a no-hitter or perfect game is in process, he has no qualms about bringing it up.
He feels it is his job.
Beyond that, he doesn’t buy into the idea that he could possibly jinx such a thing.
“No,” Bremer said flatly when asked if he believes in such a thing. “People in broadcasting are accused of being self-important. And how self-important do we think we are that we can control what is going to happen on the field by what we say in the booth, it is absolutely ludicrous.”
Fair enough. Well said.
Nevertheless, Bremer got to the park on Sunday absolutely elated about who might be the cleanup hitter for the fourth inning of the four-game series.
He spies Billy Crystal, an actor with credits too numerous to mention, who is also one of the most high-profile Yankees fans in existence. In fact, 10 years later, Crystal signed a one-day contract with the Yankees to play in spring training. He wore the No. 60 — in honor of his age — made contact with one pitch down the foul line and ultimately was struck out by Pirates lefty Paul Maholm on six pitches.
Again, Bremer sends over the stage manager. Crystal says he’d love to come over for the fourth inning, but when the time comes, the stage manager comes back empty-handed.
“He said, ‘I am kind of superstitious and I don’t want to move from my seat as long as Wells has a no-hitter going,’” Bremer recalled. “He said as soon as the no-hitter is broken, I’ll come over.
“That was fine with us,” Bremer said. “But of course, he never came over. So he got the chance to see the perfect game from his lucky seat. I’ve always thought if I ever run into him again — in an airport or something — I’ll tell him, jokingly of course, that he owes us one.”
Lawton, who was batting leadoff for the Twins that day and had a very good eye at the plate, takes Wells to a 3-1 count to start the fourth before popping out to Jeter in shallow left. Gates falls behind 0-2 before striking out and Molitor lifts to left on his second time at the plate.
Meanwhile, Hawkins is working on a fairly good game himself. He gets O’Neill to pop foul to Shave at third and gets Martinez to lift to left for a pair of quick outs.
As a brief aside, Bremer mentioned talking to O’Neill when asked about feeling fortunate to have called what, at the time, was just the 15th perfect game in MLB history.
“Well, I felt fortunate until I reminisced about the game with O’Neill, who was doing (a recent) Yankee broadcast, and he caught the final out of Wells’ perfect game,” Bremer said. “But then he told me that he was also on the field for Tom Browning’s perfect game in Cincinnati, and also David Cone’s (one year later, on July 18, 1999, and also at Yankee Stadium).
“So here we are, there have been 21 of them in the modern era, and O’Neill was an active part of three of them, which is really remarkable. One of the great things with this job is you get to witness baseball history.”
After Hawkins got the first two outs, Williams stepped up to the plate and pasted the first pitch he saw into the bleachers in right to give the Yankees a 2-0 lead. Hawkins recovered quickly to get Strawberry to fly to left, but it was quickly becoming apparent the Twins were in deep, deep trouble.
Cordova was powerless against Wells to lead off the fifth, striking out swinging on three pitches. The fans in the stands in charge of hanging the K sheets for strikeouts ran out after five strikeouts, so they improvised and started using napkins from the concession stands with the letter K scrawled on them in permanent marker.
Coomer followed by striking out K/2-3 on a ball in the dirt, and Ochoa followed with a groundout to give Wells 15 up, 15 down.
It was around this time that Hawkins found a groove as well. From the Williams home run in the fourth until Hawkins got into trouble in the seventh, he retired eight straight Yankees as he matched Boomer zero for zero.
In the fifth, Curtis grounded to second, Jorge Posada popped to short, and Brosius struck out looking on a nasty 0-2 fastball with arm-side run.
Swindell said it was around this time that the relievers started to figure out what was going on.
“In about the sixth, I was stretching and I looked up and saw zero hits for us,” he said. “Then I started thinking I couldn’t remember a walk, either. Things just got interesting.”
Wells finished up his mastery of the Twins the second time through the order with a swinging strikeout of Shave, a looking strikeout of Valentin and a Meares fly to center. All three batters saw four pitches, and Boomer was nine outs from legend status.
They say most no-hitters — and by definition, perfect games are included — are defined by a single play that is made. Dewayne Wise, an otherwise forgettable outfielder who slashed .228/.264/.381 in his 11-year MLB career, will forever be remembered for a terrific catch in center field to preserve Mark Buehrle’s perfect game with nobody out in the ninth against the Tampa Bay Rays in 2009.
Wise raced back to the center field wall, timed his leap perfectly and robbed a home run off the bat of current Philadelphia Phillies manager Gabe Kapler.
Others that come to mind include Rusty Greer’s diving catch in center field to preserve Kenny Rogers’ perfect game against the California Angels in 1994. Odubel Herrera’s stumbling grab on the warning track at Wrigley Field to preserve Cole Hamels’ no-hitter in his final start in a Phillies uniform. Robin Yount making a diving catch to seal the deal on the first — and to date, only — no-hitter in Milwaukee Brewers history in 1987 for Juan Nieves.
And there are plenty more.
But in this game, it’s really hard to find any sort of defining play.
Wells makes a really, really nice play to his left in the second inning on a grounder off the bat of Cordova. But in the second, it’s truly hard to place any sort of emphasis on the meaning of that play. To be sure, most of the plays highlighted above came with something clearly on the line, but here this was just an athletic play from a guy who looked fairly unathletic.
Honestly, going 3-0 to Lawton to lead off the fourth was pretty much the closest Wells came to losing it.
If the fans were getting raucous in the sixth, they were downright delirious with every out in the seventh. The only thing that could be heard other than the cacophony of cheering was the iconic, almost haunting voice of legendary Yankees public address announcer Bob Sheppard announcing the next batter.
Molitor absolutely loved playing games where Sheppard was doing the PA.
“Robin Yount and I used to have a thing, (Sheppard) would say your number twice. We loved that,” Molitor said with a glint in his eye. “Now batting, No. 19, Robin Yount. No. 19. It was just classic. He came down, one of my last years, and he said ‘I’ve been announcing your name for 20 years and I just want to meet you.’ I thought that was pretty cool.”
In the seventh, Lawton again got up in the count — this time 2-0 — but chased a borderline pitch and hit a fly ball to Williams in center. Gates worked the third three-ball count of the day — in fact, he went full — and saw six pitches before grounding out to Martinez unassisted at first base.
Molitor also saw six pitches, and was the final three-ball count of the day for Wells.
“I remember early on that you could sense that Wells was on and we were struggling to make hard contact,” Molitor said. “I don’t really remember too much about my first two at-bats, but I do remember my third.
“I remember that I got called a pitch that I thought was off the plate,” Molitor said. “I can’t remember if it was 3-1 or whatever it was, but I got to a full count and he threw the same pitch out there and I took a whack at it and I couldn’t reach it. I kind of knew that was my last shot, and then he mowed down the next six with no drama whatsoever.”
After two three-ball counts and 15 fairly high-stress pitches, Wells got a nice break in the bottom of the seventh as the Yankees got the bats back out and rolling.
Hawkins, who as a sign of the times threw 123 pitches in his seven-plus innings of work, came out for the seventh and got Martinez to fly to right before trouble came calling.
Williams had his third extra-base hit of the day — a double down the left-field line — and was chased home by a Strawberry triple. Strawberry crushed a pitch to deep left, and Cordova chased it down but was unable to make the play as he alleged he was interfered with by a fan reaching over the wall.
Cordova’s case is not particularly strong — the fan didn’t touch it, but appeared to get in his line of sight — and Kelly came out to plead in favor of his left fielder as well, but to no avail.
Strawberry came home on a Curtis single, before Hawkins settled down to get Posada to strike out swinging and Brosius to fly to Lawton in right.
The Twins again go down on 12 pitches in the eighth — four apiece to Cordova, Coomer and Ochoa — with a grounder to short, a grounder to second and a pop out to first.
To little surprise, none of the balls were hit hard.
Righty Dan Naulty replaced Hawkins for the eighth inning and got Knoblauch to fly to left before he walked Jeter on five pitches. That led to Swindell entering to face the lefties, and he got O’Neill to fan swinging before Martinez popped to his counterpart Coomer at first.
Since Swindell recorded the final two outs in the bottom of the eighth, his seat for the final three outs of the game was upgraded immensely, as he was planted squarely in the Twins dugout to see history unfold.
“With one out, I turned to a teammate — he’s a Hall of Famer, but I won’t name names — and asked him if he’d ever seen ‘one,’” Swindell said. “He said no, and I also hadn’t.”
“I asked him if he hoped Wells would get it,” Swindell continued. “He said yes, and in a weird way, I did too. Well, the rest is history, and it was a wild moment when the third out was made.”
As highlights roll from Don Larsen’s perfect game in the 1956 World Series, Wells delivers strike two to Shave as the camera pans into the Twins dugout, where Hawkins and friends have their hats on backward as a “rally cap” maneuver.
It didn’t work. The camera pans to Torre, and Kaat wonders aloud if he has ever sat in the same position — hands in his coat pockets — for an entire game.
Shave didn’t go down without a fight, as he forced Wells to throw seven pitches — including one 1-2 foul and another on 2-2 — before he lifted a fly to short right.
Valentin saw just four pitches before he struck out swinging on a curve in the dirt — he didn’t even try to take first — and it was absolute pandemonium in Gotham City.
As for Meares, he didn’t leave the fans waiting too long. After taking a first-pitch strike, he lifted a ball into the waiting glove of O’Neill, and Wells’ name was forever etched in baseball history as the 15th pitcher to throw a perfect game.
The 1998 season was one of wonder for the Yankees and for Wells. The Yankees won the World Series over the San Diego Padres — who actually held their 20-year National League Championship reunion last weekend at Petco Park — and Wells went on to go 18-4 with a 3.49 ERA and finish third in the Cy Young voting.
Wells was absolutely brilliant the rest of the way, posting a 2.93 ERA over his final 162.2 innings while actually allowing more home runs (19) than walks (15).
But that was it for Wells in a Yankees uniform — at least this time around. The next February, Wells was shipped to the Toronto Blue Jays in a four-player deal that netted the Yankees Roger Clemens. It was a deal Wells relived in disgust in his book, as he spends a significant amount of time in his book talking about how he wanted to be traded “anywhere but Toronto.”
After 1998, Wells went on to pitch nine more big-league seasons, finishing with 239 career wins.
Hawkins went on to be one of the more resilient pitchers in recent history, pitching well into his 40s while earning a tidy $47 million and change.
Not bad for a guy who woke up on the morning of his 30th birthday with a career ERA of 5.38.
Molitor chuckles when asked what he would have thought if someone told him that day that Hawkins, like Paul himself, would play into his 40s.
“No chance,” he says with a smile. “He had a good arm. He was a good athlete, a good person. He was mostly a starter when I was his teammate. Had trouble holding runners; there was a lot of things, he just didn’t throw it over enough as a young guy. Somehow, a lot of it through his character and his work, he leaned on some people who helped steer him, then he made the transition from a starter to a reliever, he just took and ran with it for a long time.”
Anyway, the rest of 1998 was great for Wells and the Yankees. Larsen called Wells in the clubhouse afterward to congratulate him, and Wells made the talk-show circuit afterward, including going on the Late Show with David Letterman the next day. He goes on with Regis and Kathie Lee, Conan O’Brien and even gets on with Howard Stern.
So why exactly was Wells in such tough shape that Sunday?
Would you believe that it was because he spent the night before at a raging party with the cast of Saturday Night Live?
That’s what Wells says in his book, as he’d become fast friends with the show’s creator Lorne Michaels. A week after the show wrapped up season 23, Wells gets a call and an invite to the party to blow off some steam after a tough year. Former cast members Chris Farley and Phil Hartman had passed away during the season, and Norm MacDonald had quit the show after a dust-up during his popular “Weekend Update” sketch.
Knowing full well that he had to pitch the next day — a day game, no less, he emphasizes — he declines the invite at first. But when producer Marci Klein returns his message, she drops a line about Dennis Rodman that gives Wells’ excuse a full-180.
“Dennis Rodman came to one of our cast parties about a year ago, and he had a fantastic time,” Klein said, as relayed by Wells in his book. “He danced, he ate, he drank and he ended up staying out with us until nine in the morning. At that point, he never went back to his hotel. He never went to bed. He just went straight uptown to Madison Square Garden, played a one o’clock game against the Knicks, and had himself the very best outing of his career. He scored like 30 points that day with a boatload of rebounds. I just thought you should know that.”
Rodman didn’t score 30 points in any game in New York City in the 1996-97 season. His highest-scoring game that year was 16 points on two occasions — in Milwaukee and in Cleveland.
Klein’s story was bullshit. It’s possible Wells’ was too — some details are…questionable.
But after Sunday, Klein had one she could tell about Wells that was true — an even better story.
(a very special thank you to Cory Engelhardt for transcription help and Ken Chia for research assistance)