IIATMS Top Moments #9: The Tino Martinez Grand Slam

By the start of the 1998 World Series, the animus of New York Yankee fans to Tino Martinez for replacing Don Mattingly was long gone. A title in 1996 and Martinez's second place finish for the AL MVP in 1997 had pretty much taken care of those things. The only real problem remaining for Yankee fans was that Tino Martinez had not come through in the post season. And he was hearing about it. It did not help that he had just come off of a tough two for nineteen 1998 ALCS against the Indians with a 30% strikeout rate. That dismal series for the Yankee first baseman brought his accumulative triple slash line of .188/.292/.291 to his Yankee post season resume. The .291 slugging percentage was particularly galling considering the 97 homers Martinez had hit for the Yankees during the last three regular seasons.

A lot of great hitters have bad post season performances. Mike Trout is the latest. People often forget the randomness of post season numbers on top of the fact that nearly all teams make it to the post season because they have great pitching. But in New York, everything gets amplified and it did not matter that the Yankees were the best team of 1998 and had gotten to the World Series with relative ease. The question was why Tino Martinez and his bat were so silent.

The fact that Tino Martinez was a Yankee at all was one of the best trades in pinstripe history this side of Roger Maris. After Mattingly retired following the 1995 season, the Yankees acquired Martinez, bullpen stalwart, Jeff Nelson, and Jim Mecir in a lopsided deal that sent Sterling Hitchcock and Russ Davis to the Mariners. I would say the deal evened the score from the Jay Buhner deal. But, man, where was Martinez in the post season?

That was the history going into the first game of the 1998 World Series against the San Diego Padres who had won 98 games themselves in 1998. The Yankees were heavy favorites after winning 114 games in the regular season with the best offense, pitching and defense in baseball. The Padres were seen as a Cinderella team without a great offense, pitching or defense. Even so, they had dispatched of the Astros and Braves to get to the big show. And it looked like their charm would continue in the first game hosted by the Yankees at Yankee Stadium.

David Wells got the start for the Yankees and Kevin Brown started for the Padres. Wells was a good luck charm for the Yankees and was 6-0 in post season play while in pinstripes to that point. But he wasn't good in this game.

Wells was staked to a 2-0 lead as Ricky Ledee drove in two runs with a double in the bottom of the second. Wells gave the two runs back in the next half inning as he gave up a two-run bomb to Greg Vaughn. Tony Gwynn then hit the facade in right for a two-run homer two innings later and Vaughn followed with his second homer of the game. The Yankees were down 5-2 and Brown was pitching well.

The score remained the same until the bottom of the seventh. Brown must have run out of gas because he gave up a one-out single to Jorge Posada and then walked Ledee. Bruce Bochy had seen enough and came out to get Brown. Bochy's decisions for his two pitching changes that inning have been debated ever since.

First, Bochy brought in Donne Wall. It is hard to argue that move since Wall had a good season. Dan Miceli had better stuff though. Either way, the Padres still had an 86% expectation to win the game. They didn't.

Wall got behind Chuck Knoblauch, 2-0 and Knoblauch tied the game up with a three-run homer to left. Wall then gave up a single to Derek Jeter and Bochy had seen enough of Wall too. Who did Bochy bring into the game? He brought in the 37-year-old and quite toasted Mark Langston.

Langston had a pretty good career, but his ERA was close to six in 1998 and he looked done. So why did Bochy bring Langston in? He was left-handed and Paul O'Neill was the next batter. The big weakness with the Padres is that they did not have a lefty in the bullpen.

When Langston retired O'Neill for the second out, perhaps it could have worked. But instead, Langston stayed in to pitch to Bernie Williams. Jeter took second on a wild pitch and then Bochy intentionally walked Williams. With two out? Seriously!? That move backfired when Langston then walked Chili Davis to load the bases.

Bochy chose the lefty / lefty match-up and stayed with Langston to pitch to Tino Martinez. But here is the catch: Langston had an OPS against lefties that season over one. In other words, he could not get them out. Langston didn't get Tino Martinez out either. Martinez worked a full count against Langston and then this happened:

It is not (in hindsight) a coincidence that Martinez recently had his number retired by the Yankees. Despite only playing seven seasons for the Bombers, he took over for a legend and had six of the best years of his career during the championship run and handled New York and its critics with grace.

The Tino Martinez grand slam put an end to all those questions about him and the post season and it completely broke the back of the Padres who never did win a game in that World Series. Martinez had two productive post seasons in 1999 and 2000 and wound up with a plaque. And it started with Top Moment #9 on October 17, 1998.