August 3, 1998

The game featured a pitching match-up of Orlando Hernandez and Mike Oquist. Hernandez was in the middle of a run that would make him the toast of New York. The Yankees had signed the recent 32 year old Cuban defector back in March and Hernandez entered this contest with a record of 5-3. He would only lose one more game the rest of the season. Mike Oquist was heading in a different direction. Oquest was a 32nd round draft choice of the Orioles way back in 1989 and beat the odds to pitch in the majors beginning with the Orioles in 1993 and later with Oakland starting in 1997. Oquist entered this contest having coughed up six runs a piece to the Red Sox and Blue Jays in his previous two starts.

The temperature was a warm 87 degrees with a light breeze.  Tim Tschida was the umpire behind the plate and a little more than 18,000 fans showed up to watch the contest. As the visitors, the Yankees had first ups and immediately scored on Oquist. Chuck Knoblauch led off the game with a line-drive double to the gap in left and Derek Jeter followed that up with a double of his own to the right field gap. But Paul O’Neill popped out, Bernie Williams grounded out and after a walk to Tino Martinez, Darryl Strawberry struck out swinging.

Orlando Hernandez induced three straight ground outs to start the game and set the A’s down in order in the first. And then the Yankees exploded. Chad Curtis singled and stole second. Jorge Posada, batting eighth in the order, walked. Scott Brosius hit a tough grounder to Miguel Tejada at short. Tejada could not get Brosius at first but threw anyway and it was wild allowing Curtis to score. Chuck Knoblauch then hit a bomb to right center for a three-run homer. Derek Jeter singled. Paul O’Neill homered to the left field line for two more runs. Bernie Williams doubled and Tino Martinez singled to drive Williams home. Seven runs were already in for the inning without Oquist recording an out. Mercifully, the Yankees were done for the inning as Strawberry again struck out swinging, Curtis flew out and Posada lined out.

In the bottom of the second, Matt Stairs led off the inning with a big homer to right field. That must have gotten Hernandez mad because he then struck out the side.

With eight runs already on the board for the Yankees, you would expect Art Howe to replace poor Oquist with someone else. But no, Oquist came out to start the third. It was more of the same. Scott Brosius led off the third with a single. Then Chuck Knoblauch hit his second straight homer to score himself and Brosius. Derek Jeter flew out but Paul O’Neill singled and went to second on a weak grounder from Bernie Williams. Tino Martinez hit a single to score O’Neill and then Darryl Strawberry got a hold of one and hit a two-run homer. The Yankees had a 13-1 lead after three innings.

Oquist had faced a total of twenty batters in the second and third innings combined and twelve of them scored. All of the runs were earned.

Orlando Hernandez worked around a walk in the bottom of the third and Mike Oquist came out for the fourth. It must have been one of those “take-one-for-the-team” sort of things because it seemed cruel to keep him in there. And sure enough, Jorge Posada started the fourth with a single. The mercy rule must have been in play because Scott Brosius hit into a double play and Knoblauch grounded out to end the inning.

Oquist would not be so lucky in the fifth. Jeter started the inning with a walk and Luis Sojo pinch ran for him. Paul O’Neill singled and Sojo ran to third. Bernie Williams grounded into a double play and Oquists fourteenth earned run scored on the play and got out of the inning without further damage. Oquist would not pitch the sixth and both teams made wholesale lineup changes and the final score was 14-1. Hernandez pitched a complete game and only allowed three hits and the one run for his sixth victory.

Oquist lost his fourth straight game. He would lose one more to make it five in a row. In three of the last four losses, he gave up six runs and in this game on August 3, 1998, he gave up fourteen. His final line was five innings, sixteen hits, fourteen earned runs, three walks, three strikeouts and four homers. He recorded only five swings and misses his entire five innings and we know that Strawberry accounted for at least two of those. Oquist’s ERA rose eighty points from the one start.

Here is the historic part: Oquist’s start accounted for a game score of -21! It was the lowest game score since 1940 when Chubby Dean gave up fourteen earned runs and seventeen total runs in eight innings. And nobody has pitched to such a low game score since that fateful day. The closest to him since that time happened in the same year when Scott Sanders of the Tigers pitched to a -15 game score against the Rangers on April 14, 1998. Based on the game score statistic, Mike Oquist–fourteen years ago today–had the worst start of any pitcher since 1940 and no one has come close to matching it since. Oquist would finish the season with a 7-11 record and an ERA of 6.22 and a rWAR of -0.2. He would pitch another year with the A’s before falling out of baseball.

The 1998 Yankees, of course, went on to one of the greatest seasons in history with 114 regular season wins along with an 11-2 romp through the post season. Despite the season they had, the team did not have any Silver Slugger Awards, no MVP, no Cy Young Award winner and Mariano Rivera did not even win the Fireman of the Year Award. Joe Torre did win Manager of the Year. Along the way to their crown, they destroyed a pitcher named Mike Oquist and helped him record one of the ugliest game scores of all time.

8 thoughts on “August 3, 1998

  1. As soon as I read August 1998, I remembered a game that series where the Yankees had a huge 9th inning to win, and sure enough take a look at this box score.
    http://www.baseball-reference.com/boxes/OAK/OAK19

    Poor Kenny Rogers comes out, shuts down the best team in baseball (and ever) and then the Yankees put up a 9 spot in the 9th. I will always remember that grand slam from Daryl.

    • Great add to the story. I saw that the Yankees scored ten runs in each of the following games that series, but did not investigate the details. They must have gotten tired because they lost the fourth game of the series, 3-1.

      • ProfRobert

        The Yankees and A's played some wild games that year. Opening Day at the Stadium resulted in the most runs scored by two teams in Stadium history.

  2. David

    I remember both of these games; it was my first year back from college and working, so the first chance for me to get used to the "normal grind schedule" — work, home, eat, futz about, watch TV and then fall asleep with the 10:15 game on the West Coast! (though the 4th game was a part of a double-header, right?)

  3. Frank S.

    Great piece. I love your historical stuff, William. You paint a great picture with words.

  4. These sorts of pieces, plus the retrospectives, have become among my most favorite things to read. Truly a trip on the way-back machine.

    1998, living in NYC… good times.

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