On This Date, May 17, 1998: David Wells Pitches Perfect Game

John Healy
May 17, 2020 - 9:52 am

The 1998 Yankees were a special team: They bludgeoned opponents, outscoring them by 309 runs, and won a major-league record 125 total games (114 in the regular season), en route to their 24th World Series title in franchise history.

Future Hall of Famers Mariano Rivera and Derek Jeter graced the field, Orlando ‘El Duque’ Hernandez burst onto the scene and Shane Spencer’s September to remember was the cherry on top of a memorable regular season.

But perhaps the most memorable moment of that season came on May 17, 1998 when David Wells took the mound against the Minnesota Twins for a Sunday matinee at a sold out Yankee Stadium on 'Beanie Baby Day.'

At that point, Don Larsen was the only Yankees pitcher to ever throw a perfect game, but that would soon change.

Wells, then a 35-year-old southpaw, started the 1998 season inconsistent, entering the game with a 4-1 record but 5.23 ERA. He had just come off a strong two-run, eight-inning performance against the Royals, but was lit up for seven runs in 2.2 innings against the Rangers the start prior.

We’ve all heard the stories of what Wells was doing the night before his perfect game, but he took the mound unfazed.

After six quick outs through the first two innings, Wells appeared to get stronger as the game progressed, striking out the side in the third inning.

He was spotted a 1-0 lead in the second inning when Bernie Williams scored on a wild pitch, and the centerfielder extended that lead to 2-0 in the fourth with a solo home run to right.

Through six innings, Wells had not allowed a baserunner and struck out nine Twins.  

The Yankees tacked on two more runs in the seventh inning, as the stadium’s energy was all on Wells.

With two outs and future Hall of Famer Paul Molitor at the plate, Wells fell behind 3-1, before working back to strike him out and end the inning.

With five outs to go in the eighth inning, Ron Coomer hit a sharp grounder to second baseman Chuck Knoblauch – who had experienced some fielding woes that season – but he made a quick stab at the ball to secure it and safely made the throw to first for the out.

In the ninth, Wells got Jon Shave to hit a weak fly ball into right field for the first out. Javier Valentin next stepped into thebox and Wells got him to chase a curveball in the dirt for his 11th strikeout of the game.

Finally, Wells got Pat Meares to pop an 0-1 pitch down the rightfield line. Paul O’Neil chased it down, camped under it and made the catch for the final out.

“Twenty-seven up, 27 down! Baseball immortality!” was the call of Yankees radio voice John Sterling.

Of all the remarkable things that happened with the Yankees that season, Wells’ perfect game remains a moment no fan of any age forgets.