Updated: Jun 25, 2021
The 1998 New York Yankees were one of the best teams ever. There's no other way to put it. They won 114 games and went 11-2 in the postseason en route to a sweep of the San Diego Padres in the World Series, winning the division by 22 games. They scored 10 or more runs in a game 27 times.
Some of those 114 wins came against the Oakland Athletics. The Athletics were six seasons removed from their last postseason appearance and two away from their next, sitting in that weird middle-of-the-pack era where they were not good enough to be contenders but also not bad enough to be considered "rebuilding" that most teams go through. They finished with a 74-88 record, and one of those games was one of the worst of the 20th century and still stands as the worst since 1940.
In my lifetime, I've witnessed some pretty bad starts in terms of game score. Jeremy Guthrie had a very unhappy birthday on April 8, 2017, allowing 10 runs, all earned against the Philadelphia Phillies in 0.2 innings and finishing with a 135.00 ERA and -4 Game Score. The worst start of 2021 belongs to Alec Bettinger, who finished with a -6 Game Score for the Milwaukee Brewers as he allowed 11 runs on 11 hits in 4 innings.
This game outranks both of those, however. In 1998, Mike Oquist had to face the buzzsaw of the New York Yankees' lineup and re-defined the term "wearing one", as this start is the poster child for that term. Any time you think a pitcher had a bad start, it will never be as bad as this one.
THE LONGEST LEASH EVER?
The New York Yankees traveled to Oakland on August 3 where an initial three-game series was stretched to four with a day-night doubleheader pitted for the next day after one game was wiped out from their early-April series due to rain. Starter Mike Oquist had a long leash before this game, so he was in for the long haul as Art Howe hoped to save his bullpen for the doubleheader against a potent offensive lineup. They used four relievers in their prior game against the Indians, so they were hoping Oquist could give them at least six innings that night.
Well, he almost did and in the most painful way possible.
Orlando Hernandez was his opponent on the mound and had a great start, but we're focusing on Mike Oquist here. Let's start in the first inning, as all games should.
Chuck Knoblauch, who was 2-for-his-last-21 coming into this game, led off with a double and Derek Jeter followed suit to drive him in. Oquist got three outs after that and got out of the first inning relatively unscathed, just allowing the run on two hits.
The A's went down quietly in their half of the inning, and things started to explode on Oquist. Here is how the first eight batters of the second inning went:
Chad Curtis: Single
Jorge Posada: Walk
Scott Brosius: Single, 1 RBI
Chuck Knoblauch: Three-run home run
Derek Jeter: Single
Paul O'Neill: Two-run home run
Bernie Williams: Double
Tino Martinez: Single, 1 RBI
Finally, Oquist got Darryl Strawberry to strike out and retired Curtis and Posada to mercifully put the inning to bed. All in all, eight runs came across on seven hits and put the A's in an eight-run hole. Luckily, Matt Stairs blasted a home run to get them closer.
Normally, after an inning like that, the pitcher is done. Unfortunately for Mike Oquist, he remained in the game and had to continue to mettle through a potent Yankees lineup.
Chuck Knoblauch hit his second home run of the game onto the BBQ Terrace in left, and after another run was chased in, Darryl Strawberry checked in with a mammoth home run to the stands in left-center, pouring the salt into the wound. The Yankees led 13-1 after three, and by the fourth inning, every Yankees starter had a hit. Some in the fans were waving surrender flags, and Oquist held his head in his hands in the dugout as Art Howe comforted him and thanked him for wearing it.
Oquist stayed in the game for the fourth, and surprisingly, got three outs with just one hit! No runs came across. In his fifth and final inning, the only run was on a double play, and that was FINALLY the end of the rope for Mike Oquist. To make things worse, the relievers brought in allowed a single hit and no runs for the remainder of the game, it was all squarely on Oquist.
Oquist's final line was UGLY. He allowed 14 earned runs on 16 hits, walked three and struck out three in five innings of work. He finished with a game score of -21, which was the lowest since Hod Lisenbee in 1936 finished with a -35 game score. No one has passed this mark or come much closer since.
It is by far one of the worst starts of the 20th century. How Oquist was allowed to continue in this game was a mystery to me at first, but when I found out it was a doubleheader, I understood. No one should ever have to go through that, as Oquist was already having a tough season before, and didn't pitch much better after that game, having a 5.08 ERA for the rest of 1998.
For one start in his career, Mike Oquist became the definition of the word "trooper" and re-defined the term "wearing one". We may never see a start like this happen again, so it's good to reminisce on this one and some of the truly bad starts in history, but I'm not sure many will top this game.