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1998 Yankees Diary, April 12: Paul O’Neill powers team to first sweep

The Warrior clubbed four hits to secure the first of many sweeps for the 1998 Yankees.

Paul O’’Neill #21

After a horror start that saw the Yankees drop four of the first five games of the season, New York found themselves playing catchup out of the gate. However, with an offense as stacked as the one penciled into the lineup card every night, it was only a matter of time before the bats bashed their way out of the first week funk. It turns out all they needed was their first double-digit output in the scorebook in game six against the Mariners and the offense never looked back from there.

April 12: Yankees 7, Athletics 5 (box score)

Record: 6-4, .600 (2.5 GB)

Ramiro Mendoza took the ball for his second start after keeping the Yankees in the game just long enough for them to nab their first victory of the season. Facing the same opposing starting pitcher — Mike Oquist — as in the first game, Mendoza fared no better this time around, surrendering five runs on seven hits in 5.2 innings. In fact, both starters were just as ineffective as in that previous contest, the game again being decided by New York’s superior bullpen.

Despite neither team scoring through the first two frames, it was immediately apparent that neither starting pitcher had it out of the gate, and it was only a matter of time before the dam would break. That moment came in the top of the third, with Mendoza surrendering a leadoff single to Rafael Bournigal followed by a Rickey Henderson double to put runners on second and third for Jason McDonald with no outs. The center fielder tapped a weak dribbler to first to plate the game’s first run, immediately followed by a Ben Grieve single to score Henderson, giving the A’s an early 2-0 lead.

New York cut that deficit to 2-1 in the fourth on a Chad Curtis RBI single after Tino Martinez walked and Strawberry singled with one out. An inning later, Martinez grabbed the Yankees’ first lead of the game with a two-run double to right to score Paul O’Neill and Bernie Williams after they reached with back-to-back singles — all of this occurring with two outs.

That lead would not survive for long with Oakland doing the brunt of their damage in the top of the sixth. Matt Stairs doubled to right with one out and was driven home on a Dave Magadan two-out double. Perhaps shaken by what had just transpired, what was left of Mendoza’s command unraveled as he issued an intentional walk to Scott Spiezio, hit Mike Macfarlane, and surrendered a bases-loaded free pass to Bournigal to walk in a run, flip the Oakland lineup to the top of the order, and knock himself from the game as Joe Torre turned to Mike Buddie to pick up the pieces. He promptly chucked a wild pitch to Rickey, plating the A’s third run of the inning.

The Yankees’ offense however was not fazed and instantly responded in the bottom-half. Curtis drew a leadoff walk to knock Oquist from the contest. Enter LOOGY Buddy Groom to get one out and dip, though I’m certain the Bombers hitters were ecstatic to see T.J. Matthews follow him from the bullpen. He was largely responsible for Oakland’s loss in that aforementioned April 5th game and things did not improve a week later.

After inducing a Scott Brosius fly ball for the second out of the inning, he hit Chuck Knoblauch and served up a single to Derek Jeter to load the bases for O’Neill. Paul laced a single directly off Matthews’ shin to plate Curtis. In visible discomfort, Matthews was unable to finish the contest, and his replacement Jim Dougherty conceded the decisive blow of the contest — a Williams single up the middle to plate Knoblauch and Jeter. In addition to giving the Yankees the lead, this inning was notable in that five different A’s pitchers appeared in the frame.

The Yankees picked up an insurance run in the form of a Strawberry home run to lead off the bottom of the seventh. A scoreless seventh and eighth from Graeme Lloyd and a clean ninth from Mike Stanton wrapped up this back-and-forth victory for the Yankees, 7-5. It would be the last home game at Yankee Stadium until the end of April, as the team had to play at Shea after a beam collapsed from the upper deck onto the seats down the left field line not long after this win over the A’s. More on that later.