It’s now mid-April, 1998, and the Yankees are starting to get hot. They stumbled just out of the gates, and a scary situation involving falling concrete at Yankee Stadium threatened to slow them, but no matter. The ‘98 Yankees were finding their groove, and they opened up a series with the Tigers—one originally scheduled for the Bronx—in style.
The Yankees sent Andy Pettitte to the mound in Detroit at old Tiger Stadium, and before the left-hander had even toed the rubber, New York was well on its way to its seventh-straight victory.
April 17: Yankees 11, Tigers 2 (box score)
Record: 8-4, .667 (2.5 GB)
Facing Pettitte was fellow southpaw Justin Thompson. The young starter would go on to have an outstanding season with Detroit, running a 152 ERA+ over 223 innings, posting nearly 8 WAR per Baseball Reference, and making the lone All-Star appearance of his career. But the Yankees would ensure that today would be his worst outing of the season.
It was all Yankees from the word “Go”. Thompson walked Chuck Knoblauch to lead off the game, and Derek Jeter followed with a single. Tim Raines singled home a run to quickly put the Bombers up 1-0. Bernie Williams walked to load the bases, still with none out.
Tino Martinez stepped to the plate and sent one into the upper deck to put the Yankees up 5-0 before the home fans had even settled into their seats:
That would be more than enough for Pettitte. The lefty didn’t have his best start, issuing six walks to go along with six hits. But Pettitte scattered all those baserunners, holding Detroit scoreless through the first six frames. It took the Tigers until the seventh to make Pettitte pay for all the traffic on the bases, when Bobby Higginson doubled home two and finally chased Pettitte from the game in favor of Darren Holmes.
But the game was already well in hand by that point. Thompson settled down a little bit after the Martinez grand slam, but he came undone again in the fourth. A walk and an error put two on for Jeter, who essentially ended the competitive portion of the game:
Jeter’s blast put the Yankees up 8-0, and marked something of a turning point for the young shortstop in 1998. He’d really struggled up until now, entering the game with a .535 OPS on the season, with this dinger marking his first of the year. From this game on, Jeter would slash .334/.393/.498, setting career highs to that point in every major offensive category in what would stand as one of the finest seasons of his decorated career.
Shane Spencer added a run on a sac fly in the fifth, and Jorge Posada and Roberto Duran chipped in RBI singles in the seventh, giving a Pettitte an 11-0 lead by the time he went back out for his final inning of work. Holmes did fine work in relief of Pettitte, navigating 2.1 scoreless to bring the game to its conclusion at a score of 11-2.
The Yankees were 8-4, though still 2.5 back of a red-hot Red Sox club. The wheels were turning, though, and we will see many games like this one in the coming months.