Fresh off their winning streak getting snapped by the Detroit Tigers, the New York Yankees grabbed their passports and headed north of the border to kick off a three-game set with the Toronto Blue Jays. For the second straight day, a pitcher’s duel erupted, as starters David Wells and Woody Williams locked down both lineups and forced the game into extras.
April 20: Yankees 3, Blue Jays 2 (box score)
Record: 10-5, .667 (0.5 GB)
Less than a month from April 20th, David Wells would enter baseball immortality, spinning a perfect game on a Sunday afternoon in the Bronx. On this day, the lefty known as Boomer may have been less than perfect, but he was still good. Facing the team that drafted him in the second round 16 years prior, Wells mowed down the Blue Jays lineup for the first five innings, allowing just five baserunners on three hits and two walks while striking out three.
In the sixth inning, however, Toronto’s hitters began to wear down the 34-year-old. The No. 9 hitter, Kevin Brown (the catcher, not the future Yankees pitcher), led off the inning with a double. Shannon Stewart followed that up by lining a single into center field to put runners on the corner with nobody out, and Alex Gonzalez doubled them both in to give the Blue Jays a 2-0 lead. Wells was able to work out of trouble after that, getting Shawn Green to ground out and then inducing a 6-4-3 double play after Jose Canseco walked, but the damage was done.
For much of the game, it looked like those two runs would be more than enough. The Yankees lineup could get nothing going off of Blue Jays starter Woody Williams, as they spent the entire evening hitting pop flies and lazy fly balls for outs: out of the 31 batters Williams faced, 16 — slightly more than half! — recorded either a fly out or a pop out. Out of the remainder, four recorded hits, four walked, two struck out, and the rest grounded out. In all, that added up to 6.2 scoreless innings, as Dan Plesac came on with runners on second and third with two out in the seventh to retire Paul O’Neill.
And there it appeared that things would stay. Both bullpens kept the game exactly where it was, and in the top of the ninth, Toronto handed the ball off to closer Randy Myers, a veteran with 319 career saves to his name and who had come in fourth in both the AL Cy Young and MVP races despite being a reliever the previous season. 1998 would be his final season, however, and this game was the first sign that his career was at its end. Chad Curtis led off the inning with an infield single, coming around to score on a Jorge Posada double. Homer Bush, pinch-running for Posada, advanced to third on a Scott Brosius single, before scoring on a fielder’s choice off the bat of Chuck Knoblauch to knot the game up at two.
The Toronto Blue Jays threatened in the bottom of the ninth, ultimately loading the bases off Jeff Nelson courtesy of the pitcher’s wildness (two hit batters plus an intentional walk), but in the end, he got Alex Gonzalez to strikeout swinging to send the game into extras.
Both teams would waste great opportunities in the tenth, failing to score despite leadoff doubles. The Yankees were simply unable to bring Tino Martinez around with a pair of weak groundballs and a pop fly, and while the Blue Jays were able to get Shawn Green to third with only one down, he would get himself into a rundown on a groundball to short. Once Juan Samuel (pinch-running for Mike Stanley) reached third with two away (Stanley had advanced to second when Green got in the rundown, plus a wild pitch), the Yankees intentionally walked the next two batters to gain the force at any base before Tony Fernandez lined out to leave the bases loaded for the second straight inning.
The Yanks would go on to break the tie in the 11th. Chuck Knoblauch knocked a two-out triple against Bill Risley, then scored when Tony Fernandez misplayed a routine ground ball to second that would have ended the inning 99.99999% of the time. With Mariano Rivera still on the shelf with a groin strain, Mike Stanton did his best Mo impression and slammed the door in the bottom of the 11th for his fourth save of the season.