Twenty-five years ago today, the Yankees opened up a three-game weekend set with the Tigers, five days after Detroit had scuttled New York’s first winning streak of 1998. No matter, as the Yankees promptly traveled to Toronto and swept away the Blue Jays, ensuring they’d carry another streak into this series.
More than just continuing their winning ways, the top priority entering this game was getting ace right-hander David Cone rolling. The veteran had run a spectacular 164 ERA+ over his last two seasons as a Yankee, but had started out ‘98 miserably, yielding seven runs over 5.1 innings in Oakland on April 4, and then getting smashed by the A’s for nine runs in 4.1 innings in the Bombers’ wild home opener. Cone took a step in the right direction in his third start, yet still needed 111 pitches to labor through 5.2 innings in Detroit, allowing seven hits but just two runs. At the time, it would’ve been reasonable to fear that the 35-year-old was beginning to show his age.
At last, though, today would be the day that Cone started to look like himself, and the Yankees kept their latest winning streak going. It was their first game in the Bronx since structural damage at Yankee Stadium forced them on the road for over a week and a half, and owner George Steinbrenner was not only in attendance, but in the stadium section where the beam had fallen 11 days prior.
April 24: Yankees 8, Tigers 4 (box score)
Record: 13-5, .722 (0.5 GB)
Cone worked around a two-out walk in the top of the first, giving the Yankee offense a quick chance to take the lead, and they obliged. In fact, the Yankees’ first-inning dominance will be a theme of this entire series; while the league as a whole always hits well in the first inning, with 1998 bringing a .770 OPS leaguewide, the Yankees were one of the best first-inning teams in the game, posting a gaudy .892 OPS with a .314/.388/.503 slash line.
In this particular opening frame, the Yankees did all their damage with two outs against Greg Keagle. With Derek Jeter on second, Tino Martinez doubled home the game’s first run, and Bernie Williams brought home Tino with an RBI single. Not satisfied there, Darryl Strawberry followed with a mammoth shot into the upper deck, putting Keagle and the Tigers in an immediate 4-0 hole:
Cone was mostly in cruise control from there, managing 1-2-3 innings in both the second and third. His only trouble came in the fourth, when Joe Randa and Bobby Higginson reached with none out. Cone allowed both to score on run-scoring outs, accounting for all the runs he would allow on the day.
Cone wouldn’t allow another baserunner until seventh, when Luis Gonzalez singled and Damion Easley walked with one out. Joe Torre had a quicker hook here than I would’ve typically expected in a 1998 contest, removing Cone from this two-on one-out jam despite having only thrown 83 pitches. It was a move ahead of its time, and it seemed prescient as reliever Mike Stanton came on to extinguish the threat with a double play ball. Cone’s line was preserved at 6.1 innings, three hits, two runs, and four strikeouts, his best start of the young season.
The Yankees would head to the bottom of the seventh ahead 5-2, and would acquire some insurance from there. Chad Curtis walked with the bases loaded, Tim Raines knocked one in with a sac fly, and Scott Brosius singled home a third run for an 8-2 advantage. It all added up to a very egalitarian offensive effort, with the six different players contributing one or two RBI to the Yankees’ overall eight-run output.
The insurance runs would come in handy, as Stanton yielded a two-run double to Higginson in the eighth to make it 8-4. Torre decided not to play any games, and simply brought in Mariano Rivera to preserve the four-run lead. It was Rivera’s first appearance in nearly three weeks, as he’d spent some time down with a groin injury. Rivera navigated the ninth, and the Yankees had their fourth consecutive victory.