For all the glory that the Yankees’ 1998 season generated, many forget its inauspicious start. They dropped the first three games of the campaign, the offense appearing to have left their collective bats behind in Tampa, managing just six runs in those contests. Apparently, Jorge Posada had had enough, his three-hit night propelling the Yankees to their first victory of the year to split a quick-fire series at the Coliseum.
April 5: Yankees 9, Athletics 7 (box score)
Record: 1-3, .250 (3 GB)
Frequent swingman Ramiro Mendoza got the start for New York against Mike Oquist, and neither starter (nor bullpen for that matter) looked sharp. The Yankees opened the scoring in the first on a Bernie Williams RBI groundout after Chuck Knoblauch walked to lead off, a fielder’s choice to put Derek Jeter on, and a Paul O’Neill single to advance him to third.
In the bottom half, Oakland responded with three straight singles to open the frame, the final one plating Rickey Henderson to level the scores. They grabbed their first lead a batter later when Matt Stairs grounded into a run-scoring double play. The following two innings were quiet, but the A’s extended that lead to 3-1 in the bottom of the fourth on a Jason Giambi sac fly after Stairs led off with a triple.
Matching the A’s feat from the bottom of the first, Tim Raines, Posada, and Scott Brosius led off the fifth with three straight singles to load the bases for Knoblauch, who like Stairs grounded into a run-scoring double play. They would again load the bases in the sixth on a Williams single that knocked Oquist from the contest, Tino Martinez double, and Chad Curtis walk. A’s reliever Buddy Groom appeared to be out of the inning, inducing a two-out ground ball from Posada, but Mike Blowers booted it allowing Williams to score to knot the scores at three apiece.
By my count, that’s five of the six runs scored via a pair of double plays, a sac fly, an RBI groundout, and an error. If they were playing any smaller ball it would’ve been golf.
Mendoza completed the fifth and six innings in short order and with his pitch count under 90, it was likely a no-brainer in 1998 to send him back out for the seventh. We know now how punishing the third-time-through penalty can be, and indeed he allowed a pair of runners to reach before being pulled for Mike Stanton, who promptly served up an RBI single to Jason McDonald, allowing Oakland to retake the lead, 4-3.
With both teams having gone to their bullpens, the offenses could really kick into gear. Posada retook the lead for the Yankees with a two-run blast in the eighth after Raines led off with a walk. In the bottom half, it was clear Stanton’s command would not arrive, issuing a pair of one-out walks to prompt Joe Torre to turn to Mariano Rivera to convert the five-out save. Those hopes would prove short-lived, as he converted just one out before surrendering the game-tying single.
The offense picked their closer up in the ninth, with Curtis lining a two-run wall-scraper to right following a Martinez two-out walk, and all of a sudden the Sandman found himself with a two-run lead to protect.
Fate had other plans. He induced a pair of groundball outs to start the bottom of the ninth, but was forced to exit with a groin injury that would land him on the then-DL for two weeks. Enter Graeme Lloyd, who walked Stairs to set up the game-tying two-run bomb from Giambi to send this game to extra innings.
However, the Yankees showed no interest in a long drawn out affair. Posada led off with a single and advanced to third on a Brosius double. A Knoblauch sac fly snatched the lead back before Jeter provided the dagger with an RBI single on the ground through the left side. Jeff Nelson pitched the tenth to wrap up the first of many Yankees victories, 9-7.