The Kingdome had been a bit of a house of horrors for the mid-to-late ‘90s Yankees. They quite notably lost the 1995 American League Division series there in heartbreaking fashion with three crushing losses in a row. It probably wasn’t a welcome sight on the schedule after the Yankees started the 1998 season 1-3 against the Angels and Athletics.
While the Yankees dropped the opener, they bounced back in the second game, setting up a rubber match in the series finale. In it, the Yankees would pick up a series win, getting back within a game of .500 and truly starting their ascent to the top.
April 8: Yankees 4, Mariners 3 (box score)
Record: 3-4, .429 (3 GB)
The series finale in Seattle would see the 1998 season debut of pitcher Hideki Irabu. After a well-publicized move from NPB to the Yankees ahead of the ‘97 campaign, he had high expectations given his success there and recent “Nomomania” in Los Angeles. But Irabu struggled in his rookie season in MLB, putting up an ERA over seven. It seemed like similar things might be on the horizon in ‘98 when he let the Mariners’ leadoff hitter, Joey Cora, single to start the game, ahead of a powerful Seattle middle order. However, Irabu — also nursing a bit of a sore elbow — managed to work around it, retiring both Alex Rodriguez and Ken Griffey Jr.
After that, Irabu would have to work in and out of trouble a couple times. He hadn’t managed to get any pitch other than his fastball across for a strike until the fourth inning. That would be the inning when Seattle finally got to him. With David Segui on after a triple, an Irabu wild pitch allowed him to scoot home and give the Mariners the lead.
The Yankees answered right back in the top of the fifth. With Darryl Strawberry on third after a leadoff double and a wild pitch, Jorge Posada singled him home, evening things up against Mariners’ starter Ken Cloude.
Irabu would get through the fifth inning, which would be the end of his day. He was — as they say — effectively wild for the day. While his fastball was the only thing that was working on the day, he used it to strike out seven batters in five innings, allowing just the one run.
After Mike Buddie replaced Irabu and threw a scoreless sixth, the Yankees took the lead in the top of the seventh. While the first two hitters went down in order, Derek Jeter kept the frame alive with a double. Seattle then went to their bullpen and brought in Tony Fossas to replace Cloude. He couldn’t finish off the inning either, walking Paul O’Neill to bring Bernie Williams to the plate. He dropped in a single, scoring Jeter to give the Yankees the lead.
Said lead didn’t last particularly long, however. Buddie came back out for the bottom of the seventh, but he gave up a homer to former Yankees prospect Russ Davis in the first at-bat of the frame.
When the game moved to the eighth, the momentum swings kept on coming. A pinch-hitting Tim Raines began the inning for the Yankees by drawing a walk. Chad Curtis immediately followed that with a two-run homer, giving the Bombers the lead once again.
Meanwhile, the Yankees’ bullpen was dealing with some issues. While he was still early in his closing career and not close to cementing his status as the best ever, Mariano Rivera had already put in a couple impressive seasons out of the ‘pen. However, he was not available for the late innings of this game, having recently hit the injured list with a groin strain. The Yankees had to rely on the rest of their bullpen, and turned to Jeff Nelson for the eighth. He got two outs either side of a Segui single, and at that point Joe Torre brought in Mike Stanton. While he issued a walk, he also got the third out to send the game to the ninth.
The Yankees couldn’t add to their lead in the top of the ninth, and Stanton would come back out for a four-out save in the bottom of the inning. Things immediately got iffy when Davis led off the inning with his second home run of the game. That got Seattle with a run and brought their dangerous top half of the order to the plate with still three outs to get.
Right after that, things only got worse. Cora and Rodriguez both picked up singles, putting the winning run on base with Griffey and Edgar Martinez due up, who — as you may recall — played roles in the way the ‘95 ALDS ended. Torre stuck with Stanton, who got a big out when Griffey popped up to left. That still left the ever-dangerous Martinez, who finished his career with a .965 OPS against the Yankees.
However, Martinez grounded one towards Jeter, who quickly flipped it over to Chuck Knoblauch at second for an out. Knowing Rodriguez was bearing in to second to try and break up the play, Knoblauch quickly fired off a throw to first. The ball took a bit of an iffy hop, but Tino Martinez somehow managed to stick out his glove and snag it, completing the double play, ending the jam, and giving the Yankees a big win.
The win gave the Yankees a series victory in Seattle. It would also turn one victory into a streak, more on which is coming over the next couple days.