As May of 1998 rolled around, it was clear that these weren’t your garden variety Yankees. They were already the authors of multiple six-game or better winning streaks and found themselves in the midst of a highly successful road trip. They had swept the first two series against the Royals and Rangers with only a loss in the previous night’s contest against the Twins ensuring they would not make it three on the trot. A series win was still up for grabs, however, and Ramiro Mendoza looked like a man on a mission to secure it.
May 10: Yankees 7, Royals 0 (box score)
Record: 24-7, .774 (up 2.0)
Mendoza was undoubtedly one of the unsung heroes of the 1998 season. Operating effectively as the team’s sixth starter, he was one of the glue guys who didn’t steal the headlines, yet quietly contributed to his team winning far more games than they dropped. On this particular day, however, El Brujo was front and center turning in one of the most dominant pitching performances of his career to that point and in the years to follow.
He retired the side in order in the first and second innings, running into the first of two tricky spots in the third. Terry Steinbach led off with a double after which Mendoza plunked Pat Meares to put runners on first and second with no outs. But the 25-year-old righty needed just three pitches to induce a Chris Latham lineout and Todd Walker line drive double play, ending the threat.
He faced the minimum in the following two frames before navigating through the hairiest moment of the game from his perspective in the sixth. Singles by Meares and Walker followed by a Brent Gates groundball that Mendoza fielded but threw wide of second loaded the bases with one out. Mendoza didn’t panic, getting Paul Molitor to ground into an inning-ending double play.
Mendoza would again face the minimum in the final three innings as the Twins offense managed just five hits and no walks after putting up eight runs the previous night. In total, Mendoza required just 97 pitches to get through the outing, adding a Maddux to his trophy cabinet — one of two complete-game shutouts in his career. The other would come two years later against the White Sox.
On the offensive side, the Yankees had no trouble facing Minnesota starter Eric Milton. Chuck Knoblauch led off the game with a double and advanced to third on a Derek Jeter single. Paul O’Neill opened the scoring with a sac fly, followed by singles from Bernie Williams and Tino Martinez, the latter plating Jeter to give New York a 2-0 advantage after the first.
They’d add a second the next inning on a Jorge Posada leadoff double, Scott Brosius sac bunt, and Knoblauch sac fly, and a fourth in the fourth on a Brosius solo shot. Dan Naulty came out for the sixth replacing Milton but converted only one out, serving up singles to Brosius and Jeter and walking Knoblauch to load the bases. He was replaced by Eddie Guardado, who promptly surrendered O’Neill’s second sac fly of the contest to make it 5-0 Yankees.
New York would wrap up the scoring the following frame facing Guardado and later Hector Carrasco. Martinez kicked off the frame with a leadoff home run, followed by a Tim Raines single to knock Guardado from the contest. On Carrasco’s first pitch after entering, Chad Curtis singled up the middle, with a throwing error by center fielder Matt Lawton allowing Raines to score from first. All told, every member of the starting lineup except for O’Neill had a hit, with seven members logging multi-hit nights. Between the start from Mendoza and the contributions from up and down the order, it was about as comprehensive a victory as the Yankees could’ve asked for.