Headed in to a Tuesday evening matchup on May 12, the Yankees sat 12.5 games better than the Kansas City Royals. That’s a large number, particularly in the first half of May, but the two teams played a tight game nonetheless. The first of their two-game set the day prior was rained out, so this game functioned as a standalone matchup. David Wells took the mound for New York, opposite of Glendon Rusch for Kansas City. It was a mostly well-pitched game across the board, but the Yanks were able to snatch a win with some early pop and timely small ball.
May 12: Yankees 3, Royals 2 (Box Score)
Record: 25-7, .781 (Up 3.5)
Wells had a fine campaign going into this matchup with the Royals, but the big lefty was coming off a shelling at the hands of the Rangers in his last start. He gave up seven earned runs on seven hits, while failing to escape the third inning. For the Royals, the 22-year-old Rusch had been getting hit around to start the year, but was eating innings and making some respectable starts up to this point.
Wells worked around a single and an error to get New York through the first, and the lineup had his back right out of the gate. Derek Jeter walked with one out, and two batters later, Bernie Williams launched a classic porch job to right field. Hitting from the right side, he took an outside fastball and shot it into the seats, giving the bombers an early 2-0 lead at the Stadium.
This early lead would not go unanswered, as the Royals responded in relatively quick order. After future Yankee Johnny Damon reached on a fielder’s choice in the top of the third, Royals shortstop Shane Halter followed with a line drive double to left-center, putting Kansas City in position to get even more. Halter quickly stole third, and his squad cashed in on it after Jose Offerman singled to left to knot the game up at two a piece. The damage likely would have been worse, were it not for a nifty leaping snag by Scott Brosius at third base.
Both lefties were able to keep the score there, at least through the fourth inning, as both lineups were set down in mostly clean fashion headed into the fifth frame. In their turn, Chad Curtis led off with a double, and was moved to third on a Brosius grounder. With the nine spot due up in the lineup in Joe Girardi, Joe Torre and the Yankees opted for some small ball with a runner on third. With a 1-1 count, the Yankee catcher laid down a perfect safety squeeze down the first base line, and gave the Yankees a 3-to-2 advantage in the fifth.
Although it was just a one-run lead, it would be all this day’s stingy Yankees pitching would need. After the bombers took the lead in the fifth, Wells would navigate three perfect innings to get them to the ninth. The lefty would finish with a very strong line of two earned runs over eight innings, and nine strikeouts to go along with it. Those three perfect innings to finish his day not only helped the Yanks deliver the ball to Mariano Rivera, but perhaps it was a bit of foreshadowing for Wells’ near future.
In classic fashion, Mo set the Royals down in order in the ninth: striking out Dean Palmer, getting Jeff Conine to fly out, and fanning Jeff King. It was his sixth save, and Wells’ fourth victory of the season.
As mentioned, this was basically a one-game matchup with the Royals, but the scheduling oddity couldn’t stop the Yankees from rolling along. They had now secured their 24th win in their last 27 games, and were beginning to make tracks in the AL East.