The Yankees entered this Thursday night game fresh off a big win the previous night in the series opener against Texas. With Hideki Irabu on the mound, they were looking for a second straight win over a very good Rangers team. Unfortunately, one of the rarest of occurrences during this era of Yankee baseball chose Thursday, May 14, 1998 to rear its ugly head, and the Bronx Bombers fell to Texas in extra innings, rendering Irabu’s excellent start moot.
May 14: Yankees 5, Rangers 7 (13 innings) box score
Record: 26-8, .765 (4.5 GA)
Irabu was off to an excellent start for the Yankees in ‘98, giving some reason to hope that his disastrous rookie season was an aberration. He’d gone at least seven innings in each of his previous two starts, and he came out of the gates strong in this contest as well. It wasn’t exactly clean, as he gave up a first inning double to Mark McLemore and walked him in the third. In the second, a pair of walks and a single loaded the bases for the Rangers. In all three frames, however, Irabu worked himself out of trouble, keeping Texas off the scoreboard.
In the bottom of the third, the Yankees broke through and gave their starter a little room for error. Singles by Scott Brosius and Derek Jeter sandwiched around a Chuck Knoblauch HBP loaded the bases, and Paul O’Neill made Rangers starter Darren Oliver pay. A two-run single got the Yanks on the board.
After Irabu hurled a shutdown inning in the fourth, the offense rewarded him with another run. This time, Chad Curtis took Oliver yard, extending the lead to 3-0 early. Irabu continued to hold up his end of the bargain, keeping the Rangers off the board. With the bases loaded again in the sixth inning, the Yankees delivered what looked like it would be the knockout blow.
Facing reliever Al Levine, Brosius knocked a single through the left side of the infield. Tino Martinez and Curtis scored, extending the Yankee lead to five, needing only nine more outs to take the first two games of this set. Irabu came back out for the seventh and retired Texas without much difficulty, leaving New York six outs from the win. His final line: 7 IP, 3 H, 5 K, and a season-to-date 1.11 ERA.
Unfortunately for the Yankees, the wheels fell off in the eighth, a frame that required three Yankee relievers to escape. First up, Mike Stanton. He promptly walked Fernando Tatís then gave up a single to McLemore. Rusty Greer then took Stanton deep, cutting the lead to 5-3 and ending Stanton’s night.
Jeff Nelson came in to try and stop the bleeding. A double and two singles later, the Yankee lead was down to one run, and Nelson too left the game, vanquished by the Texas bats. Joe Torre next turned to Graeme Lloyd, and he managed to retire the two Rangers he faced, getting out of the frame with the lead intact and Mariano Rivera looming.
It feels like 99 times out of 100, Mo with a one-run lead is academic. If you want to beat the traffic, you could just duck out of Yankee Stadium early and miss nothing except three outs and the strains of “New York, New York” after the GOAT closed it out. This night, however, was the one in 100.
Mo gave up a leadoff single. After a sacrifice moved the runner to second, he recorded the second out, leaving this one on the verge of victory. But Rusty bleeping Greer, who torched the Yankees the previous inning, poked a single into left field. Greer’s knock tied the game at five, and hung Mo’s second blown save of the season around the future Hall of Famer’s neck.*
*The SportsCenter clip at the bottom of the article will say that it was his first, but it was indeed his second.
From there, the teams exchanged scoreless innings in extras. Rivera came back out for the tenth, before handing the ball over to Willie Banks, who flirted with danger in the 11th and 12th frames. Finally, in the 13th, his luck ran out. And I’ll give you one guess which Ranger delivered the coup de grace. Greer. Again. This time, a two-run dinger. 7-5 Rangers. New York never threatened in the bottom of the inning. Former Yankee John Wetteland came in and retired the side in order.
You can’t win them all. As Joe Torre said after the game: “Over a long season, I’ll take my chances bringing in Rivera, Stanton and Nellie... You can’t do it every night.’’ It was only the second game the Yankees had lost all season by either one or two runs. Winning close games was their jam in the early going. Even after this loss, they were 13-2 in such contests, an even more outrageous winning percentage than their 26-8 record.
You tip your hat and move on. Greer ended the night with two home runs and six RBI, and it’s not like he was some bozo. He finished the year with 108 ribbies and when he retired after the 2002 season, he did so with a career 119 wRC+. It was just his night. Payback for the previous game, perhaps, when Mo retired him to seal the Yankee win.