After a rare Mariano Rivera blown save cost them an opportunity to sweep the Texas Rangers at home, the New York Yankees welcomed the Minnesota Twins to the Bronx for a three-game weekend set. Although they would finish the year with just 70 wins, the 17-22 Twins entered the series on a three-game winning streak and were looking to gain a bit of momentum to turn their season around.
May 15: Yankees 6, Twins 7 (box score)
Record: 26-9, .743 (3.5 game lead)
On paper, the pitching matchup on May 15, 1998, massively favored the Yankees, with 1996 All-Star and two-time Cy Young finalist Andy Pettitte going up against 22-year-old Eric Milton, a former Yankees first-round pick who they had dealt in the Chuck Knoblauch trade and who had been tagged by New York for four runs just five days prior. The Yankees lineup did exactly what they were supposed to and piled up the hits against the rookie. But for whatever reason, the 1998 Minnesota Twins just had Pettitte’s number, and six days after smoking him for seven runs in 5.2 innings, they turned this one into a shootout.
Right from “play ball,” the Twins jumped all over No. 46. Pat Meares laced a single into left-center field, then advanced to third on a Matt Lawton double. Paul Molitor brought Meares home with a sacrifice fly, Marty Cordova plated Lawton with a single to right field, and the Twins had themselves an early 2-0 lead.
Both pitchers tossed clean innings in the bottom of the first and top of the second. In the bottom of the frame, the Yankees offense finally broke through. Tino Martinez led off the inning with a double, and after Tim Raines popped out to second, Chad Curtis walked to put two runners on. Scott Brosius laced a groundball down the left field line for a double that cleared the bases and tied the game at two; he would head to second when Knoblauch flew out to right field for the second out of the inning, putting him in position to score on a Derek Jeter single.
Unfortunately for the Yankees, Pettitte could not hold the lead. Denny Hocking led off the inning with a walk; after Meares struck out, he stole second, then advanced to third when Lawton grounded out to first. With two outs and a runner on third, however, Pettitte could not put the Twins away. Molitor worked a walk to extend the inning, and then both runners came around to score on a bases-clearing double by Cordova to give the Twins a 4-3 lead. Three pitches later, Ron Coomer deposited a ball over the center field wall, extending the lead to 6-3.
After Milton worked around a one-out ground-rule double by Tino Martinez, the Twins tacked on another run in the top of the fourth. Jon Shave singled to left field to open the frame, stole second when Hocking struck out, advanced to third on a Pat Meares infield single, and scored on a fielder’s choice.
At this point, Pettitte settled down, and somehow managed to make it through seven innings to keep the bullpen fresh. Meanwhile, starting in the bottom of the sixth, the Yankees lineup began to crawl its way back into it. Raines led off the sixth with a single, then Curtis drilled a two-run shot to bring the Yankees within two to chase Milton from the game. Jeter led off the next inning with a solo shot, bringing the score to 7-6.
That would be as close as the Yankees would get, for although Jeff Nelson kept the Twins off the board in two innings of work, Greg Swindell and Rick Aguilera combined to allow just one baserunner across the final three frames. With the loss, the Yankees dropped back-to-back games for the first time since they opened the season getting swept by the Anaheim Angels.
Not-so-spoiler alert: If anything, the consecutive losses just inspired the Yankees to embark on another winning streak the next day.