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1998 Yankees Diary, May 16: Ramiro Mendoza stymies Twins over eight

The Yankees break a mini two-game losing streak, behind stellar starting pitching and Jeter’s bat.

Ramiro Mendoza

The Yankees entered this game having lost two straight, including the series opener of this set against Minnesota. The sky wasn’t falling or anything, but two consecutive losses probably feels like a 15-game losing streak when you’ve been winning at a .750+ clip.

So on a Saturday afternoon in the Bronx, New York had a chance to arrest their slide, knot the series with the Twins at a one apiece, and embark on a new period of dominance. Behind a stellar performance from Ramiro Mendoza and the potent bat of Derek Jeter, the Bronx Bombers did precisely that.

May 16: Yankees 5, Twins 2 (box score)

Record: 27-9, .750 (3.5 GA)

The Yankee bats jumped on Minnesota starter Bob Tewksbury right off the bat, admittedly with the help of shoddy Twins infield defense. New York loaded the bases on three straight singles with one out in the frame.

Bernie Williams came to the plate then and hit a groundball to first baseman Orlando Merced. He promptly made a bad throw home, earning himself an E3 for his trouble. Jeter came in to score and, though the offense failed to bring home any more runs, the Yankees had an early 1-0 lead.

The score stayed that way into the third, thanks to Mendoza, who looked just as sharp as he did when he twirled a shutout at the Metrodome on May 10th. Not a single Twinkie reached base the first time through the order, as a magnificent Mendoza mercilessly mastered Minnesota. Jeter led off the bottom of the third with his second single in as many at-bats and moved to third on a Paul O-Neill single. Tino Martinez stepped to the plate and rapped into a 1-6-3 double play, but Jeets scored and the Yankee lead was two.

Minnesota finally got a runner on base in the fifth and, thanks to some shoddy defense by the good guys (specifically Chuck Knoblauch), managed to scrape a run across. It wasn’t the most riveting stretch of action ... single, error, groundout, groundout, groundout. But the Twins were off the schneid.

The Yankees immediately got that run back in the sixth. Jeter led off the frame with a double, his third knock of the contest, and advanced to third on an error by left fielder Marty Cordova. Two batters later, Tino knocked his second run of the game, this time a single that made the score 3-1.

Mendoza delivered the shutdown inning in the sixth and then Jeter broke Minnesota’s backs in the bottom of that stanza. Chad Curtis reached on a dropped third strike, then Jorge Posada and Knoblauch both walked. With the sacks juiced, Jeets grounded a ball through the hole between third and short. Two runs crossed the plate and the Yankee lead was 5-1.

Minnesota managed one more run in the seventh after two singles and another Knoblauch miscue loaded the bases with none out. Knowing how his career ended up progressing makes these errors in ‘98 feel a bit differently. This is his third error already in the games I have recapped; feels like foreshadowing.

Undaunted, Mendoza induced the run-scoring ground ball double play from Ron Coomer, then whiffed Terry Steinbach. Minnesota managed one run, but that was all. Mendoza came back out for the eighth and made easy work of the Twins. His final line: 8 IP, 2 R (1 ER), 2 K. With the Yankee lead at three, Joe Torre called on Mo to come close it out.

Game over, Yankees win. Simple!

The victory moved the Yankees to 27-9, putting their win percentage back to .750 with roughly one-fifth of the season in the books. Unreal start. Jeter’s big day at the plate — four knocks — extended his hitting streak to 12 games. During that time, he’d hit .473 with 17 RBI. That seems good.

Mendoza, nicknamed “El Brujo,” or “the Witch Doctor,” was riding his heavy sinker throughout his start. Buster Olney, then at the New York Times, estimated that Mendoza threw the pitch approximately 90 percent of the time on the day, helping him get through eight innings of work on only 78 pitches. Moreover, he did not walk a single Twin, extending his streak of not allowing a free pass to 18 innings. In his last 24 innings as a starting pitcher, he had allowed two runs.

This was a nice win. The offense counterpunched when it had to, Mendoza was dominant, and Mo closed it out with no drama. Surely this was the highlight of this series against the Twins, and its most remembered game. Nothing could possibly top it, right?