By the time the 1998 Yankees were brought to bear against the Royals, most fans were probably old enough to remember the bitter rivalry between the two teams in the late 1970s and ‘80s. Fast forward a few years and the rivalry began to resemble the rivalry fire has with wood, as the Yankees went into Missouri and swept the Royals in their own building. We’re looking at the middle game of that series today, where six runs in the final three innings pulled the club away from the Royals.
May 2: Yankees 12, Royals 6 (box score)
Record: 19-6, .750 (1.5 game lead)
After eking out a 2-1 win the day before, the Yankees went right to work in the top of the first. Derek Jeter took starter Chris Haney deep two batters in to put the Yankees up 1-0, although it could have been more had leadoff hitter Chuck Knoblauch not been thrown out attempting a steal of second. Unfortunately, Andy Pettitte struggled to hold the lead, not just in the first but all day, as the Royals knotted things up in the bottom half.
The back and forth continued most of the game, with both starters putting up zeros before the Yankees plated two in the fourth. Tim Raines singled in Bernie Williams and Chad Curtis had a sac fly, but the Royals came back in their half. Jeff King led off the bottom of the fourth with a solo shot to cut the deficit to one, and two more Royals reached base before Pettitte was able to get out of another difficult inning.
As is generally the case in games like this, a big home run ended up being the difference. Tino Martinez had a three-run blast in the top of the fifth that was echoed by Jeff King’s solo bomb in the bottom of the inning, but Tino’s coming with men on was the key to giving the Yankees the lead for good.
The Royals would have a chance for a comeback, a ‘98 example of the need for instant replay review. With Mike Sweeney at third, Jose Offerman lifted a ball to Paul O’Neill in right field. The catch was made and Sweeney clearly left third on time, but the Yankees threw to third in an appeal and Sweeney was ruled out by leaving too early. If this game were replayed in 2023, that call would almost certainly have been overturned and Kansas City would have been down just a single run.
That was the last best chance for the Royals, as Paul O’Neill and Jeter both cashed in runners in successive innings to tack on to the lead. Johnny Damon did have a two-run double to make the score 8-6, before Darryl Strawberry was tapped for a pinch-hit appearance with the bases loaded. Strawbs deposited a 1-0 pitch into the Kauffman Stadium bleachers for a grand slam, putting the Yankees up 12-6.
Just like the night before, the Yankees ended up doubling up Kansas City, but this game had a little more firepower. Boston’s loss the same night moved the Yankees to a game and a half above their AL East rival, a lead that would only grow as the weather warmed.