Coming off a loss to the White Sox, the Yankees welcomed the hated Red Sox to Yankee Stadium to kick off a set against their division rivals. David Wells took the ball for New York as they looked to get back in the win column, while at the same time extending the distance between themselves and Boston.
Behind solid starting pitching from Wells, a couple of dingers, and Tim Wakefield’s knuckleball having a rough day, they achieved their goals.
May 28: Yankees 8, Red Sox 3 (box score)
Record: 36-11, .766 (8.5 GA)
The Yankees immediately jumped on Wakefield. After the knuckler walked Chuck Knoblauch in the first, Paul O’Neill promptly brought him home with an RBI double. Then, with Darryl Strawberry at the dish, Paulie broke for third. He stole the bag easily and Jason Varitek’s throw sailed into left field, allowing O’Neill to saunter home. 2-0 Yankees in the blink of an eye.
The score stayed that way until the bottom of the third. Wakefield floated a knuckleball middle-middle to Strawberry, and Straw knew exactly what to do with that. He unloaded on the offering, and deposited it deep into the right field bleachers to extend the Yankee lead.
Boston finally got to Wells in the top of the fourth. Leading off, Jim Leyritz smoked a 1-1 offering from Boomer into left field for a solo shot. 3-1 Yankees. That’s all Boston got in the inning though as Wells worked around a two-out double to limit the damage.
It didn’t really matter though, because Wakefield gave that run right back, along with another one for good measure. With runners on second and third and Derek Jeter at the dish, Wakefield unleashed a wild pitch, scoring one and moving the other runner to third. And if that wasn’t bad enough, Varitek then completely whiffed trying to catch a knuckleball, scoring the second Yankee of the frame on the passed ball. 5-1 New York and Jeter didn’t have to do anything but stand there and watch.
The two teams traded home runs in the fifth. For Boston, Mo Vaughn took Wells deep in the top of the frame, a two-run shot. In the bottom, Jorge Posada clubbed one off Boston reliever John Wasdin, who had come in for Wakefield the previous inning. When the dust settled, New York led 6-3 and that was all the offense Boston would manage on the night.
Boomer came back out for the sixth and seventh innings and took care of the Red Sox with very little effort. He gave way to Mike Stanton for the eighth with the Yanks still up three. Wells’ final line: 7 IP, 3 ER, 1 BB, 5 K. It wasn’t a perfect game, but seven innings of three-run ball will generally get the job done.
New York salted the game away with a couple of manufactured runs in the bottom of the eighth. A sac fly drove in one, and another scored on an error, extending the lead to five runs and giving Mariano Rivera the night off now that the save was not on the table. Stanton came back out for the ninth and wrapped this one up.
The win moved New York to 36-11 and extended their lead to 8.5 games over Boston. But the club was not resting on its laurels. News was leaking out that New York was trying to acquire Randy Johnson, who would eventually become a Yankee years later.
After the win over Boston, GM Brian Cashman admitted to multiple conversations with Seattle about acquiring the future Hall of Fame southpaw. He would not, however, confirm an anonymous leak from an American League official that Seattle was asking for Andy Pettitte in any deal for Johnson. We of course know how this all turned out, with Johnson heading to Houston later that season and ending up in Arizona beginning in 1999, something that would come back to haunt the Yankees in a future Fall Classic.
But in the moment, life was good. New York was on pace to win 124 games and they were putting their nearest divisional competitor in the rearview mirror. Why can’t every season be 1998?