One of the fun things about this series is the ‘memberberries. I had completely forgotten that Bret Saberhagen, one of the original champions held up by the sabermetric movement, ever played for the Red Sox until I sat down to write this post. The former Royals Cy Young Award winner was certainly in the twilight of his excellent career during his four seasons in Boston, but put together one of his best outings in red on this day 25 years ago.
Record: 37-12, .755 (8.5 GA)
Initially, you might think that Hideki Irabu was a hard-luck loser in this one, as he went seven innings allowing just three hits, but charged with all three runs. His control was the major limiting factor though, as he walked seven Red Sox hitters and struck out just five. 1998 certainly wasn’t a time where most starters were striking out a batter per inning, but any time that you walk more than you strike out, you’re putting yourself behind the eight ball.
Irabu walked a pair in the second inning, a portent of things to come. He was able to work around the issue, although both outs to close the inning came on deep fly balls. The Yankees were able to strike first, with Jorge Posada’s RBI single in the bottom of the third. The lead was short-lived, however, and indeed erased two batters into the fourth. Irabu walked leadoff man John Valentin, before Mo Vaughn took him deep to right field, and it was 2-1.
The walks reared their ugly head again in the seventh. A leadoff double, sac bunt and walk set up Lou Merloni to add a needed insurance run with a single. Irabu ended up finishing the inning, down just 3-1, but that lack of control hurt his outing in a big way.
Saberhagen’s line was the near-total-opposite of Irabu, six strikeouts against a pair of free passes. Posada’s single was the only run charged against him, although the Yankees did attempt a comeback in the eighth. Against reliever Tom Gordon, New York did what we’d seen them do the entire season — a single from Chuck Knoblauch, who immediately stole second and took third on Derek Jeter’s foulout on the first base side. Paul O’Neill then went the other way to bring Knoblauch in, but that was as close as the Yankees would get.
The Yankees had taken both of the previous games at the Stadium, and were in the process of locking up the division early. Bret Saberhagen did just enough to salvage one game in the series, but with the momentum and ground gained in the season’s first two months, it must have felt like a finger in the dyke for a pitcher who should have ended up a Hall of Famer.