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1998 Yankees Diary, May 8: Eighth straight win on the eighth

Hideki Irabu and the 1998 Yankees extend their winning streak to a season-high eight games on the eighth of May.

Bernie Williams

After a much-needed day off on the seventh of May, the New York Yankees continued their three-city road trip by traveling north to Minnesota to take on the Twins. Although they would become one of the premier teams in the AL Central in the early 2000s, the Twins of the late ‘90s were smack in the middle of one of their worst stretches in the last 30 years. While the Yankees’ era of dominance over the Twins had not yet fully begun, the stage was set for a series that fans born in the ‘90s such as myself would find oddly familiar. The 1998 Yankees being the 1998 Yankees, they did not disappoint.

May 8: Yankees 5, Twins 1 (box score)
Record: 23-6, .793 (3.0 game lead)

In his most recent outing, Yankees starter Hideki Irabu had absolutely dominated the Kansas City Royals, spinning 7.1 two-hit innings to lead the Yankees to a 2-1 victory. Facing a Minnesota lineup that was somehow even worse, the AL Pitcher of the Month for May would spin an encore that, while not quite as dominant, was pretty darn close.

The bottom of the first saw the Twins put runners on first and second, courtesy of a Matt Lawton walk and Ron Coomer infield single. After getting David Ortiz — yes, that David Ortiz — to line out to end the threat, Irabu retired six straight. Lawton bunted for a single to lead off the fourth, advanced to second when Coomer grounded out to second, and scored when Ortiz grounded a single through the middle to give the Twins a 1-0 lead. Terry Steinbach, however, grounded into a 6-4-3 double play to end the inning. Then, with two outs in the sixth, Lawton — he seemed to be the only member of the Twins giving Irabu fits — tripled, but did not score after Coomer grounded out to third. And in the eighth, Pat Meares led off the inning with a double before Irabu handed the ball off to Mike Stanton and the bullpen.

That represents the entirety of Minnesota offense that day. Ultimately, while they put baserunners on throughout the game, they proved unable to get that big hit and put up a crooked number. And against the 1998 Yankees, the failure to put up runs, plural, would prove to be pretty much the equivalent of putting up nothing at all.

Minnesota starter Brad Radke spun a gem of his own, shutting out the Yankees for the first four innings before Jorge Posada led off the top of the fifth with a solo shot to knot the game up at one. But much like the Twins were unable to get the big hit against Irabu, the Yankees struggled to string hits together against Radke — until the seventh, that is. After Posada and Scott Brosius led off the inning by grounding out, Chuck Knoblauch singled to left field; he then stole second base, putting him in position to score when Derek Jeter looped a single into short left field to give the Yankees a 2-1 lead.

At this point, the game looked to be settling into the “Mike Stanton and Jeff Nelson hand the bridge the innings to Mariano Rivera” portion of the evening program, but the Yankees offense blew the game open in the top of the ninth. Posada led off the inning with a single, then a Brosius single put runners on the corners with nobody out. Knoblauch reached on a fielder’s choice — Posada got thrown out at the plate — to put runners on first and second with one out, then Jeter walked to load the bases. Paul O’Neill pounded a single up the middle to drive in Brosius and Knoblauch, and then Bernie Williams did the same to score Jeter.

Now with a 5-1 lead and with Rivera still only two weeks back from an early-season injury, Joe Torre opted to let Jeff Nelson finish the game; he would retire all three batters he faced in the ninth, recording his second save of the season and extending the Yankees winning streak to a (up until that point) season-high of eight games.