The formula for so many of the 1998 Yankees’ wins went something like this: have your crazy deep lineup put up crooked numbers in a couple of innings, let your strong starting staff carry the lead into the seventh or so, hand the ball to Mike Stanton or Jeff Nelson or Mariano Rivera, and go home. This formula was applied in today’s 1998 recap, and while it worked, it got a little close against the class of the AL Central.
June 20: Yankees 5, Cleveland 3 (box score)
Record: 50-17, .746 (9 GA)
The strong starter in question was David Wells, and Boomer put on a clinic. Cleveland was one of the few teams in the game that could even approach the depth the Yankees’ lineup featured, running out a starting lineup with six guys OPS’ing above .800. The top six in the order — Kenny Lofton, Omar Vizquel, Manny Ramirez, Jim Thome, Sandy Alomar, and David Justice — went down in straight sets in the first two innings against Wells, with a pair of Ks.
Defensive miscues upended Wells’ start in the third inning, where Derek Jeter’s wayward throw from the hole allowed Travis Fryman to advance to second on his single. Jorge Posada then chucked the ball away on Fryman’s steal of third, allowing him to come home and put Cleveland up 1-0, and all Wells had done was allow a single.
Fortunately the Yankees took the lead right back in the top of the fourth, where Tino Martinez and Darryl Strawberry — still OPS’ing .966! — traded RBI doubles to put New York on top 2-1. Wells put up a quick zero in the home half, getting his bats back on the field, and was rewarded with Scott Brosius opening the inning with a solo home run. Chuck Knoblauch singled and later scored on Paul O’Neill’s base hit, and that vaunted offense started to pull away.
Boomer continued to blank batters, finally allowing a second run on Manny Ramirez’s single in the eighth inning. That was actually the only time either Manny or Thome, two of the elite hitters of any generation, reached base in Wells’ eight innings of work, a driving force behind keeping Cleveland off the board.
The final part of that formula is giving Mariano Rivera the ball with a lead in the ninth. The Yankees did that and certainly Mo recorded the save, but it was a rockier one than most. Sandy Alomar’s leadoff double put the greatest closer in history behind the 8-ball to start, and two more hits brought Alomar in and put another runner into scoring position, though thankfully that would be as bad as it got.
Just like that, the Yankees had won their 50th game of 1998, and it was only June 20th. It was a remarkable start, but just the beginning of the heights that they would reach in that nonpareil year.