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1998 Yankees Diary, June 21: Low point of early summer

Hideki Irabu got torched while the Yankees offense couldn’t touch Bartolo Colon.

Boston Red Sox vs New York Yankees, 1999 American League Championship Series Set Number: X58953

As dominant as the 1998 Yankees were, no team is immune from a handful of distinct stretches of vincibility throughout a season. The Bombers faced a stern test of adversity as the season changed from spring into summer. Starting with the dropped series finale against the Expos, the Yankees would lose 6 of 11 marching toward and beyond the summer solstice. The nadir of this relative slide arrived with an 11-0 drubbing at the hands of Cleveland to split a four-game series, which seemed to serve as a wake-up call for the team, as they would rattle off a 15-1 stretch from June 24th through the All-Star break and into the second week of July.

June 21: Yankees 0, Cleveland 11 (box score)

Record: 50-18, .735 (up 8.0)

It’s amazing how quickly the tide of momentum can turn, pivoting on single moments within a game. It was clear early on that up-and-coming ace Bartolo Colon brought electric stuff to the ballpark, punching out Derek Jeter and Paul O’Neill looking. However, he ran into some trouble in the second, walking Darryl Strawberry and Jorge Posada with one out before issuing a single to Chad Curtis to load the bases. Both teams had the opportunity to dictate the course of proceedings at this inflection point, but it was Colon who seized the initiative, striking out Ricky Ledee and Scott Brosius to strand all three ducks on the pond.

With the momentum tipped in their favor, Cleveland immediately punished the Yankees for not capitalizing on the traffic in the top-half of the frame. Manny Ramirez and Mark Whiten ambushed Hideki Irabu with back-to-back solo shots to open the bottom-half, and things would only get worse from there for the Yankees starter.

An inning later, David Justice reached on a one-out walk and was joined on the basepaths by Jim Thome, who singled to center. Up stepped Ramirez to launch his second big fly in as many ABs, this time a three-run shot to put the home team up, 5-0. Irabu would get out of the inning without allowing further carnage, but the damage was done and his outing would end after just three innings, credited for five runs on six hits and two walks.

Darren Holmes replaced him to start the fourth and somehow almost managed to match the ineptitude of his predecessor. He surrendered a leadoff home run to Travis Fryman on just his third pitch out of the bullpen, followed by a double to David Bell. After a Justice walk put men on first and second with two outs, Thome drove Bell home with a single to make it 7-0 Cleveland.

The fifth was much of the same for Holmes, yielding a leadoff Whiten walk followed by a Sandy Alomar Jr. triple to score Whiten and a Fryman sac fly to plate Alomar. Holmes did manage a 1-2-3 sixth, but at that point Cleveland had a 9-0 lead, four of those coming on four hits and two walks against the Yankees reliever.

Colon meanwhile was breezing his way through the Yankees lineup. He allowed a single baserunner in each of the third, fourth, and fifth innings but otherwise overmatched his opponents with a fastball that frequently touched triple digits. In fact, the Yankees would never manage to more more than one on in any inning after the second, waving the white flag in the seventh with wholesale changes to the lineup. Colon finished the outing with eight scoreless innings, holding the Yankees to three hits and five walks while striking out ten.

Cleveland had two more parting gifts for the pair of unfortunate members of the Yankees bullpen yet to enter the game. Ramirez doubled off Ramiro Mendoza to open the seventh, advancing to third on a Whiten flyball before scoring on a Jeff Branson single to enter double-digit scoring territory. Their 11th and final run came in the eighth, Shawon Dunston homering off Mike Stanton, and future Yankees lefty Ron Villone pitched a scoreless ninth to seal the 11-0 shutout victory and a split of the series.