A bumpy patch that saw the Yankees drop 6 of 11 to usher in summer seemed to serve as a wake-up call for the otherwise dominant squad. They appeared to attack their mini late-June road trip with extra hunger, rattling off four straight wins over the Braves and Mets.
Needing just a win in the series finale to sweep their crosstown neighbors on their own patch, the Bombers bats ran into an unstoppable Masato Yoshii, who outdueled Orlando Hernandez in an instant pitching classic. Though they surely would have preferred not to be walked off, the Yankees would not lose again in their next 10 games.
Record: 55-20, .733 (up 10.0)
It became apparent from the first inning that both starting pitchers were on a mission to strike out every batter they faced. Yoshii, affectionately known as “Oiyan” from his NPB days, made Derek Jeter and Paul O’Neill look silly, whiffing the two- and three-hole hitters on a pair of filthy splitters. El Duque needed a few more pitches to calibrate his sights, walking Edgardo Alfonzo and Bernard Gilkey to open the bottom of the frame. However, a strike-‘em-out/throw-‘em-out double play of Mike Piazza and Alfonzo at third settled the flamethrower down, and despite a third free pass in the frame — this time to John Olerud — Hernandez would escape unscathed.
It was Yoshii’s turn to get a little wild in the second, walking Tino Martinez and Jorge Posada with one out. However, strikeouts of Chad Curtis and Scott Brosius swinging would strand the former pair. The hosts would continue to run into outs on the base paths that inning, Brian McRae walking before getting caught stealing at second.
In the fourth, Yoshii navigated around a leadoff error and intentional walk of Posada, punching out Darryl Strawberry and Martinez looking, to bring his strikeout tally to a half-dozen. El Duque meanwhile would add another pair of strikeouts in the third followed by a 1-2-3 fourth on just seven pitches, and already we were into the fifth without either team recording a hit.
Jeter changed that with a two-out single in the fifth to follow a Chuck Knoblauch walk, but O’Neill left both men on base flying out in foul territory. El Duque and Yoshii continued to trade blows, Oiyan answering Hernandez’s two strikeouts in the fifth with a pair of his own in the top of the sixth.
In low-scoring affairs such as this, often it is the little things that make the difference, and that was certainly the case in the bottom of the sixth. El Duque retired the first two batters, but a strikeout-wild-pitch of Piazza on a ball that Posada absolutely should have blocked extended the inning. The Mets immediately punished the Yankees for giving away free outs, with a pair of singles from Olerud and Carlos Baerga plating Piazza for the contest’s first run.
Brosius responded the following half-inning, launching a hanging 1-0 curveball deep to left to level the scores. However, that was the final hit Mets pitching would concede in the game. Yoshii would see out the inning, capping off what would be arguably the best start of his MLB career. He finished the day giving up a run on two hits and four walks in seven innings, the ten punch outs his only double-digit strikeout effort in the big leagues.
El Duque pitched a scoreless seventh before retiring the side in order the following frame to finish his evening with eight strong, allowing a run on two hits and five walks against nine strikeouts. Thus, this game would come down to the bullpens, where on this particular night the hosts held the upper hand.
Dennis Cook worked a 1-2-3 eighth and ninth striking out O’Neill, Strawberry, and Posada in the process, setting his offense up for a chance to walk it off. That’s exactly what they did, Baerga leading off the bottom of the ninth with a double off Ramiro Mendoza. A Butch Huskey bunt advanced Baerga to third, allowing him to score the winning run on a Luis Lopez sac fly deep to right. O’Neill had thrown back in to seemingly double up the intentionally-walked McRae at first base, so there was a discussion by the umpiring crew about whether or not the run should count.
The Mets had to awkwardly stand around during their celebration in a scene reminiscent in more recent years of instant replay rulings on potential walk-offs. But the umpires determined what was apparent to almost everyone at Shea (including the ESPN booth in the clip above): Baerga had crossed home before Martinez had tagged McRae. Although the Mets successfully avoided a sweep, the Yankees were content with the Subway Series victory.