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1998 Yankees Diary, July 12: Tino’s big day extends win streak to 10

New York stayed hot out of the break to claim their first double-digit winning streak of the season.

World Series - San Diego Padres v New York Yankees - Game Two

While certainly glad for the respite afforded by the All-Star break, the Yankees must have been itching to get back to business after four days off. They ended the first half red-hot, winning their final six games before the break. Picking up right where they left off, New York rattled off three straight wins to open the second half, putting them one win against the Devil Rays away from their first double-digit winning streak of the campaign.

July 12: Yankees 9, Devil Rays 2 (box score)

Record: 65-20, .765 (up 15.0)

David Wells didn’t have his best command out of the gate, but with the help of his catcher, fielders and the opposition baserunners he was able to remain efficient through the first three innings. Jorge Posada erased a Quinton McCracken walk in the first by throwing him out trying to steal second, a Fred McGriff single to lead off the second was erased on an inning-ending double play, and Posada showed off the cannon again in the third gunning down Aaron Ledesma as he tried to steal second following his leadoff single.

On offense, New York had little trouble against Tony Saunders, putting at least a pair on in each of the first four frames. Chad Curtis opened the scoring in the second with an RBI double following a Posada leadoff walk. An inning later, Chuck Knoblauch led off with a double before coming around to score on a Tino Martinez double to make it 2-0 Yankees.

Leading off the bottom of the fifth, Ledesma hit a grounder to Martinez, who flipped to Wells covering first for the out. There was a slight grimace from the Yankees starter, but not enough to draw the trainer out of the dugout. Two batters later, he surrendered a solo home run to Miguel Cairo, and though he would complete the inning he would be forced from the contest with what was later described as a bruised big toe. Ramiro Mendoza came in and promptly coughed up the lead on a McCracken leadoff double, sac bunt, and McGriff RBI groundout ensuring this game would head to the later innings knotted at two apiece.

After eight innings of close, relatively uneventful baseball, this game took a turn into the bizarre in the final frame. Rays closer Roberto Hernández must have skipped PFPs because he was absolutely dreadful fielding his position in the ninth. Darryl Strawberry led off with a walk and was replaced by pinch-runner Homer Bush. What happened next was pure comedy.

Curtis grounded a sac bunt softly to Hernández, who inexplicably wheeled and attempted to throw out Bush at second to no avail. Then on the very next pitch, Scott Brosius laid down an identical sac bunt right back to the pitcher, who again tried to get the lead runner, this time with the low throw barely scooting under Bob Smith’s glove. Just like that, the Bombers had the bases loaded with no outs when easily it could’ve been a man on third with two outs.

After a Ricky Ledee strikeout, Hernández hit Knoblauch in the helmet with 1-2 breaking ball to plate Bush. With the bases still loaded, Derek Jeter grounded a single up the middle to score Curtis and Brosius, and he and Knoblauch would advance to second and third, respectively, on an ill-advised throw to third from center fielder Randy Winn. Hernández would depart the game with two on having recorded just one out, but the Devil Rays’ troubles were far from over.

Scott Aldred was the next man out of the bullpen and his first act was to intentionally walk Tim Raines to load the bases in the hope of an inning-ending double play. Things didn’t exactly shake out that way. Martinez stepped to the plate with an RBI double already to his name, and he crushed a 3-2 pitch into the gap to clear the bases, giving him four RBI on the day. Posada drove him home with a single for the game’s final run as the Yankees scored seven in the ninth to complete the four-game sweep of the Devil Rays, 9-2.