The 1998 Yankees dropped the first game of this series against their international divisional rival and were looking to avoid a rare three-game losing streak in this one. El Duque got the ball and the call, hoping to shut down a Blue Jay offense that almost reached double digit runs the previous night.
Hernandez did his part. Thanks to some awful Toronto defense early in this one, the long-awaited return of Bernie Williams from injury, and some long balls late, the Yankees cruised to victory.
July 18: Yankees 10, Blue Jays 3 (box score)
Record: 68-23, .747 (14 GA)
Bad defense was a problem from the beginning of this one for Toronto. They managed to work around an E4 in the first inning with no damage but in the second, they were not so lucky. With Tim “Rock” Raines on base (more on him later), Scott Brosius drove a laser to left field. Tony Phillips utterly botched the play, and Raines scored to put the Yankees up 1-0. Writing this 25 years later, it’s so much more satisfying when it’s the other team that looks incompetent in left.
Toronto managed to immediately get that run back, via a Carlos Delgado long ball off El Duque. The game stayed tied at one until the top of the fifth when, thanks to awful outfield defense, the Yankees again put runs on the board. This time, Jose Canseco played the part of the butcher in the field. With two runners on, Tino Martinez drove a ball to right. Canseco, looking like he’d never played the outfield in his life, botched the play and the Yankees had their second run. They tacked on another in the fifth and left the frame up 3-1.
As the game progressed, New York got into tack-on mode. First, leading off the seventh, “Bern Baby, Bern” launched a solo shot to extend the lead. When the night ended, by the way, Bernie was hitting .358. Nice to have him back in the lineup. The Bombers weren’t done there, either. Brosius knocked in a fifth run later in the frame.
Raines officially put this game to bed the next inning. With the bases full of Yankees (in part thanks to yet another Jays error, one of FIVE Toronto miscues on the night), Raines launched a Robert Person offering into the Canadian atmosphere. Grand slam. 9-1 Yankees. Bernie put the Yankees into double digits in the ninth with an RBI single to close out the scoring for the good guys.
Meanwhile, El Duque was nails after the Delgado dinger. The Jays managed baserunners, putting men in scoring position multiple times. But on each occasion, Hernandez escaped with no damage. He exited after seven innings of one-run ball and, after the Raines slam, was probably pretty sure he was getting the W when the last out of this one was recorded.
To get him some work, no doubt, Joe Torre brought Mariano in to pitch the ninth. Perhaps because of the unfamiliarity of pitching with a nine-run lead in a meaningless July game, Mo was not as sharp as usual. Both Mike Stanley and Ed Sprague greeted the GOAT with solo home runs, getting the Jays a little bit closer and raising Rivera’s season ERA to 1.56. Ridiculous in that late-90s offensive environment.
Buster Olney noted the next day in the New York Times that Hernandez’s success was at least in part due to adjusting his pitch location. El Duque had been reluctant to pitch inside recently, shaking off Jorge Posada in recent outings. On this night, however, with Joe Girardi behind the plate, Hernandez pitched inside much more frequently, to lefties and righties alike. To good effect.
Three-game skid avoided. And Raines gained some vengeance after having to duck out of the way of multiple pitches up and in over the first two games of this series with Toronto. Good win. Other teams should commit five errors against the Yankees more often, please.