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1998 Yankees Diary, July 20: That’s a lot of baseball

Even the greats have bad weeks, as the Yankees dropped their fourth game in five days, this one in 17 innings. Oh, and they played another one afterwards, too.

BBA-TIGERS-YANKEES-1 Photo credit should read STAN HONDA/AFP via Getty Images

I think it’s safe to assume that, if you’re reading a daily series that details the events of baseball games played a quarter century ago, you like baseball. In that case, you’d very much enjoy the events of July 20, 1998.

Back in April 1998, a chunk of concrete and metal fell from the rafters at Yankee Stadium, prompting the league to play a pair of Yankees home games against the Angels in Shea Stadium and swap the locations of the two Yankees/Tigers series that year. That scheduling change resulted in a doubleheader scheduled for July 20th, with the first game scheduled to start at 4:06 pm ET. They would not stop playing until 1:17 local time the following morning.

July 20, Game 1: Tigers 4, Yankees 3 (box score)

July 20, Game 2: Yankees 4, Tigers 3 (box score)

Record: 69-25, .734 (14.0 game lead)

Sending out David Wells to the mound against rookie Seth Greisinger, the Yankees appeared to have the advantage in the pitching matchup in Game 1, and that rang true early on. After Chuck Knoblauch lined out to lead off the bottom of the first, Derek Jeter worked a walk and Paul O’Neill doubled him in to give the Yanks a 1-0 lead. Two innings later, Jeter led off the third with a single and stole second, O’Neill worked a walk, and Bernie Williams doubled them both in, extending that lead to 3-0. Meanwhile, Boomer had no problems with the Detroit lineup; aside from a one-out double in the first, he did not let a runner reach scoring position until Joe Randa led off the sixth with a triple to right field.

That triple would prove to be the turning point of the game. Randa would score on a rare Jeter miscue, with Damion Easley reaching on the E6. While Wells would get out of trouble there, the Tigers rallied in the seventh. Geronimo Berroa led off the frame with a single, and Gabe Alvarez laced a one-out double to left to put runners on first and second. Paul Bako grounded out to second, scoring the run, moving Alvarez to third, and chasing Wells from the game. Ramiro Mendoza, however, could not keep the run from scoring, as Joe Randa brought him home with an RBI single to tie up the game.

None of this would have mattered if the Yankees offense had resembled anything close to its 1998 self. Instead, they did their best 2023 impression, consistently stranding runners on the basepaths — by the end of the night, they would strand 22, falling just one short of the franchise record. And with the Yankees pitching staff able to keep Detroit off the board, the game went on, and on, and on, and on, and on, and on.

Five hours and 50 minutes after first pitch, on the 15th pitcher of the afternoon, and with Joe Torre considering whether Luis Sojo or Joe Girardi would be better on the mound, the Tigers mercifully pushed a run across in the top of the 17th, as Joe Randa — who else? — grounded a single up the middle off Darren Holmes to score Luis Gonzalez, who happened to be the first Tigers runner to reach second base in extras. Facing A.J. Sager, the Yankees offense went down in order, and on a day that the pitching staff was dominant, the Yankees had their fourth loss in five games.

Thing is, that was just Game 1. And so, at 10:32 pm ET, the Yankees and Tigers were back at it, with Hideki Irabu taking the mound against Bryce Florie. This game, thankfully, was much more straightforward (and much quicker, clocking in at 2:45). With the bullpen obviously stretched thin, Irabu worked deep into the ballgame, allowing just three runs on five hits in seven innings of work. Two of those runs came in the top of the eighth inning, as Damion Easley singled and Bobby Higginson drilled a two-run shot to chase Irabu from the ballgame. On a night/morning where the Yankees needed not only innings to keep the bullpen rested, but high-quality innings to stop the skid, Irabu answered the bell.

After the marathon first game, the Yankees offense was far from perfect in the second matchup, but this time, they capitalized on mistakes. In the third, Derek Jeter singled in Joe Girardi, who led off the frame with a single, to give the team an early lead. The next inning, Chad Curtis singled, Dale Sveum reached on an E4, Luis Sojo singled, Girardi bunted them over, Jeter reached on an E5, and Paul O’Neill singled; this combination of events plated three runs (two of which were unearned) to give all the runs they would need.

When Mariano Rivera got Brian Hunter to groundout to second at 1:17 am ET, he did so with a 4-3 lead to secure a hard-fought doubleheader split.

Whenever you have 10 hours of baseball like this, weird and mildly historic things happen. These included:

  • Brian Hunter, who grounded out to end the second game, came to the plate 13 times and never reached base. His OBP dropped from .304 to .295. This is a Major League record.
  • Yankees hitters in Game 1 failed to record a hit in 16 straight appearances with runners in scoring position.
  • The Yankees left the bases loaded in the 8th, 10th, 12th, and 15th innings in Game 1.