After a solid series win in Anaheim, the 1998 Yankees continued their West Coast trip by traveling north to Seattle. These Mariners hadn’t quite coalesced, in the midst of disappointing season, coming off a strong three-year stretch that saw the franchise’s first two playoff appearances, and a few years before the team had a historic season of its own. But even though they limped in with a sub-.500 record, Seattle had the top-end talent to make the Yankees work. You’ll be surprised to learn the Yankees were up to the task.
July 31: Yankees 5, Mariners 3 (box score)
Record: 76-27, .735 (15 GA)
Though the two sides played a good game on the field, there was also plenty of off-field intrigue that added to the drama. Played on July 31 in Washington State, this game coincided with the 12pm EST trade deadline in 1998. Not only that, but the Yankees’ starting pitcher for the night, Hideki Irabu, found himself in trade rumors involving, you guessed it, the Seattle Mariners.
Leading up to the deadline, Brian Cashman had been haggling with Seattle GM Woody Woodward (what a name) over the price for legendary starter Randy Johnson. Woodward demanded both Irabu and top Yankees position player prospect Mike Lowell. Cashman held firm on his refusal to trade Lowell, and ultimately Irabu remained a Yankee as the deadline passed midgame, while Johnson was shipped to the Houston Astros. (Look for more on the trade deadline in John’s article later today.)
Irabu rewarded the Yankees on this night, providing one of his better starts of the year against a Seattle lineup that had some real firepower. The righty faced one more than the minimum over the first scoreless three innings, and the Yankee offense took the chance to get him a lead. Doubles from Chad Curtis and Shane Spencer in the second put New York up 1-0. In the top of the fourth, the eventual star of the game, Jorge Posada, took Jeff Fassero deep to double the lead, and later in the inning Scott Brosius did the same to make it 3-0.
The Mariners got on the board in the fourth, thanks to a solo shot from Alex Rodriguez:
Boy, did young A-Rod have a sweet swing. Rodriguez’s blast made it 3-1 Yankees, but Irabu got right back to work from there. He retired nine of the next ten batters he faced, and through six innings, he’d allowed just three hits and the one lone run. The Yankees promptly got that run back in the top of the fifth, with Curtis chipping in an RBI single to push the lead to 4-1.
With the Yankees up three and Irabu having done a super job turning over the Seattle order, we saw another instance of how in-game tactics have evolved in the last quarter-century. Irabu’s pitch count was low, but he was coming into the seventh about to face the middle of Seattle’s lineup a third time. On cue, he surrendered a leadoff homer to Hall of Fame designated hitter Edgar Martinez. In today’s game, that might have chased Irabu, or at least had the bullpen working quickly to get someone warm. In 1998, Joe Torre likely didn’t give any thought to getting Irabu out, not with his pitch count under 90. But Irabu faltered again, surrendering a third homer on the night, a solo homer to first baseman David Segui to make it 4-3.
Not only did Torre leave Irabu in after the second homer of the inning, he allowed Irabu to finish the frame, and come out for the eighth. Irabu allowed a leadoff single there, and at last Torre turned to his bullpen to close out the game. Irabu departed after seven strong, and with a 5-3 lead, thanks to Posada’s second homer of the night, which had come in the top of the eighth:
Mike Stanton got the three necessary outs in the home half of the eighth, and Mariano Rivera recorded a typical 1-2-3 ninth for his 29th save. By the end, the trade deadline was over, and the Yankees were pretty much unchanged. Their squad was unimproved but still intact, and they kept on winning.