The Yankees were riding high 25 years ago, on a four-game winning streak thanks to a pair of thrilling walk-off wins. On this day, July 4, 1998, they wouldn’t need to resort to a walk-off, but there was still plenty of drama in the end. When the dust settled, the Yankees had survived and extended their streak with another one-run victory, but it certainly wasn’t without controversy.
July 4: Yankees 4, Orioles 3 (box score)
Record: 60-20, .750 (11.0 game lead)
Orlando Hernández got the ball to start this one, and he was stellar for the most part. The Orioles did tag him immediately, though that was in part due to fortune. Leading off the game, Roberto Alomar blooped a double just fair down the right field line. A walk and passed ball later, and Baltimore suddenly had two in scoring position with none out before many of the patrons had even sat down.
Hernandez buckled down to secure a pair of strikeouts, but Brady Anderson came through a single, another bloop that found grass in center field, and the Orioles had a 2-0 lead.
From there, Hernández was superb. He would go on to navigate eight strong innings, allowing just four more baserunners after that first-inning trouble. Baltimore did scratch one more run off Hernández in the fifth, but it was of the unearned variety thanks to an error from left fielder Ricky Ledee.
Hernández’s performance gave the Yankee offense plenty of time to work Baltimore starter Doug Drabek (once a Yankees rookie himself, 12 years prior). They swiftly got a run back in the bottom of the first, with Derek Jeter singling to lead off, swiping second, and then scoring on a Tino Martinez RBI single. They would tie the game in the second, with Ledee roping a double to center, and Jeter bringing him in with an RBI single of his own.
It was a big day overall for the shortstop. He reached base three times, and also made a great, leaping throw deep in the hole at short to nab Mike Bordick, a play he’d obviously become famous for over the years:
After the Orioles took the lead back on Ledee’s error in the fifth, the Yankees pushed in front for good in the bottom of the sixth. Martinez doubled and Tim Raines singled to open the frame, chasing Drabek after five-plus innings. Reliever Alan Mills came on and issued a walk to Jorge Posada to load the bases with none out. Chad Curtis capitalized, grounding a single through the left side to cash in two runs for the lead:
Mills did well to limit the damage there, though, retiring Ledee, Scott Brosius, and Luis Sojo to escape with the Yankees leading 4-3. That kept the pressure on an unfazed Hernández, who retired the final 10 batters he faced to hand the ball directly to Mariano Rivera for the ninth inning.
That’s where things really got interesting. Uncharacteristically, Rivera allowed back-to-back singles to open the inning, to Cal Ripken Jr. and Anderson. With the go-ahead run on base, Chris Hoiles looked to bunt the runners over, dropping one down right in front of Rivera. In a move that will now hauntingly remind Yankee fans of the Game 7 of the 2001 World Series, Rivera tried to cut down the lead runner, this time with a throw to Brosius at third:
Brosius dropped the ball, and in real time, it didn’t look as though he’d secured it long enough to record the out at third. Third base ump Marty Foster disagreed, calling Ripken out on a force, and deciding the dropped ball occurred on the transfer. Replays showed that Brosius clearly never had possession of the ball; Ripken should have been safe, the Orioles should have had the bases loaded with none out.
Instead, they’d just given an out away, and just quickly as they had seemingly thrust themselves back into the driver’s seat, the game was over. Two pitches later, Rivera induced a tailor-made groundball to second from Rich Becker. Sojo and Jeter gratefully whipped the ball around the diamond for the double play, and the Yankees had won 4-3.
The Orioles were rightly incensed, with third-base coach Sam Perlozzo and manager Ray Miller ejected. After the game, Miller said “I don’t think it’s fair to baseball. I don’t think it’s fair to the Yankees. You shouldn’t get any gifts. There’s no Santa Claus during the baseball season.” On this July 4th, though, the Yankees did a gift, and escaped with their fifth-straight win.