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1998 Yankees Diary, July 5: Capping off the first-half with a sweep

More brilliance from David Cone completed a sweep of the Orioles.

New York Yankees pitcher David Cone throws in the Photo credit should read STAN HONDA/AFP via Getty Images

The Yankees steamed toward the All-Star break building up just the momentum you’d want to power a second-half push toward October. They entered the day’s contest winners of five straight and nine of their last ten. With a victory against the Orioles, they could complete back-to-back sweeps to cap off a historic first-half.

July 5: Yankees 1, Orioles 0 (box score)

Record: 61-20, .753 (up 11.0)

David Cone endured a miserable start to his 1998 campaign giving up 16 runs on 18 hits in his first two starts — both of which happened to come against Oakland — totaling 9.2 innings. He wasn’t much better in his subsequent six starts, pitching to a 6.60 ERA in the first month-and-a-half of the season. That all turned around in the final week of May, and across his next eight starts Cone was one of the best starters in baseball, with a 2.12 ERA and 60 strikeouts while averaging over seven innings per start to wrap up his first-half on a high note.

Scott Erickson must’ve woken up on the wrong side of the bed, because he threw behind Derek Jeter with his first pitch of the game. After that fit of pique, the inning threatened to come unraveled with Jeter singling and Tino Martinez and Tim Raines drawing a pair of walks to load the bases. However, the Orioles starter struck out Chad Curtis to leave all three ducks on the pond. Cone meanwhile discovered his command after hitting a batter in the first, retiring the side in order in the second and third, both times requiring just ten pitches to do so.

That’s when this game would turn wonky for an inning. With one out in the bottom of the third, Luis Sojo reached with a one-out booted tapper back to the pitcher that was somehow ruled a hit before going first-to-third on a Paul O’Neill single. O’Neill would steal second, followed by another Raines walk to again load the bases. In a 1-0 count, Erickson was ruled to hit Chad Curtis in the hand, though on live look it was impossible to tell. Regardless, the HBP set the carousel in motion, plating Sojo for the game’s only run. Ricky Ledee would strike out as the Bombers left the bases loaded for a second time.

In the following top-half, Eric Davis reached on a one-out single to bring Rafael Palmeiro to the plate. He launched an opposite field drive to left that Ledee appear to bring back for a robbed home run, but dropped in the process. Davis took an ill-advised turn for third and was thrown out so instead of a two-run home run, the Orioles had a man on second with two outs.

Erickson and Cone would trade zeroes from there on out, each pitcher running into trouble with traffic but ultimately escaping each jam. Cone allowed a single and a double in the fifth but struck out Roberto Alomar looking to strand them at second at third. Meanwhile, Erickson allowed a pair of singles in each of the sixth and seventh but navigated out both times unscathed. Cone would finish the day with eight scoreless innings allowing seven hits and no walks with four strikeouts on 108 pitches while Erickson tossed eight innings of one-run ball, surrendering seven hits and four walks against seven strikeouts on 133 pitches.

Mariano Rivera came in to close out the ninth and needed just 12 pitches to induce a Palmerio grounder, strike out B.J. Surhoff, and get Cal Ripken Jr. to ground out to end the game. Thus the Bomber finished the first-half 41 games over .500, a feat unlikely to be matched again.