Entering this one on an eight-game win streak, the Yankees were obviously firing on all cylinders. They’d done it all on this particular streak, winning blowouts and tight ones, exciting games and snooze fests. The one constant, though, was starting pitching, as it had been weeks since the Yankees had seen a truly poor outing from their starter. With Andy Pettitte on the mound looking to take the second of this four-game set with Texas, the streak seemed to be in good hands.
August 14: Yankees 6, Rangers 4 (box score)
Record: 89-29, .754 (19.5 game lead)
This was a solid Rangers team, particularly on the offensive side, as Texas would finish second only to the Yankees in the majors in runs scored. They were death on left-handers, too, slashing a potent .317/.379/.506 line against southpaws, but to Pettitte, it was no matter.
Pettitte was hardly troubled for much of the game, allowing just one hit through the first four innings, with that single by Rusty Greer quickly being extinguished by a double play. Given some rope, the Yankee offense chipped away at opposing starter Aaron Sele. In the third, Scott Brosius led off with a walk and was promptly knocked in on Joe Girard’s double to open the scoring. In the fourth, Bernie Williams got into one, ripping his 17th homer of the year to right:
Texas’ prowess against lefty hurlers finally showed itself in the fifth, with Todd Zeile sending a high fly out to left to cut the lead to 2-1. But Chuck Knoblauch quickly got that run back with a solo homer of his own in the bottom of the fifth.
Leading 3-1, Pettitte cruised into the seventh, where things got interesting. Eventual AL MVP Juan Gonzalez led off with a walk, and Will Clark followed with a flare to center. Derek Jeter very nearly made a sensational over-the-shoulder catch, but couldn’t quite come up with it. Yet with Gonzalez freezing halfway to see if the play was made, the Yankees were able to get the forceout at second, with Tino Martinez smartly covering second as the players in the middle of the field converged on the ball:
There’s a fun bit of hyperbole in that SportsCenter clip, with the anchor proclaiming “This is why the Yankees win ballgames!” upon seeing Martinez rush over to cover second. In truth, the Yankees didn’t have a historic season because of plays like that; even mediocre big league clubs are typically capable of proper defensive positioning on such tricky plays. But the sentiment does highlight one truth, that this Yankees team did not ever waver in any capacity. They hit, pitched, ran, and fielded impeccably, precisely, and consistently for an entire season, never once letting up, even on a bloop to center in mid-August.
Pettitte recorded the final two outs of the seventh, and the Yankees opened things up in the bottom half. Sele, left in to turn over the vaunted Yankee lineup a fourth time, unsurprisingly found trouble, yielding four singles to Chad Curtis, Girardi, Knoblauch, and Jeter, allowing three runs to score before he was finally pulled with six runs over 6.2 innings charged to his name.
Now with a 6-1 lead, Joe Torre also decided to push his starter, and he too was punished. Facing the order a fourth time, Pettitte allowed singles to Royce Clayton and Mark McLemore to open the frame before he was yanked. Ramiro Mendoza would allow both inherited runners to score, slightly marring Pettitte’s final line of seven innings, seven hits, and three runs. Mendoza couldn’t finish the eighth, and Mariano Rivera was called on with two on and two out, escaping the jam to bring us to the ninth.
This ultimately wasn’t one of Rivera’s perfect saves, as Mike Simms got to Rivera for a solo shot in the ninth. But Rivera survived that and brought the game to its conclusion for his 32nd save on the year.
With their winning streak at nine, the Yankees stretched their high-water mark to 60 (60!) games above .500, and their division lead to 19.5 games. It was their third distinct nine-game winning streak on the year, to go along with two other streaks that hit eight. Just a remarkable display of consistency.