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1998 Yankees Diary, August 15: Winter is Coming

The Yankees begin their worst stretch of the 1998 season with a blowout loss to their eventual ALDS opponents.


Heading into action on August 15th, the New York Yankees were on a nine-game winning streak, sat 60 (!) games above .500, held an 18.5-game lead in the AL East, and were on track to win a whopping 121 games. Over the next five weeks, they would go 18-19, and while the division title never came into serious question, they lost their shot at the all-time wins record, still held by the 1906 Chicago Cubs.*

*116; yes, the 2001 Mariners also won that many, but the Cubs did it in 10 fewer games and at the time, 2001 was obviously in the future.

That dark period of 1998, obviously reminiscent of 2022’s August slump, began with a disastrous blowout against the AL West champions and future ALDS opponent, the Texas Rangers.

August 15: Rangers 16, Yankees 5 (box score)

Record: 89-30, .748 (18.5 game lead)

Things could not have started off better for the Yankees offense. Facing Todd Stottlemyre, the son of Yankees pitching coach Mel Stottlemyre, they jumped out to an early lead in the bottom of the first. Chuck Knoblauch led off with a double and advanced to third when Derek Jeter grounded out to short. Paul O’Neill grounded a single between the first and second basemen to bring him around to score. A Bernie Williams walk and a Tino Martinez single loaded the bases with one out for Tim Raines, who lined a single to the third basemen that brought home O’Neill and kept the bases loaded. Jorge Posada grounded out a single that plated two. Although Chad Curtis grounded into an inning-ending double play to stop the rally in its tracks, the Yankees had jumped out to an early 4-0 lead.

With Hideki Irabu, one of the team’s most reliable pitchers to date that season and who was fresh off seven shutout innings against the Twins five days earlier, on the mound, that 4-0 deficit may as well have been a 14-0 deficit for the Rangers. What the Yankees did not know at the time, however, was that Irabu was about to enter his worst stretch of the 1998 season. From August 15th to September 11th, he would give up at least four runs in five straight starts, and he would fail to get through four in three of them. His ERA would rise from 3.07 to 4.41 over this stretch.

That stretch began in the second inning against the Rangers. After Ivan Rodriguez grounded out to third to start the frame, Todd Zeile worked a walk and Mike Simms lined a single up the middle to put runners on first and second with one away. Royce Clayton doubled in one, Tom Goodwin brought home another with a line drive right back at the pitcher, Luis Alicea walked on a full count to load the bases, and Rusty Greer put an exclamation point on the inning with a grand slam. In all, of the nine batters came to the plate in the top of the second, six of them scored, and the Rangers took a 6-4 lead.

True to form, the Yankees offense struck right back in the bottom of the inning. Knoblauch and Jeter recorded back-to-back doubles with one out, and O’Neill walked to load the bases. Williams brought home Knoblauch on a sacrifice fly to center field to bring the Yankees within one, but another runner was doubled off to end the inning in its tracks. The Rangers would get that run right back on a Simms single in the third that ultimately drove Irabu from the game.

The score would sit here at 7-5 for another few innings. Stottlemyre, Eric Gunderson, Danny Patterson, Xavier Hernandez, and Tim Crabtree kept the Yankees lineup in check, while Mike Buddie provided 3.2 scoreless innings in relief for the Yankees. When Buddie came out of the game, however, things went off the rails in a hurry. While Mike Stanton pitched as scoreless seventh, he allowed a pair of singles to Will Clark and I-Rod to start the eighth, and after Zeile popped out for the first out, Ramiro Mendoza came on in relief. That backfired in a hurry, as he surrendered a three-run shot to Simms, bringing the Rangers lead to 10-5.

Things only got worse in the ninth. Joe Borowski struck out Greer to start the inning, then walked Juan Gonzalez, allowed an RBI double to Clark, and walked Rodriguez before finally recording the second out of the inning, a Zeile fly out to left. Roberto Kelly, however, grounded a single up the middle that scored Clarke, Clayton laced a double into left-center that scored both Rodriguez and Kelly, Goodwin drove a single up the middle that scored Clayton and Alicea singled to right — this time, without driving anyone in — to finally drive Borowski from the game. Graeme Lloyd came on to pitch, and he immediately allowed Greer to hit an RBI single before retiring Domingo Cedeno, who was pinch-hitting for Gonzalez, to mercifully end the inning.

For their part, the Yankees did not go down quietly in the bottom of the ninth, with Tino leading off with a double, Curtis reaching on an E5, and Scott Brosius working a walk. It was all too little, too late, though, and even if they managed to plate a run in the inning, recovering from a 16-5 deficit is one one of those once-every-century games, and while the 1998 Yankees were filled with history-making moments, this was not one of them.