Heading into the 1997-1998 offseason, the Yankees had major holes in their lineup, specifically at third base and designated hitter. Cecil Fielder, the father of future big league first baseman Prince Fielder, served as the team’s most common designated hitter, slotting into the lineup there 89 times (he also manned first eight times), while Wade Boggs, who departed for the newly-created Tampa Bay Devil Rays, played 76 games at the hot corner and DH’d for 19. Both positions represented potential spots to upgrade, as both players had their best days in the rearview mirror.
To replace Boggs, the Yankees brought in Scott Brosius, buying low on the former Athletic, whose 53 OPS+ in ‘97 represented a sharp decline from the 121 OPS+ he had posted across the previous two years. For their DH, however, new general manager Brian Cashman opted for a more secure choice, a veteran bat who had drilled more than 100 home runs and posted a 136 OPS+ across the previous four seasons in Chili Davis.
August 17: Yankees 7, Royals 1 (box score)
Record: 91-30, .752 (20.0 game lead)
In a sequence of events that wouldn’t seem out of place in the 2017-2023 Yankees, an early-season injury would put Davis on the shelf just two days into April, forcing the Yankees to turn to Darryl Strawberry. While he filled admirably in the role, he had predominantly been a role player with the Yankees when healthy over the previous few seasons. Davis represented a rare opportunity for a major upgrade to the 1998 Yankees lineup. And as it happens, he returned to the lineup against the team he played for the season prior, the Kanas City Royals.
And, yet, on the day of his return to Kauffman Stadium, the star of the show was another former Royal, one who came up with the organization and won the 1994 Cy Young with them, Yankees starting pitcher David Cone. Although far from his most efficient self — his four walks tied a season high with three other outings, and he allowed five hits — he largely kept the Royals lineup in check. The only real rally against him came in the fifth, as Hal Morris singled, advanced to second on a bunt, and scored on a Dean Palmer line drive single. Aside from this one blemish, Cone’s seven innings were about as uneventful as can be.
On the offensive side of the coin, it was all about a five-run fifth inning. While cleanup hitter Bernie Williams drilled a leadoff homer in the second to give the Yankees an early 1-0 lead, it was in this inning where they seized control of the game. Joe Girardi got the line moving with a one-out liner up the middle that dropped in for a single, and Derek Jeter followed that up by working a two-out walk. Davis then recorded just his second hit in a Yankee uniform, a line drive single to left field, that drove in Girardi for his first Yankees RBI. Williams singled up the middle to score Jeter, and Tino Martinez capped off the rally with a three-run blast that put the Yankees up 6-1.
Tim Raines would go on to add an insurance run with a solo shot of his own to lead off the eighth, and that’s where things would stay. After seven strong innings, Cone handed the ball off to Mike Stanton, who allowed just one baserunner — a Mike Sweeney double in the ninth — to cap off the team’s 91st win of the season and Cone’s league-leading 18th.