After dropping four straight games for the first time all season, the 1998 Yankees rebounded by rolling off four straight victories. That hot stretch culminated with a dominant outing against a Seattle Mariners lineup that, while still a few years away from the 116-win powerhouse it would become, nonetheless boasted multiple Hall of Fame quality bats in the middle of the lineup.
Oh, and that dominant outing clinched a trip to the postseason.
August 29: Yankees 11, Mariners 6 (box score)
Record: 98-36, .731 (18.5 game lead)
Fresh off a ten-run outburst against Paul Spoljaric the night before, the Yankees offense picked up right where they left off against young Mariners right-hander Ken Cloude. After Chuck Knoblauch flew out to left to lead off the bottom of the first, Derek Jeter, Paul O’Neill, and Bernie Williams strung together a trio of singles to plate a run. While Tino Martinez and Darryl Strawberry struck out to end the frame, that would just be a taste of what’s to come.
Chad Curtis got the ball rolling in the second by working a leadoff walk. Scott Brosius doubled him in with a grounder through the left side, Joe Girardi brought Brosius home with a single up the middle. A Knoblauch pop fly landed in No Man’s Land behind second base to put runners on first and second with nobody out and a Jeter infield single loaded the bases. O’Neill popped out to short for the first out of the inning, but Bernie made sure the Yankees didn’t NOBLETIGER (Nobody Out Bases Loaded Ends with Team Incapable of Getting Easy Runs, for those not up to date on baseball Internet lingo) with a two-run line drive single to center. Cloude intentionally walked Martinez to load the bases after a wild pitch advanced Jeter and Williams to third and second, respectively, and a Strawberry sacrifice fly plated the future captain. Ultimately, five runs would come to the plate, giving the Bombers a 6-0 lead.
The Yankees added another run in the third to extend the lead to 7-0 before putting together another big rally in the fourth. Strawberry led off the inning with a solo shot, and Brosius worked a one-out walk to finally chase Cloude from the game. Facing Bob Wells, Girardi doubled in Brosius and Jeter deposited a pitch into the right field seats for a two-run homer that extended the Yankees lead to 11-0.
For those interested, the final line on Cloude would be nine runs (eight earned) on 12 hits, with just two Ks and three walks; that gave him a Baseball-Reference GameScore of 1. As the Yankees catcher and future manager would say, “It’s not what you want.”
On the flip side, Yankees starter Andy Pettitte mowed down the Mariners lineup over the first five innings. Alex Rodriguez reached on an E6 and Ken Griffey Jr. walked in the first, Joey Cora grounded a single up the middle in the third, and Russ Davis reached on an E4 and Joe Oliver singled in the fifth. That was the extent of the threat that the Mariners offense was able to muster for the first half of the game.
Griffey led off the sixth with a solo shot to pull Seattle within ten, but it wasn’t until the seventh that things started to look like a ballgame. The first four batters got on base and scored — an Oliver double, a Shane Monahan home run, a Cora single, and an A-Rod home run — finally chased Pettitte from the game. A rookie Raúl Ibañez, who had come in to replace Griffey defensively in the inning before, doubled to greet Mike Stanton, and Edgar Martinez singled him home.
Ultimately that would be too little, too late, and the score would stay there as Ramiro Mendoza shut down the Mariners lineup over the final two frames. But the story of the game does not end with the final out. As the Bombers went home, the reporters on the Yankees beat sat in the press box and ran the numbers. At 6:08 pm, almost 90 minutes after the final out was recorded, those in the press box concluded that the Yankees had clinched a trip to the postseason.
While they missed the opportunity to pop the champagne, they would fortunately have plenty of other chances that October. By then, the AL East crown was clearly in sight as well.