Courtesy of a doubleheader sweep the day before, the New York Yankees entered August 8th with a winning season already guaranteed. How insanely early is that? Last year’s squad, which got off to a 1998-esque start before completely flopping in the month of August, did not win their 82nd game until September 7th, the 2019 team that won 103 games didn’t reach 82 until August 16th, and the 2009 World Series champions didn’t guarantee a winning season until August 30th.
Clearly, something special was brewing.
August 8: Yankees 14, Royals 1 (box score)
Record: 83-29, .741 (17.0 game lead)
For the second time in five days, Yankees starter Orlando Hernández was absolutely electric. This time, he shut down the Kansas City Royals lineup, allowing just one run on four hits across eight innings, striking out seven and walking only one. Only in the sixth inning did the Royals lineup threaten, when Mike Sweeney, Johnny Damon, and Hal Morris all singled to bring home a run and Jose Offerman walked to load the bases with one out, but El Duque got Dean Palmer to ground into a 6-4-3 double play to stop the rally in its tracks. Aside from this, the only time the Royals got a runner into scoring position was when Damon stole second with one out in the fourth. After his disastrous outing on July 29th, back-to-back electric outings like this — and he would have two more just like it before his next clunker — was exactly what Hernández needed.
Despite the lopsided final score, the Yankees needed El Duque to be electric, as the offense struggled out of the gate against Kansas City starter Glendon Rusch. An E5 was needed in the third to score Scott Brosius, who led off the inning with a walk. While a Chuck Knoblauch solo shot added another run in the fifth, over the first half of the game, the bats largely struggled to take advantage of opportunities with runners on.
All of that changed, however, in the bottom of the sixth. Paul O’Neill and Bernie Williams led off the inning with a pair of singles, and after Tino Martinez struck out, Tim Raines worked a walk to load the bases. Jorge Posada followed that up with a two-run single, and about-to-be rookie sensation Shane Spencer — playing in just his eighth game since being called up from Triple-A and coming off a five-hit showing the night before — drove in Raines. With runners on second and third, Brosius drilled the nail in the coffin with a three-run shot into the left field seats to chase Rusch from the game. Scott Servic would put Knoblauch and Jeter down swinging, but the damage was done, and the Yankees had an 8-1 lead.
Even so, the Yankees weren’t done. O’Neill led off the seventh with a walk, only to be replaced by Williams on a fielder’s choice. Martinez reached on an infield single, and Raines got the scoring going once more with an RBI single that put runners on the corners. Raines advanced to second on a passed ball, allowing both runners to score on Posada’s double to right field. Then, a pair of infield singles off the bats of Jeter and O’Neill, a pinch hit single up the middle by Luis Sojo, and another double down the right field line by Posada added another three runs, bringing the final score to 14-1.
Overall, this one game demonstrates almost everything that made the 1998 team so dominant. The pitching staff, despite lacking a Randy Johnson level ace, was capable of stifling any lineup in the game on any given night. The offense, meanwhile, was not just dominant, it was efficient: out of the 21 baserunners the Yankees had (15 hits, five walks, one error), 14 came around to score. The only thing missing was Mariano Rivera slamming the door shut, and well, when the rest of the team is that dominant, the Sandman can take the day off.