The Yankees entered the final series of the homestand riding a relative high, having won each of the two previous series after dropping four games in a row as part of a stretch that saw them go 2-6. With the last-place Athletics on the card for a two-game blitz, the home team had a chance to build on their positive momentum heading into a six-game road trip.
Record: 99-37, .728 (up 19.0)
David Wells looked like a pitcher reborn after his perfect game on May 17th, pitching to a 2.84 ERA in the interceding 16 starts. Much of this was down to a resharpening of his command as he was able to cut his walk rate by almost two-thirds relative to his starts pre-perfecto. That command was on full display tonight, as he carved up the A’s lineup in one of the many masterful pitching performances by a Yankees starter in 1998.
It was clear from the first inning that the A’s hitters were in trouble, with Wells retiring the side in order on 13 pitches, striking out the first two batters he faced. He repeated the feat in the following frame, this time requiring just eight pitches to retire the side in order and strike out a pair. Every pitch was working, particularly his world-famous curveball, and he was able to command each offering to all four quadrants of an admittedly generous strike zone from home plate umpire Jim McKean.
Boomer struck out a batter in each of the next two frames, otherwise inducing weak contact that allowed him to enter the fifth with his pitch count at just 44. What’s more, after having witnessed his historic feat three-and-a-half months prior, the Yankee Stadium crowd was already whipping themselves into a frenzy of anticipation with each two-strike count and each inning completed without allowing a baserunner.
As if spurred on by the ascending volume in the stadium, Wells found another gear in the middle innings, striking out five batters in a row including the side in the sixth. The punchout of A.J. Hinch to end the sixth drew the ire of A’s manager Art Howe, who was ejected from the contest for his theatrics at home plate.
At this point, I’m sure everyone in the building was aware of what was transpiring, but Wells was about to face his sternest test of the game — facing the top of the A’s order for the third time. Excitement must have grown exponentially as Wells got Rickey Henderson to fly out, struck out Ryan Christenson, and quickly pushed the count to 0-2 against Jason Giambi. However, Wells’ future Yankees teammate played spoiler on the day, flipping his bat at a curveball to dunk it into center field just beyond Knoblauch’s outstretched glove to break up the perfect game and no-hit bid.
With that weight off his shoulders, Wells was able to cruise to the finish, allowing just one more hit (a Mike Blowers single to lead off the eighth) before retiring the side in order in the ninth. He finished the complete game shutout with 13 strikeouts — the second highest total of his career — surrendering two hits and no walks while throwing 113 pitches. It was his fifth complete-game shutout of the season to lead the Junior Circuit and lowered his season ERA to 3.22, as he would eventually finish third in AL Cy Young balloting to Roger Clemens and Pedro Martinez.
As for the offense, they gave Wells a 4-0 first inning lead that likely played a huge roll in allowing him to pitch stress-free across the whole outing. Knoblauch and Derek Jeter led off with a pair of single off Tom Candiotti, the pair scoring on a Paul O’Neill double to center. O’Neill would then steal third, allowing him to score on a Tino Martinez single, who himself stole second, advanced to third on a Tim Raines single, and scored on a Jorge Posada single.
O’Neill added a one-out single in the second, setting up a Bernie Williams two-run blast to make it 6-0 Yankees. Martinez wrapped up the scoring with a two-out solo shot in the seventh, with each of O’Neill, Williams, and Martinez driving in a pair in the Yankees 7-0 victory.