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1998 Yankees Diary, September 12: Worst possible time for a rough stretch

The Yankees drop to 5-6 in September, and play their worst brand of baseball at the worst possible time.

Toronto Blue Jays Shawn Green... SetNumber: X56362

Less than two weeks into September, the Yankees had almost nothing to play for. Postseason berth? Check. AL East crown? Check. Home field advantage throughout the postseason? While they had already crossed the century mark, only one team — the Boston Red Sox — had more than 80 wins. For the next two weeks, the only thing the Yankees had to play for was a shot at history.

Meanwhile, the Toronto Blue Jays were still in the midst of a playoff race, although with minimal margin of error: they were only four games back from the Red Sox in the Wild Card race. Every game mattered — and that showed itself on this particular day.

September 12: Blue Jays 5, Yankees 3 (box score)

Record: 103-43, .705 (20.0 game lead)

Shannon Stewart led off the game with a single off starter David Wells, and after he advanced to second on a 1-3 groundout, he stole third before scoring on a Jose Canseco sacrifice fly to give Toronto an early 1-0 lead. The Yankees, meanwhile, struck early against Chris Carpenter. Homer Bush led off with a double down the third base line; he would advance to third when Derek Jeter reached on an E7. With Paul O’Neill at the plate, Jeter then stole second. O’Neill grounded out to second, scoring Bush and advancing Jeter to third, and the future Captain would score on a Tino Martinez sacrifice fly.

The score would settle in here with a 2-1 Yankees lead for the next few frames, as Wells and Carpenter exchanged zeroes. Everything changed in the top of the fifth, however. Tony Fernandez led off the inning with a single up the middle, and Benito Santiago laced a double off the wall over the head of center fielder Chad Curtis to bring him home. The defense then decided to go all “Bad News Bears.” When Bush, the cut-off man, threw the ball home in an attempt to get Fernandez at the plate, Santiago took off for third. The throw was wide, but Wells was backing up the threw; he picked it up and threw the ball into left field to allow Santiago to score. While Wells put down the next three hitters in order, the Blue Jays had already taken a 3-2 lead. Toronto would add on two more in the following frame, as Shawn Green and Jose Cruz singled to put two runners on for Fernandez’s bases-clearing triple.

The Yankees clawed back one of those runs in the bottom of the sixth, thanks almost entirely to Bush. The second baseman led off with a single, stole second, advanced to third when Jeter grounded out, and scored on a wild pitch. Unfortunately for the Bombers, that would be the last time the Yankees lineup came close to threatening that night, as they went down meekly across the final three games, 2023-style.

With the loss, the Yankees dropped to 5-6 in the month of September. Not only did this put their quest for history in danger, as we all know, nobody cares about the number of regular season wins you accrue if you aren’t the last team standing (just ask the 2001 Mariners). The Yankees were playing their worst brand of baseball since the opening week of the season at the worst possible time.