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1998 Yankees Diary, September 16: Shutout in St. Pete

The Bombers suffer their first ever loss to the Devil Rays, getting blanked in the Sunshine State.

BBN-YANKEES-TAMPA BAY DEVIL-2 Photo credit should read PETER MUHLY/AFP via Getty Images

Early September had not been all that kind to the Yankees in 1998, as the first half of the month saw them go an uncharacteristic 6-8. But, they were luckily headed to St. Petersburg to take on the Devil Rays, whom they had literally never lost a game to in this expansion season. This, however, doesn’t matter when you put up a zero in the run column. Andy Pettitte got the nod in this one, but his lackluster performance and the lack of any noise from the bats made this a rather easy win for the last-place Rays.

September 16: Yankees 0, Devil Rays 7 (box score)

Record: 104-46, .693 (up 19.0)

The 26-year-old southpaw was making his 31st start of the ‘98 campaign, and was in the midst of a pretty forgettable run of pitching. Over his previous five starts, he’d allowed exactly five earned runs in each, good enough for a 7.50 ERA over 30 innings. He wouldn’t fare much better in this one either, and the D-Rays made it apparent almost immediately.

In the bottom of the first, after Quinton McCracken reached on an error and stole second, he was pushed across as the game’s first run thanks to a Fred McGriff double to left-center. Things only got messier from there, as the Crime Dog would score all the way from second on a wild pitch that Pettitte spiked into the turf, sending Joe Girardi into the spin cycle and McGriff easily to home plate to make it 2-0, Tampa Bay.

Pettitte and Devil Rays starter Tony Saunders found their grooves for a bit after the first. Both lefties worked 1-2-3 innings in the second, and Pettitte another in the third. The Bombers loaded the bases in the top half, starting with Homer Bush’s second hit of the game, but were unable to make anything of it after Chili Davis popped out to end the threat. They got two more runners on in the fourth, but were still unable to cash in, as Pettitte worked around another McGriff hit to keep this one within reach.

Bush tried to get the party started again in the fifth, leading off with his third single in as many at-bats. Bernie Williams walked two batters later, while Bush advanced to third on a failed pickoff attempt, setting up another golden opportunity for Chili Davis to redeem himself. The 18-year veteran instead sharply grounded into a 5-4-3 twin-killer, as another scoring chance went down the drain.

Pettitte could only keep the Devil Rays at bay for so long, as they began to pile on in the bottom of the fifth. After two batters reached, Randy Winn got crafty and scored a run on a safety squeeze, and McCracken added another for good measure with a single up the middle. After five innings, Tampa Bay was up 4-0.

Saunders escaped another inning unscathed in the sixth, and his counterparts in the lineup continued to pester Pettitte. After Bubba Trammell doubled, Aaron Ledesma followed with one of his own to score him, and Ledesma was pushed across with another hit on the very next pitch, and this one was beginning to feel out of reach.

The messy sixth ended the night for Pettitte, as he finished giving up six runs (four earned) on seven hits over those six innings, striking out three. Saunders was also done at that point, finishing with six shutout innings, and the Tampa Bay bullpen would pick up right where he left off.

The Yankees missed the run column again after a pair of batters reached in the seventh, and went down 1-2-3 in the eighth. With Graeme Lloyd now pitching for New York, the Devil Rays added a seventh and final run for the night, as Ledesma laced another double down the left field line to give Roberto Hernandez plenty of breathing room in the ninth.

The veteran closer needed just six pitches to shut down the Yankees, and secure the 7-0 win for the Devil Rays. Not much else matters when the lineup throws a zero on the board. Homer Bush was the only Yankee with multiple hits, and no one notched an extra-base hit in this one. The Bombers also had multiple runners reach base in five different innings, but were unable to do anything with the opportunities.

It was a game of missed chances and the continued struggles of Pettitte, as the Yanks continued to trudge through their forgettable September. This was their ninth defeat of the month already and their 16th loss in their last 28 games. As recounted on the 1998 season recap video, this was the apex of manager Joe Torre’s frustration with his team’s focus, and he privately lit into his team to get back on track.

Joe Torre

Girardi succinctly relayed the message: “You better turn up the intensity, or we’re going to be home after the first round.”

Luckily, of course, the Yankees had built enough of a cushion where they had time to return to form. The postseason beckoned, and by the first pitch of the Division Series, this dynastic club was ready.