Entering their game against Tampa Bay on September 17th, the Yankees had only a dozen contests remaining in what had been a magical season. The Devil Rays, sitting 30 games under .500, had spanked New York 7-0 the night before to prolong a bit of a sluggish September and it’s not unreasonable to suspect the club had vengeance on its mind.
And the Yankees got their revenge. Hideki Irabu took the ball and held the D-Rays offense to a total of two hits. Meanwhile, Jorge Posada and Bernie Williams, key pieces in the nascent Yankee dynasty, delivered big hits, leading the Bronx Bombers to the win.
September 17: Yankees 4, Devil Rays 0 (box score)
Record: 105-46, .695 (19 GA)
Early in this one, Tim Raines was at the center of the action. In the top of the second, with runners on the corners, Raines singled up the middle, bringing home the first (and ultimately the winning) run. Then, in the bottom of the second, Raines made a beautiful diving catch, sprinting to his left in left field to rob Rich Butler.
The Yanks’ next excellent scoring chance came in the fourth. With runners on first and second, Scott Brosius singled through the left side. Chili Davis, lumbering around the bases as swiftly as he could, got the send coming around third. Unfortunately he was out by a mile at the plate and when the frame ended, it was still 1-0. This despite nine hits through four.
Again though, on this night, it did not really matter. By the midway point, Tampa had managed two infield singles to third, one of them a bunt. Irabu was on point and the Devil Rays showed no signs of mustering any offense.
The Yankees wasted a couple more baserunners in the fifth, but in the sixth they finally capitalized. With Raines on first after a leadoff walk, Posada unloaded on D-Rays starter Julio Santana. In a flash, the Yankee lead was three and Santana was out of the game.
If that wasn’t enough, Bernie got in on the act in the seventh, with a monster home run to right field. The dinger was his 26th of the season, despite missing a chunk of time early in the campaign, to go along with a rather spiffy .334/.419/.586 slash line. That’s good enough for government work.
With Irabu setting them up and mowing them down, perhaps the only remaining question was whether Joe Torre would let him try and go the distance. Through eight frames, he’d allowed only the two hits, and tossed 105 pitches. Torre must have seen enough though because he summoned Mike Stanton to get the final three outs, which Stanton did with ease.
The shutout avenged being on the wrong side of a goose egg the night before, and gave the Yankees their 105th win of the season, with 11 more games to go. Importantly, it also seemed to assuage some lingering anger from their skipper. Prior to the game, Derek Jeter, Tino Martinez, and Paul O’Neill had all checked in with Torre, who had excoriated the Yankees for their recent performances.
The 4-0 win evidently did the trick. Torre commented after the win, “We played tonight like we’re used to playing.” Irabu’s performance also kept his hopes alive of making the Yankees’ 25-man playoff roster. He’d allowed 30 runs in his previous 20.1 innings prior to spinning eight innings of shutout ball.