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1998 Yankees Diary, September 18: Shane Spencer, Paul O’Neill provide the fireworks

The Yankees showed signs of snapping out of their slump with a thumping win in Baltimore.

BBA-YANKEES-RANGERS-SPENCER Photo credit should read JEFF HAYNES/AFP via Getty Images

After an uncharacteristically poor stretch in early September, the 1998 Yankees were ready to pull out of their “skid”. After a rough shutout at the hands of the lowly Devil Rays, the Yankees responded with a shutout of their own to split two games with Tampa. Then, they moved on to play a .500-ish Baltimore playing out the string. The Yankees took the chance to let out some frustrations, slugging their way to a dominant win.

September 18: Yankees 15, Orioles 5 (box score)

Record: 106-46, .693 (up 20.0)

The Yankees got right to work on Baltimore starter Juan Guzman, putting across a couple of satisfying runs in the first. Chuck Knoblauch singled, stole second, and scored on a Derek Jeter base hit. Jeter also stole second, and scored on a Bernie Williams single. 2-0, thanks to just a few singles.

David Wells went for the Yankees that day, and looked sharp to start, allowing just a walk through the first two innings. He had two down in the third, but allowed a single with a man on second to give the O’s their first run.

But the Yankees loaded the bases with none out in the top of the fourth, and Guzman walked Knoblauch to force in a run. Guzman got to two outs, only for his defense to fail him, with Roberto Alomar committing a throwing error on a Paul O’Neill groundball, letting two more runs in as the Yankees went up 5-1.

Wells gave up another lone run in the fifth, with Eric Davis singling one in after Alomar doubled, but Baltimore wasn’t able to put up a significant threat. Through five, Wells had looked solid, and the Yankees were up comfortably 5-2.

O’Neill set to make that lead even more comfortable. Rocky Coppinger relieved Guzman and put a couple on for O’Neill, who unloaded a beautiful left-handed swing onto Eutaw Street:

That big swing (O’Neill’s 24th of the year) had New York up 8-2, and proved to come in handy immediately. Wells stayed in to face the middle of Baltimore’s order a third time, and they made him pay. The Orioles pounded out five straight singles with one out, putting across two runs and chasing Wells with the bases loaded and the tying run at the plate.

A bit of drama was packed into that run of hits, too. There was a rare confrontation on the mound between Wells and Jeter after a ball dropped in that probably should’ve been caught. Here’s Jack Curry’s account from his recent book on the 1998 Yankees:

During that game, a pop fly was hit over Jeter’s head and into shallow left field. Jeter, left fielder Ricky Ledee, and center fielder Chad Curtis all converged on the ball and none of them caught it. When Wells saw the ball fall to the grass, he spread his arms wide and expressed his dissatisfaction. It isn’t the kind of move that ingratiates one teammate to another and Jeter moved swiftly to let Wells know that. When Jeter returned the baseball to Wells, he said sharply, “We don’t do that shit around here.”

It was a quick moment, and after the fact — particularly since the Yankees won this game anyway — Jeter, Wells, and company were quick to move on from it. It was one of several times in his career when the future captain did his best to squelch a story featuring any kind of discord, which he considered a mere distraction.

Back on the field in ‘98, Ramiro Mendoza came on for one batter, and allowed a run-scoring flyout to Rafael Palmeiro. Then, after an intentional walk, it was Mike Stanton’s turn, and Stanton retired B.J. Surhoff to escape what could have been a disastrous inning. Wells final line came in at five runs on 11 hits over 5.1 innings. He would go on to earn the win, but it was his third-straight start allowing at least four runs.

Stanton stayed on for the next two innings, ultimately turning in one of his best performances of the season by keeping the O’s off the board for 2.1 frames. That got us to the ninth, where the Yankees removed any remaining suspense.

With two on and none down, Ricky Ledee singled off Alan Mills to extend the lead to 9-5. Jorge Posada singled to load the bases, and Scott Brosius and Knoblauch provided singles of their own to each score a run and make it 11-5. With the bases loaded, Shane Spencer stepped to the plate, and took a swing that marked the true start of his memorable September run:

That was Spencer’s first career grand slam, and the fourth homer of his summer. He hadn’t gotten to play much, but he already had a 1.077 OPS, and we’ll of course see a number of highlights from him as the season wraps up over the next couple weeks.

The Yankees had Mariano Rivera handle the ninth up 15-5, with the closer having had just one outing over the last nine days. He worked the inning without incident, and the Yankees had their second straight win.