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1998 Yankees Diary, September 21: The Final Loss

A future Yankee helps hand the 1998 Yankees their 48th — and final — loss of the regular season.

Enrique Wilson #35
Cleveland’s Enrique Wilson

In one particular way, the 2007-08 New England Patriots are the undisputed best team of the last two decades, no matter the sport, as they finished the regular season with a perfect 16-0 record and waltzed to the Super Bowl before losing to the New York Giants in a historic matchup. The 2015-16 Golden State Warriors, meanwhile, represent the pinnacle of professional basketball teams, as they coasted to a 73-9 record — the equivalent of a 144-win season in baseball. They, too, fell in the end as LeBron James’ Cleveland Cavaliers came back from 3-1 to win the NBA Finals.

Compared to other sports, baseball teams lose a lot. In any given season, the best teams will still lose about 60 games, or roughly 40 percent of the time. Even the great 1998 team almost dropped 30 percent of the games they played, accruing 48 losses over the course of the season. Thankfully, they avoided the same postseason fate as the Pats and Dubs.

Today’s feature presentation: loss number 48.

September 21: Cleveland 4, Yankees 1 (box score)

Record: 107-48, .690 (20.5 game lead)

On paper, this matchup favored the New York Yankees (naturally). The highly-touted young southpaw Andy Pettitte got the ball for the home team, while veteran Charles Nagy, Cleveland’s starter, had his best days in the rearview mirror. And yet, across the first four frames, both pitchers traded zeroes.

Pettitte allowed a single to Travis Fryman and walked Manny Ramirez in the first, Bernie Williams singled in the second, Enrique Wilson — then Cleveland’s rookie second baseman — singled in the top of the third, and Darryl Strawberry was plunked in the bottom of the same inning. This was the entire offensive production over the first four innings for both teams; only in the first did any runner end up in scoring position, and never did either offense truly threaten.

As had become a trend for Pettitte late in the 1998 season, everything fell apart in one inning, in this case the fifth. Alex Ramirez got the ball rolling with a one-out single, and Einar Diaz followed that up with a single of his own. After a wild pitch caused both runners to advance, Pettitte walked Omar Vizquel to load the bases, bringing up the aforementioned Wilson. The future Yankees utility infielder/Pedro Martinez nemesis deposited the first pitch he saw directly down the right-field line and into the Short Porch seats for his first of three career grand slams. Just like that, Cleveland had a 4-0 lead.

For his part, Pettitte settled down after that, as not only did he stop the bleeding there, he added on two more scoreless frames. Likewise, the two relievers used, Graeme Lloyd and Jeff Nelson, battled but kept the Yankees within striking distance. Unfortunately for them, the offense, which had been so potent for much of the season, could get nothing going against the crafty Nagy. A Ricky Ledee walk and a Scott Brosius double scratched across one run in the bottom of the seventh, but it was too little, too late. Nagy managed eight innings of one-run ball, allowing just five hits and striking out four for a Game Score of 70 — his fourth highest of the season.

With the loss, the Yankees dropped to 107-48. The all-time wins record had already slipped away, and now the American League record of 111 wins, set by Cleveland in 1954, was in danger; the team would need to go at least 4-3 over their final seven games to even tie it — not an impossible task by any stretch, but for a team struggling to hit the landing at the end of a historic season, no guarantee.