The Yankees kicked off the final home stand of the 1998 regular season with a four-game set against Cleveland. The Yankees dropped the first game of the series largely thanks to a shock lights-out start from Charles Nagy. This seemed to spur the Bombers on, as they came out guns blazing in a day-night doubleheader at the Stadium, outscoring their opponents 15-5 to take both games.
Record: 108-48, .692 (up 21.0)
The baseball was absolutely flying out of Yankee Stadium in the day game, with starting pitchers Ramiro Mendoza and Dave Burba combining to surrender a half-dozen home runs in just the first four innings. Half of those came in a remarkable second-inning flurry by the middle of the Yankee order. Bernie Williams led off with a walk only to be brought home three pitches later on a mammoth Tino Martinez bomb to right-center. Chili Davis popped out, but that just set the stage for Shane Spencer and Scott Brosius to go back-to-back, giving their starter an early 4-0 lead on a day when he would need it.
That’s because El Brujo gave three of those runs right back. Enrique Wilson singled to lead off the third, followed by a David Justice two-run blast to left-center to cut the Bombers’ lead in half. The following inning, Mark Whiten crushed a solo shot to right and all of a sudden the Yankees’ lead had crumbled to just 4-3.
There was no need to panic, however, as Spencer jumped on the first pitch of the bottom of the fourth for his second home run in as many plate appearances. The rookie left fielder would even flirt with history, coming within a handful of feet of becoming the 13th player to hit four home runs in one game. He’d lift a deep fly ball to the left-center power alley in the sixth but Justice would catch it at the wall. Then in the seventh, Spencer jumped on a slider that sliced just the wrong side of the foul pole and into the upper deck in left.
Cleveland managed to keep it close through six, a hit by pitch, walk, and single in the fifth again reducing their deficit to just one run. In fact, it took until the bottom of the seventh for the offense to really break through with a decisive outburst, and the five runs they’d end up hanging in the frame certainly qualifies as that. Homer Bush singled to lead off, advanced to second on a sac bunt, and scored on a Paul O’Neill single to center. Ricky Ledee pinch-ran for O’Neill, and after a Bernie single, both he and Williams would score on a Martinez double to center. Despite Cleveland making a mid-inning pitching change, the Yankees weren’t finished, three straight singles by Chili Davis, Spencer, and Brosius plating another two runs to bring us to our final score, 10-4.
Record: 109-48, .694 (up 21.0)
As if energized watching his offense’s efforts in the first game, Hideki Irabu fired one of his best starts of the second half, holding Cleveland to one unearned run on four hits and two walks against seven strikeouts in eight innings. It was his second straight start allowing no earned runs in eight innings as he built some positive momentum heading into the playoffs, though not enough to earn a postseason appearance.
His offense wasted no time jumping on Cleveland starter Chad Ogea, Chuck Knoblauch leading off the first with a single followed by a Derek Jeter hit by pitch, Shane Spencer single, and Chili Davis sac fly, the latter pair plating Knobluach and Jeter. The defense would give one of those back in the second. Jim Thome walked to lead off and advanced to third on a Brian Giles single before scoring on a Richie Sexson strikeout swinging that resulted in a Jorge Posada throwing error attempting the strike ‘em out throw ‘em out double play as Giles swiped second.
The next few innings flew by without much of anything happening, taking Yankees until the sixth to break through against Ogea again. Spencer singled with one out followed by a Posada single to put runners on the corners before a Ledee triple plated the pair to make it 4-1 Yankees.
Then in the eighth, Spencer drew a leadoff walk to continue his strong day overall — he’d finish the day 5-for-7 with two home runs, three singles, a walk and three driven in between both games of the doubleheader. A wild pitch allowed him to advance to second and groundout advance to third before scoring on a weak Ledee grounder to bring us to our final score, 5-1.