For a team that had the division all but wrapped up for quite some time, the 1998 Yankees were not short on storylines in the regular season’s final month. Between chasing down regular season win records, and individuals stealing the show, this team was historic no matter the measure. After taking both halves of a doubleheader, the Yanks closed out their four-game series with Cleveland at The Stadium in a comeback win, one that matched heights seen only once in the team’s near-century of history.
September 23: Yankees 8, Cleveland 4 (box score)
Record: 110-48, .696 (up 21.0)
With the stakes fairly low for the division-clinched Yankees, September saw an array of different starters get a shot, which helps explain Mike Jerzembeck’s starting nod for this one. Not to foreshadow his performance too openly, but this was The Jerz’s third and final Major League appearance, all of which took place in ‘98. He started opposite of Jason Jacome, who was also a bit of a stranger to the ‘98 season, as the 27-year-old was making his one-and-only appearance of the campaign.
After a quiet first inning, the Cleveland bats struck first in the top of the second. A pair of walks and a double loaded the bases, after which Einar Díaz fired the opening salvo with a sacrifice fly. Two batters later, Omar Vizquel piled on with a line drive double down the left field line to put Cleveland up 3-0. The Bombers stayed quiet in the second, and Cleveland added on once again in the third. Leading off, David Justice took a 2-0 pitch into the right field seats for a solo shot to grow their lead to four.
As significant as Cleveland’s lead had grown, it would not be a long-lived one, as the New York lineup woke up in the bottom of the third. With a runner on and no one out, Chuck Knoblauch slashed a triple into right to score a run, and was pushed across himself via a Derek Jeter ground out. With the deficit now halved, they continued to work away. Bernie Williams singled and Tino Martinez walked, bringing up the man of the hour, 26-year-old Shane Spencer.
The day prior, Spencer had homered twice in the first game of the doubleheader, and it served as a proper precursor to this night’s game as well:
The Home Run Dispencer’s seventh homer of the season, and third in as many games, catapulted the Yankees into the lead, as the three-run blast put them up 5-4, and helped solidify his place in Yankee lore.
Ryan Bradley replaced Jerzembeck to start the fourth, and kept Cleveland off of home plate, working around a pair of baserunners. Jacome did the same against New York, and this one moved to the fifth. In the bottom half of which, the Yankees added some insurance. After Martinez singled and Spencer continued his red-hot stretch with a double, Chad Curtis brought ‘em all in with a high fly ball around the left field pole for a three-run shot. It put the Yanks up 8-4 and was the nail in the coffin for Cleveland.
The sixth and seventh innings zipped by, with both bullpens working scoreless frames, allowing just a pair of runners to reach in total. Darren Holmes came on for the eighth inning, as the fourth pitcher of the night for the Yanks, and it was his game to finish. He allowed a single but crafted a subsequent double-play ball to face the minimum in the eighth, and he liked it so much he did the exact same thing in the ninth. He closed out the final two frames of the Yankees’ 110th win, and it was an big one.
One hundred and ten matched their franchise record for wins with the 1927 Murderers’ Row squad, on the back of a scoreless six innings from their bullpen, and more firepower from their rookie sensation. In what would be a ‘98 ALCS preview, the Yankees showed yet again how special of a team they were.