It wasn’t like the 1998 Yankees to get shut out. That’s what the Athletics managed to do on the previous Wednesday in the Bronx, beating the Yankees 2-0 to split two games in New York. The Yankees had an offday on Thursday, and they used it to lick their wounds and come back ready to ensure they got right back on track. In a topsy-turvy opener with the White Sox, that’s just what they did.
September 4: Yankees 11, White Sox 6 (box score)
Record: 100-38, .723 (up 18.0)
Orlando Hernandez started for the Yankees and had one of his most uneven starts of the year. He would last six innings, and ultimately only gave up four runs, but he walked six, hit a batter, and yielded six hits. The Sox had him in hot water right off the bat, with Albert Belle hitting his 43rd homer of the year to put Chicago up 2-0 in the bottom of the first.
Chicago kept El Duque’s feet to the fire throughout the early stages of the game. Hernandez walked three batters in the second but managed to escape in part because of a caught stealing by Greg Norton. A single, steal, wild pitch, and sac fly netted Chicago a third run in the third.
Hernandez mostly kept the Yankees in the game, so of course his lineup slugged back. Rookie Shane Spencer hit a solo homer in the third to get the Yankees on the board, his first of what would be a special September.
Bernie Williams smashed a two-run shot in the fourth, and we were tied at three.
The White Sox continued to put traffic on the bases against Hernandez, but he kept dancing through trouble. He walked the bases loaded in the fifth, and a sac fly scored a run to put Chicago up 4-3, but the damage could have been much worse in the end.
Outside of the early homers, the Yankees couldn’t do much against starter Mike Sirotka, and the lefty departed after seven innings having allowed three runs. With the starters finally gone, the stage was set for a frantic finish.
The Yankees teed off on the Chicago bullpen. Chad Bradford, in the first year of his 12-year career, allowed a single and a steal to Chuck Knoblauch, who scored on Derek Jeter’s single, tying the game with none out in the eighth. Bill Simas replaced Bradford, but he couldn’t keep Bernie from providing the big swing:
Williams hit his second homer of the night, giving him dingers from both sides of the plate, and giving the Yankees their first lead at 6-4. Tino Martinez followed with a solo shot, making it back-to-back homers on his 25th of the year.
Leading 7-4, Ramiro Mendoza would come on to allow an RBI single to Chad Kreuter in the bottom of the eighth. But the Yankees kept pounding White Sox relievers in the ninth to remove any shadow of a doubt. They poured four more on, with Tino capping things with a two-run double off Scott Eyre to make it 11-5.
Presumably warming up when the game was still a save situation, Mariano Rivera entered even with the comfortable lead. It wasn’t Rivera’s best outing, as he allowed consecutive doubles to Belle and Robin Ventura to give Chicago one more run, but it was no matter. By the end of the ninth, the Yankees had prevailed for the 100th time of the 1998 season.
Twenty-four games remained, yet the Yankees had already breached the barrier that typically signifies a team’s excellence. It was their first time above the century mark since 1980, and there were many more wins to go.