When the Yankees headed up to Boston for a three-game set against their archrival, the AL East at that point was all but secured. With a division lead approaching 20 games and with the magic number down to four, the stage was set for the Bronx Bombers to clinch their third AL East title in five years and celebrate on the field at Fenway Park; all they had to do was win two of their next three games.
Unfortunately, they got off to a lousy start in that quest.
Record: 100-14, .709 (18.5 game lead)
The top of the first inning went swimmingly for the Yankees against Boston starter Steve Avery, late of the Braves. Chuck Knoblauch led off the game with a double down the left-field line, and Derek Jeter grounded a single up the middle — do you remember when those weren’t routine groundballs to the shortstop or second baseman? — to give the Yankees an early 1-0 lead. A wild pitch sent Jeter to second, and although Bernie Williams failed to move the runner over by grounding out to shortstop, The future captain took matters into his own hands and stole third himself. While Chili Davis failed to bring him in, his buddy Jorge Posada doubled to deep left-center to bump the lead to 2-0.
On the other side, David Wells looked absolutely dominant against the Boston lineup. Five of the first six batters he faced struck out, with the one exception — defending AL Rookie of the Year Nomar Garciaparra, who flew out to center. Even after Jason Varitek broke up the perfecto bid before it could truly get going with a leadoff single in the third, Boomer would face just one batter over the minimum over the first six innings, striking out seven in the process. Meanwhile, Scott Brosius and Luis Sojo combined in the fifth to tack on another run.
Then came the seventh inning, and it all came tumbling down. After John Valentin flew out to start the frame, Mo Vaughn and Garciaparra each singled to put runners on first and second — the first time the Red Sox had managed two runners on at the same time all day. Former Yankees backstop Mike Stanley doubled to score Vaughn and send Garciaparra to third. The young shortstop would score when Troy O’Leary grounded out to second, and Stanley would follow him when Varitek lined a double to left. While Wells stopped the bleeding there, the Yankees lead was gone, and it was all tied up at three.
Despite putting two runners on in the top of the eighth, the Bombers failed to score. In the bottom of the frame, Wells allowed just one hit while facing the middle of the Boston lineup; unfortunately for him, that one hit was a home run off the bat of Valentin, giving the Red Sox a 4-3 lead.
With Boston closer — and future Yankees setup man — Tom Gordon on to pitch the top of the ninth and the bottom of the order coming up, the Yankees sent up a pair of pinch-hitters, Tim Raines and Paul O’Neill. Raines, however, grounded out to short, and O’Neill struck out swinging. Gordon then fanned Brosius on a 1-2 pitch, giving the Yankees a third-straight loss for just the third time in 1998.