The Yankees entered this night’s contest on a similar downswing to the one they endured to close out August. They had dropped their previous three and four of their last five, however, simultaneous losing stretches by others in the division meant that the Bombers’ lead in the AL East remained untouched. They got back to their winning ways facing no less than Pedro Martinez, with David Cone providing yet another vintage outing in his stellar season.
Record: 101-41, .711 (up 19.5)
Cone entered the night 18-5 with a 3.58 ERA across his first 27 starts and was in attack mode from pitch one, striking out a pair in the first inning. Martinez meanwhile needed an extra inning to settle into his start, walking the first batter he faced. He’s also yield a single to Paul O’Neill, but the right fielder was thrown out trying to stretch it to a double and a Bernie Williams groundout ended the frame.
From there the two veteran hurlers battled deep into the night. Cone blinked first in the second, serving up a leadoff bomb to Nomar Garciaparra, but the Bombers responded two innings later. Derek Jeter walked to leadoff the first, followed by a one-out Williams single to put runners on the corners. This allowed Tino Martinez to roll over a soft grounder to first, plating Jeter to level the scores at one apiece.
It must’ve been a thrill to watch Cone and Martinez trade zeroes through the middle innings. Cone retired the side in order in the first, third, fifth and sixth while Pedro faced the minimum in the second, third and sixth. Cone really hit his stride in the fourth, fifth and sixth, striking out a pair in each, and while Martinez didn’t quite bring the same swing and miss stuff to the ballpark, he still collected a strikeout in each of the first seven innings.
Cone’s strikeout tally reached double-digits with Darren Lewis whiffing to end the sixth, giving the Yankees’ starter his eighth such effort on the season. An efficient seventh inning gave Cone a chance to come back out for the eighth with his pitch count at 98, but his offense’s exploits in the bottom-half allowed Joe Torre to hand his bullpen a clean inning with the lead, ending Cone’s night having given up a run on two hits and no walks with 11 strikeouts in seven innings.
Chaos reigned in the bottom of the seventh, Martinez issuing a leadoff free pass to Joe Girardi, who advanced to second on a wild pitch. A Chuck Knoblauch single up the middle put runners on the corners and a Derek Jeter walk loaded the bases with no outs. O’Neill tapped a weak grounder to second, plating Girardi to give the Yankees their first lead, 2-1. It also moved the runners up to second and third, forcing Martinez to intentionally walk Williams to re-load the bases, followed by a very unintentional free pass to Martinez to walk in the Bombers’ third run.
With Darryl Strawberry on deck and the bases still loaded, Jimy Williams went to lefty reliever Greg Swindell, which prompted Torre to pinch-hit the switch-hitting Chili Davis. Unfortunately, he bounced into the inning-ending double play to leave the bases juiced.
In the bottom of the eighth, Torre got to play the matchup game with his bullpen, pulling a maneuver that is now outlawed by the new rules. Lefty Graeme Lloyd threw a grand total of four pitches, the last resulting in a Troy O’Leary single. Next up was righty Jeff Nelson, who was able to strike out Mike Stanley on six pitches. Back to the bullpen went Torre, this time bringing in lefty Mike Stanton, but he couldn’t get the job done, yielding a single to Darren Bragg on his third and final pitch. By this point Torre had had enough and called on Mariano Rivera for the five out save. He retired the final two batters of the inning to strand a pair as it required four pitchers throwing a combined 18 pitches to complete a single frame.
Things got a little dicey for Mo in the ninth, with John Valentin drawing a walk and Mo Vaughn and Nomar singling to load the bases. O’Leary lifted a sac fly to cut the Yankees’ lead to a run and a Williams throwing error on the play put runners on second and third followed by a Stanley walk to again load the bases. However, Rivera struck out Bragg to leave all three ducks on the pond and secure victory for the Yankees, 3-2.