With a split of their first two games behind them, the Yankees and Red Sox headed into a third and final game. The Yanks would be taking on the Sox, 20 games above .500 and 20 games back in the division, for the final time in the ‘98 regular season. For a team so accustomed to winning, their past week had not been their best, as they had won just two of their last six games. So, taking a series in Boston would help remedy the uncommon slow stretch for the Bombers. The Sox also occupied second in the AL East, and though it was a formality at this point, a win would clinch the AL East for New York, with plenty of room to spare.
September 9: Yankees 7, Red Sox 5 (box score)
Record: 102-41, .713 (20.5 game lead)
Orlando Hernandez got the nod for the Yankees in this one, coming off a bumpy stretch in his last few outings. This was El Duque’s introduction to The Rivalry, and he would take on knuckleballing Tim Wakefield for the Red Sox.
The Yankees had Hernandez’s back from the get-go, as Derek Jeter stepped up with one out in the top of the first. He took a first pitch knuckler from Wakefield deep and out to center field. It was his 18th homer on the season, and the future captain was not done there. After a pair of scoreless frames from Hernandez, Jeter came up with two outs in the third, and launched his second homer in as many at-bats. The blast secured Jeter’s second career multi-homer game, and put the Yankees up 2-0 after three innings.
The rest of the lineup got to work in the fourth, as Bernie Williams led off and was plunked by the HBP-happy Wakefield. He was scored two pitches later as Tino Martinez laced a ball down the line for a double. Back-to-back strikeouts put this rally on the ropes, but Jorge Posada was able to keep the party going with a double of his own, followed by a Scott Brosius single. After their turn in the fourth, they had more than doubled their lead to five.
The breathing room would be short-lived, however, as Hernandez unraveled in the bottom half. He walked Mo Vaughn and Mike Stanley, with a Nomar Garciaparra single sandwiched in between to load the bases with one out. Scott Hatteberg, of Moneyball fame, would make the most of this opportunity by blasting a towering shot into the right field seats for a grand slam.
Hernandez stayed out there following the salami, but allowed two more singles and a walk to load the bases again, this time for Vaughn. Joe Torre wouldn’t let him face the former MVP with a one run lead however, and turned to Ramiro Mendoza, who would get out of the jam. With their lead now diminished, and Wakefield out of the game, Paul O’Neill answered the bell by smashing his 20th homer of the season in to the bullpens in right to put them up 6-4.
Boston would answer back in the bottom half, however. Garciaparra led off with a double, and was eventually scored via a Stanley double play ball. With the score now at 6-5 in favor of New York, this game pushed on to the sixth.
With Mendoza still in for the Bombers, and John Wasdin for the Sox, both lineups quieted down. Both pitchers worked 1-2-3 innings in the sixth, and similarly quiet frames in the seventh. But in the eighth, with Greg Swindell now on the mound for Boston, Paul O’Neill joined the multi-homer party by lining his second homer over the wall for a solo shot to add some insurance for the Yanks.
Mike Stanton pitched a spotless eighth, and handed the ball to Mariano Rivera for the ninth. In classic fashion, Mo made quick work of the Sox, just as the Yankees had now made quick work of the American League East in 1998.
It was another check on the list for one of baseball’s greatest teams ever, fittingly powered by Derek Jeter, and capped off with Mariano Rivera. Although in practical terms the division had long been wrapped up, it was official now, and the Yankees still had a few more weeks of muscle-flexing left in front of them beyond this benchmark, as the historic ‘98 season rolled through its final month.