If you’re a Yankee fan, Oct. 16 holds a warm place in your heart. The memory of a mighty swing by Aaron Boone in the 11th inning of Game 7 of the 2003 American League Championship Series to crush the dreams of Red Sox Nation has held up, and will continue to hold up forever more.
In honor of the 11th anniversary of this profound piece of Yankee history, this writer is going to take you on a ride back to the past and muse about the goings-on of the 2003 Yankees-Red Sox saga; perhaps point some things out that didn’t necessarily meet the eye to the average fan.
Join me, will you?
It took a long time before the Yanks and BoSox reached the climactic Boone game. A really long time, in fact. The two hated rivals had faced each other 25 times in ‘03 leading up to Game 7 of the ALCS. Their 26th meeting in the decisive game was historic, in the sense that no two teams – in any sport – had faced each other more times in a single season.
But so much more happened before Game 7.
In squaring off against each other so many times, the Yankees and Red Sox had generated some disdain for one another. Earlier in the season on July 7 in the Bronx, Pedro Martinez, Boston’s ace, had plunked both Alfonso Soriano and Derek Jeter – bean balls that were so intense they sent the two hitters at the top of the Yankees’ batting order to the hospital.
Jeter was hammered on his right hand while Soriano suffered a shot on his left hand. The after effects of the HBPs were so great that, after more than two weeks later, both hitters felt the pain of Martinez’s missed location; the captain’s hand was still swollen and Fonsy felt some aches just by checking his swing.
Roger Clemens, the Yankee ace, in return struck Red Sox first baseman and team ringleader Kevin Millar with a pitch. Millar, a colorful and outspoken player who had urged his team to “Cowboy Up,” would later express anger towards Clemens for the Yankees act of retaliation.
The late Yankee owner George Steinbrenner even got in on battle. The Boss was asked if Martinez was headhunting; throwing at the Yankees with intent. His response:
“I can’t answer that. But if he was, he’ll regret it.”
Steinbrenner had every reason to be suspicious about whether or not the hit-by-pitches were deliberate. In the past, 2001 to be exact, Martinez told the Boston Globe,
“I’m starting to hate talking about the Yankees. The questions are stupid. They’re wasting my time. It’s getting kind of old … I don’t believe in damn curses. Wake up the damn Bambino and have me face him. I’ll drill him in the ass, pardon the word.”
Red Sox CEO Larry Lucchino then got his jab in, giving the Yankees a moniker in homage to the Star Wars franchise. He dubbed the Bronx Bombers “The Evil Empire.” Yankee Universe happily (or at least sarcastically) welcomed the nickname.
So was Jeter Darth Vader? Sure, that makes sense.
How we got there
The physical and verbal blows during the regular season were only the beginning, laying the groundwork for what was to come in the playoffs. The Yankees finished 2003 with a record of 101-61, six games ahead of Boston for the AL East. The 95-67 Red Sox captured the AL Wild Card – keep in mind that in ’03 there was no play-in game; the BoSox were automatically in the eight-team postseason tournament without having to fight their way in the door.
Most fans may not remember that the ’03 Yankees-Red Sox ALCS clash wouldn’t have happened if the Oakland A’s didn’t collapse. In the ALDS the A’s handed Boston a 5-4 loss in Game 1; Oakland winning in the 12th on a walk-off bunt single by catcher Ramon Hernandez. Game 2 wasn’t any better for the Red Sox, as the A’s poured it on and beat Boston 5-1 – Oakland was only one win away from the next round.
Yet, maybe in the spirit of some foreshadowing, the Red Sox fought back.
Boston won Game 3, 2-0. They then took Game 4 by a count of 5-4, and completed the comeback with a 4-3 win in Game 5. The Yankees were already waiting for the winner of the Boston-Oakland series, having disposed of the Minnesota Twins in four games to reach the League Championship Series; the Yanks outscoring the Twins 16-6 in their divisional round.
The rally vs. the A’s and the thrashing of the Twins set the New York-Boston rivalry up for an epic showdown. Yes, the Baseball gods had done it again.
Players on both sides knew the World Series was not just at stake, but bragging rights were up for grabs and in a lot of ways, the ending or the continuation of Curse of the Bambino was on the line.
“Everyone says, ‘we played them towards the end of the year, does it get any bigger than that?’ Well, yeah it does. And this is it,” Jeter told MLB before the ALCS.
The Red Sox took Game 1, beating the Yankees 5-2. However, the first salvo seemed to be fired in the seventh inning when reliever Jeff Nelson hit Red Sox big man David Ortiz with a pitch. The Yanks went on to take Game 2 with a 6-2 win, but in terms of the HBP battle, Boston punched back.
Future hero Boone was beaned by Red Sox starter Derek Lowe and Soriano was plunked by Bronson Arroyo. The ALCS was split 1-1, tensions were at an all-time high, and the teams were beginning to get rather physical.
What’s the worst that could happen in Game 3?
And then, everything explodes
The energy level at Fenway Park on Oct. 11, 2003 was off the charts – not that I was there, but listening to the words of the players and examining everything that had led up to Game 3, everyone from the fans to the media was on edge.
What’s more, the fact that Clemens and Martinez were on the hill for their respective clubs made it even more enticing. During batting practice, Millar was about as hyped up as an 8-year-old after consuming 50 sugar cubes, enthusiastically saying,
“We got Roger and Martinez, Game 3 split, Championship Series, American League, all eyes on the Sox!”
To this day I wonder if even he knew how jumbled that sounded. Mic’d up, he stood next to Ortiz and yelled,
“You’ve got to be going with the Sox! This is the Sox Nation! Two thousand and three! And screw that curse!”
Ortiz couldn’t help but laugh at Millar’s zeal, but a few short innings later, no one was laughing.
In the top of the fourth, Martinez let up an RBI ground rule double to Nick Johnson, which gave the Yankees a 3-2 lead. The very next hitter, outfielder Karim Garcia, took a pitch behind his head which appeared to nick him on the shoulder for another hit-by-pitch.
Soriano came up next and grounded into a 6-4-3 double play, though another Yankee run scored. Leaving the field, Garcia had some choice words for the Red Sox and a heated exchange ensued.
Yankee catcher Jorge Posada, chest protector and shin guards on, came out of the dugout looking like a Roman centurion ready to attack Martinez. The two feisty foes got into some jaw-jacking and a bit of a “pointing battle” – Martinez using his index finger to point at his temple, as if to say to Posada, “I’ll hit you there.”
The Yankees, in a nutshell, were unhappy with Martinez’s antics, and had no problem expressing their grief. Yet somehow the umpires settled matters down.
That is, until the bottom half of the inning.
Clemens delivered a high and tight 1-2 fastball to hothead Manny Ramirez, who believed there was intent behind the pitch – when clearly there wasn’t.
Ramirez angrily tried to approach Clemens with the bat in his hand before being subdued by his teammates when the benches cleared. Needless to say all Hell broke loose at Fenway, but the victim of the fracas wound up being a coach, not a player.
Yankee bench coach, the late Don Zimmer (72 at the time) lunged towards Martinez, who grabbed him by the head and force-fed him to the ground. The Yankee trainers were able to help him up and get him back into the dugout free of serious injury, but the ugly incident further proved how the Yankees and Red Sox were at extreme odds.
Eventually the situation calmed, and Clemens fanned Ramirez with a fastball on the outer part of the plate to get the game going again; the players back to their professional ways.
But just when it seemed everything was back to normal, it became a mess again.
An altercation broke out in the Yankee bullpen in right field between Nelson and a Boston grounds crew member, Paul Williams. Garcia, stationed in right field, also sampled the action. He hopped the wall into the ‘pen and got involved; a scrum of police officers, security officials, and Yankee relief pitchers creating an unpretty scene.
Days later the Yankees’ personnel, notably president Randy Levine, defended the New York relief corps. Meanwhile the Red Sox brass were less than happy, and went to bat for their groundskeeper, explaining that he did nothing wrong. The Yankee side relented, though, and contended Williams had antagonized Nelson, and wanted an apology issued from the Boston side.
Yeah. That never happened.
Once the roller coaster ride finally ended, the Yankees escaped with a 4-3 win and a 2-1 ALCS lead. The reaction by a couple of individuals after Game 3, however, was unlike anything this writer had ever seen in sports – ever.
In terms of the Martinez-Zimmer incident, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg went on the record saying, “If that happened in New York, we would’ve arrested the perpetrator. Nobody should throw a 70-year-old man to the ground, period.”
That would’ve been quite a sight: the Red Sox ace being cuffed and escorted off the Yankee Stadium diamond by New York’s finest.
BoSox skipper Grady Little only had this to say:
“I think we’ve upgraded it from a battle to a war.”
The war raged on. The Red Sox won Game 4, 3-2, to even the series, then the Yankees grabbed Game 5 with a 4-2 win, taking a 3-2 series lead back to the Bronx. The Red Sox raised the eyebrows of the world by beating the Yanks 9-6 in Game 6, overcoming both Andy Pettitte and a raucous Yankee Stadium crowd.
Game 7. Roger and Pedro, again. He we are.
Is this happening?
Before Game 7 took place, Boston sportswriter Howard Bryant caught up with Willie Randolph, a longtime pinstriper who had endured the “Bronx Zoo” era of the late 1970s as a player, and enjoyed the year-by-year success of the dynasty of the ‘90s as the Yankees’ third base coach.
Bryant asked Randolph what he thought about the deciding game. What do you think?
“Listen,” Randolph said. “Every single time we’ve had to beat them, we’ve beaten them. Tonight’s not going to be any different.”
But in the early going, it was different – a lot different. Clemens struggled, surrendering a second inning, two-run home run to Trot Nixon. Later in the frame a throwing error by starting third baseman Enrique Wilson allowed Jason Varitek to come in, making it 3-0 Red Sox.
Clemens pitched into the fourth, although “the rocket” was all but gassed by then. Millar backed up some of his talking by sending Clemens’s offering into the seats in left field, a solo blast to give the Red Sox a 4-0 lead. Yankee manager Joe Torre had told starter Mike Mussina that he might use him out of the bullpen, which would’ve been the first time in his MLB career he would’ve pitched in relief.
A caveat, though: Torre had told “Moose” that, if he were to use him, he’d bring him into the game when nobody was on base. That plan went by the wayside, as Mussina was summoned to mop up a first-and-third, no out mess.
Number 35, cleanup on aisle four.
Mussina was brilliant, striking out Varitek by utilizing his patented knuckle curveball, and followed by getting Johnny Damon to bounce into an unassisted 6-3 double play to skim out of further peril.
After the game Mussina teased Torre, inquiring, “I thought you said you were only bringing me in if there weren’t going to be men on base.”
Torre quipped back: “I lied.”
Jason Giambi, whom the Yankees had acquired after the fall of the dynasty in 2001, kept the Yanks close with two solo home runs off Martinez – a bomb in the fifth and another in the seventh.
The Yankees trimmed the deficit to 4-2 but in the top of the eighth, Ortiz played pepper with the short porch seats, homering off another starter playing the role of reliever that night, David Wells. The solo job (that left Wells in utter disgust, putting it mildly) gave the Red Sox a run right back, making it 5-2 in favor of Boston.
Now Martinez, his pitch count over 100, came out to toss the bottom half of the eighth with a three-run lead, and while most members of Red Sox Nation thought this might ultimately be the year the Curse of the Bambino would be vanquished, some fans back in Beantown were not so convinced.
Baseball historian and Red Sox fan Doris Kearns Goodwin explained:
“When Pedro came back out in the eighth inning, we all started screaming ‘No! No! You can’t be doing it!’ I mean, fans think they know more than the managers – and often we don’t – but at that point everybody knew the pitch counts that Pedro would suddenly fall off the cliff, if he were over that pitch count.
“He was way over that pitch count, and so there was this huge sense of dread when he came to that mound.”
That dread was well-founded and soon realized.
Jeter pounded a one-out double off the wall in right field. Bernie Williams brought him in with a well-struck single in front of Damon in centerfield, cutting Boston’s lead to 5-3. The RBI base hit prompted a mound visit from Little, who shockingly stuck with his ace; Martinez not leaving the mound after the powwow, even with hard-throwing righty Mike Timlin and lefty specialist Alan Embree going double-barreled in the Red Sox bullpen.
Hideki Matsui, a left-handed hitter, was due up next. Embree would have been the obvious choice to match up with Matsui, but Embree could only watch from the ‘pen as Matsui ripped a ground-rule double down the line in right field off a tired Martinez, passing the baton to Posada.
The switch-hitting Yankee catcher, batting from the left side, punched a blooper into centerfield, falling in the middle of shortstop Nomar Garciaparra, second baseman Todd Walker and Damon to bring both Williams and Matsui to the plate. Posada reached second base – getting the last laugh off Martinez, thinking back to their chinwag in Game 3 – and Game 7 was tied, 5-5.
Martinez then departed to a Bronx cheer; there was no undoing the damage the Yankees had done. The decision to keep Martinez in the ballgame haunted Red Sox Nation for a year. Fans were outraged at Little for not removing Martinez before the game turned, but Martinez – and others – have defended the move.
“I was just trying to do it,” Martinez said. “That’s what a lot of people don’t understand. Why didn’t Pedro give away the ball? Well, they didn’t ask me to give away the ball. They asked me if I could face the guys. I said yes! Of course I can! I’m in the middle of the game; I’m here to do this.
“When Grady came out, the simple question was whether I could pitch to Matsui or not. And I said yes.”
Former Red Sox favorite Johnny Pesky (for whom the foul pole in right field at Fenway Park is named) also was a proponent of allowing Martinez to stay in the game, and was quoted as saying,
“When he’s your best pitcher, and he tells you, ‘skipper, I got enough left in my tank’ you’re not going to take him out.”
The fans on the other hand turned their ire on the call, and even went as far as constructing a poem about it, penned by Boston loyalist James Bair:
Why Did You Keep Pedro In?
We couldn’t have got there without you.
We were five outs away from a win.
You were the smartest guy in the stadium.
But why did you keep Pedro in?
We don’t believe in those curses.
We could care less about old Harry’s sin.
But with such a powerful bullpen,
Why did you keep Pedro in?
We know there is one consolation:
We know you’ll never do it again.
Still the cry rises from Red Sox Nation:
Why did you keep Pedro in?
You made us now root for the Marlins,
And we hardly know how to begin.
You almost upended the Empire,
Why did you keep Pedro in?
You brought new pizzazz to the clubhouse:
The crew found the cowboy within.
You did so much for the guys, but with tears in our eyes,
We say, why did you keep Pedro in?
The question could be asked until the end of time. But it was moot. The game was knotted at five, and the Yankees used the unflappable closer Mariano Rivera for the 9th, 10th, and 11th innings. The stage was set. The question was no longer, “why did Grady leave Pedro in?” Rather it became “how is this saga going to finally end?”
Sleeping on the X-Factor
What probably gets lost in the shuffle was the fact that Boone had come into the game as a pinch-runner during that eventful bottom of the eighth. He took over at third base for Wilson on defense, who was surely not the Yankee fans’ favorite player that evening, because remember – he committed that costly error in the third which led to a Boston run.
It’s funny to me because, personally, I can recall the “due up” graphic in the middle of the 11th inning, watching in my Yankee pajamas from my bed in Beacon, New York; soon to be a droopy-eyed high school junior the following day, but the exhaustion coming with the excitement of a possible World Series berth. I even said to myself,
“Aaron Boone. Forget it, easy out. The next few guys have to hit, though! Let’s win this game!”
Perfectly logical assumption. In 31 postseason at-bats, Boone collected just five hits. The Yankees, however, had a lot more faith in Boone than this scribe did. Before he went into the on-deck circle while knuckleballer Tim Wakefield was warming up, Torre told Boone,
“Just hit a single. It doesn’t mean you won’t hit a home run.”
Randolph then issued the ultimate sign of faith:
“That inning, he came to the dugout and I met him at the top step. I patted him on the back and I said, ‘listen. You’re my sleeper pick. You’re the x-factor of the series.’”
Keith Olbermann – a bright sports pundit and someone for whom I have respect, albeit I disagree with him on plenty of topics – analyzed Boone’s at-bat this way:
“The odds were favoring a hitter in a slump. Because a hitter in a slump’s timing is already off. A knuckleball pitcher throws your timing off. Put a guy with bad timing, and add more bad timing to him, suddenly he has good timing – it’s a zero sum game in terms of timing.
“So you’re thinking, who on earth is going to get the base hit for the Yankees? Who can do anything against Tim Wakefield? Boone.”
Sure enough, the timing worked out. Everything worked out.
Boone slaughtered Wakefield’s first pitch for a home run deep into the New York sky; the ball landing behind the wall in left field to give the Yanks a 6-5 win, sending the Bronx Bombers to their 39th World Series in franchise history. Pandemonium commenced; Yankees Stadium completely erupted, became unglued.
The Red Sox were crushed, the pennant was won, and the Curse of the Bambino was alive and well.
Boone was speechless after clubbing the death blow, and managed just a few words:
“Derek told me the ghosts would show up eventually. And they did.”
The Captain verified those words postgame, saying,
“I believe in ghosts, and we got some ghosts in this Stadium!”
Torre went on to admit he thought there was some divine pinstriped intervention, later saying,
“It is weird to me that certain things happen that don’t seem logical. Yeah, you have to believe we’re getting some help from somewhere.”
What’s also not well known is that, after the bliss of a love-fest at home plate for Boone and the champagne celebration; after the presentation of the Will Harridge Award, and after Rivera was named ALCS MVP, the Yankee players made a pilgrimage out to Monument Park, donned with championship hats soaked in champagne. Specifically, they made a visit to Babe Ruth’s monument.
“Look, he’s smiling! He’s smiling!” the Yankees gleefully exclaimed, whilst rubbing the forehead of the Great Bambino’s likeness on the monument.
The aftermath and the impact of another curse
While Little was quickly fired by the Red Sox and the image of Boone’s home run was tattooed on the minds of Red Sox fans everywhere, the Yanks were in the 2003 fall classic, matched up with the Florida Marlins – who Chicago Cubs fans felt had snaked their way in on account of fan interference in the ’03 NLCS. The Cubs had been winning 3-0 in the eighth inning of Game 6, and had they held on would’ve punched their first ticket to the World Series since 1945.
Steve Bartman, a Cubs fan sitting in the front row of the left field stands, accidently reached for a foul ball that was perhaps catchable for left fielder Moises Alou near the wall. Bartman got his hand on it, and the ball took a wrong bounce back into the seats, not going for an out – much to the infuriation of not only Alou, but every Cubs fan in the ballpark. Almost right after the gaffe, the Marlins wound up rallying to score eight runs to win the game, and carried on to win Game 7 by a count of 9-6.
Not unlike the Red Sox and their Curse of the Bambino, the Cubs had the Curse of the Billy Goat hanging over their heads – a long story about a Chicago bar owner, who in 1945 was asked to leave Wrigley Field because the stench of the pet goat he brought to the park was bothering other fans.
He proclaimed, “Them Cubs, they ain’t gonna win no more.”
Subsequently the Cubs haven’t won the World Series since 1908.
I can’t help but think how the ’03 World Series would’ve gone had it been Yankees-Cubs, the matchup America wanted to see, instead of Yankees-Marlins – a bland fall classic that ended in a six-game series win for the fish.
Would the Yankees have been able to beat the 1-2 punch of Kerry Wood and Mark Prior? Would they have been able to silence the bat of Sammy Sosa, who just five seasons earlier had smashed 66 home runs, and had hit 40 during the ’03 regular season? Would the Curse of the Billy Goat been upheld in the fall classic, the same way the Yanks kept up the Curse of the Bambino in the ALCS?
Would 2003 have been the year of title number 27 in the Bronx, if only the Yankees faced the Cubs and not the pesky Marlins, equipped with the likes of scrappers Ivan “Pudge” Rodriguez, Josh Beckett and Juan Pierre?
We’ll never know.
To this writer, though, the ALCS was the World Series in 2003. Passion, heat, unmitigated physicality, the will to win intense rivalry games, and excitement that puts you on the edge of your seat – you want nothing more than that as a fan, or at this stage in my life as a journalist.
Hopefully we see it again, in baseball, sometime soon.
And hopefully, again, it’s between the Yankees and Red Sox.
SOURCES FOR THIS PIECE: Websites: Baseball Almanac, Baseball Reference.
DVDs: The Boston Red Sox vs. The New York Yankees: The Ultimate Rivalry (2005)
Ken Burns: The Tenth Inning (2010)
If the Yankees somehow make the playoffs this year, tonight will go down as the game that saved them. Every team in front of the Yankees won – and this late in the season, the Bronx Bombers can ill afford to lose any more ground in terms of the standings. Down 4-3 in the bottom of the ninth inning against Koji Uehara, and more specifically the pesky Red Sox looking to play spoiler, the future didn’t exactly look bright; the season all but dangling in the balance.
Then Mark Teixeira came up.
Earlier this season in Milwaukee vs. the Brewers, Teixeira tied the game in the ninth with one swing against Francisco Rodriguez, who like Uehara is another established closer.
Did he have it in him again?
Yes. He sure did. The Yankee first baseman sent a “Teix message” into the second porch in right field, knotting the game up at four in the most dramatic way.
But that wasn’t even the best part.
Teixeira’s tater set up Chase Headley later in the frame, and the third baseman got around on a hanger, blasting Uehara’s offering into the bleachers in right field; a spectacular shot to give the Yanks a 5-4 win, keeping them alive in the AL Wild Card race.
Should the Yankees go on a run, this will be a game everyone will make reference to as the turnaround; it’ll be looked at as the game that kept them from drowning altogether and falling out of the postseason hunt for good.
It will be, in a word, remembered.
This writer, however, will not just remember Sept. 4 as the day the Yankees maintained a pulse in 2014. It will also go down as the day I met Mariano Rivera, the greatest closer to ever live.
On Sept. 22 last year, when the Yankees honored Rivera and retired his number 42, I never would’ve guessed I’d have the chance to meet him not even a year later. Yet when my friend had mentioned that he was going to be doing an appearance in Ridgewood, N.J. and asked if I’d be interested in going, I couldn’t pass it up.
Rivera was at a store called Bookends promoting his autobiography, The Closer.
On the way there, my friends and I were just on edge.
“He’s the best. What are you going to say to him?”
I hadn’t thought about it.
When it was my turn, I simply walked up to Mo, one of my childhood heroes and one of the most respected baseball players in history, and merely introduced myself. “Hi, I’m A.J. Nice to meet you” and shook his hand. With his regular, patented ear-to-ear Mo smile, he said – with kindness beaming out in his voice,
“Nice to meet you too!”
They took our picture and before I left I shook his hand again and sincerely said,
“Thank you. For all the wonderful memories.”
He was still smiling, but his expression changed after I thanked him. It’s hard to describe but he gave me almost a look of awe. His expression shortly morphed back into his regular smile, and before I walked away he patted me on the back and said,
“Awwww, thank you, buddy!” He stressed the words “thank you.”
I basically left the bookstore with the same expression Mo shot me when I thanked him – awe-struck; mesmerized. I’m not quite sure what other adjectives I could use to properly word how I felt, except “amazing” or “awesome.”
All of the above.
Overall, it was a phenomenal experience, even if it was just for a brief couple minutes.
Driving home, I also thought to myself how significant the meeting might be in the future.
Rivera resides in New Rochelle, N.Y. and attends/hosts numerous events throughout Westchester County, N.Y.
Working for a Westchester newsweekly, it’s not crazy to think I might someday have to cover an event that Rivera is on hand for, and perhaps interview him. By meeting him today, though, I got the manner of being “star-struck” out of the way. Now, if I cross paths with him again as a reporter (and not a fan) I won’t be as mind-blown as I was today.
For example, when I first interviewed New York Giants’ quarterback and two-time Super Bowl MVP Eli Manning, I was admittedly overwhelmed – even as a reporter. But after interviewing him multiple times, there’s not as much pressure talking to him anymore. To me, interviewing Manning is just business as usual – which is how it’ll likely be now, if I interview Mo, because I’ve already met him.
If that makes sense.
Nevertheless, it was a memorable day. For the Yankees, for the Yankee fans, and for a reporter who happens to be a Yankee fan.
Without you, there’s no us. The greatest lesson I took from these past two days.
I spent this weekend up in Boston, Mass., my first trip to Beantown since a field trip I took with my seventh grade class in either 1999 or 2000. The primary reason I was in Boston this weekend was for the WWE’s annual November event, Survivor Series, which was held at Boston’s TD Garden.
My best friend and main bro Brian Chaires was able to snatch incredible floor seats for the show, and we even managed to get ourselves in the line of the TV cameras during World Champion and Boston native John Cena’s entrance for his title match vs. Alberto Del Rio.
Some inside jokes and infamous quotes of this trip include:
“This looks like a post office, not a rest stop.”
“Dude, Zack Ryder is in the bathroom!”
“These drivers are Mass-holes.”
“I’m a New York driver. … I got this.”
“We are stuck in this hotel stairwell. We may need to call 911 to get us out. Help! Help!”
(Walking the TD Garden in Yankee gear) – “Where’d this guy come from???”
“Sweet home Oklahoma! Lord, I’m coming home to Normand!”
“Break me off that whole Kit-Kat bar, King!”
You had to be there to really appreciate how funny the situations were from which these quotes stemmed, but believe me, it was a riot. The wrestling event last night was just awesome, and today the baseball journey of our trip commenced.
Brian and I took a tour this morning of (you guessed it) Fenway Park, home of the reigning World Series Champions, the Boston Red Sox.
Typing that made me cringe, but the ballpark and the tour itself were absolutely marvelous. It was a little different than the Yankee Stadium tour, which I experienced last year, but overall I’d rate the tour of Fenway with a solid A+.
The tour, believe it or not, began at the Red Sox team store across Lansdowne Street. Each tour begins at the start of every hour; we missed the 10 a.m. tour and settled for the 11 a.m. go-around. We made some bad timing, arriving at Fenway only a little after 10, and had to brave the arctic freeze for a little while, but it didn’t stop us from some shenanigans while we waited.
Our tour guide took notice of our obvious Yankee apparel, and joked with us about it. He went on to tell us that he doesn’t know what all the Yankees-Red Sox hype is all about sometimes, and that there are teams far more hated by the Red Sox right now than the Yankees. In his words,
“I probably hate the Rays more than the Yankees, at this point!”
After everyone assembled, we journeyed from the team store into the historic Fenway Park to begin the jaunt. Our tour guide first explained (briefly) the history of the ballpark; its age (101), how many World Championships the team occupying the park has won (8), and even went on to explain that a number of movies have been filmed at Fenway, including a pair of my favorites: Ted and Field of Dreams.
The first thing I took notice of upon entry into Fenway was the “Boston Strong 617” jersey hanging from the wall, and in light of the tragedy that took place at the Boston Marathon earlier this year, I thought it was pretty neat.
From there we ventured inside and saw the field. It was quite a sight, not having seen Fenway in-person and only seeing it on TV, watching Yankees-Red Sox games. The television really doesn’t do the ballpark justice; you have to see it for yourself to truly understand its glory.
They then let us into the visitor’s clubhouse. With couches and HD TVs, it looked like pretty nice accommodations, for a visiting team’s locker room. While we were in there, all I kept asking was, “Which one is Jeter’s locker?”
We were then taken to seats along the left field line, which we were told are the oldest seats in Fenway; a section of wooden, navy blue seats. There we sat and got a more in-depth history of Fenway, with a lot of facts I didn’t know – and some I already knew. Here are some of my favorite factoids spoken about today:
- Harry Frazee is the person most Red Sox fans blame for the Curse of the Bambino. Frazee, owner of the Red Sox in 1920, apparently disliked Babe Ruth so much because of his hardcore lifestyle (partying after games, etc.) that he sold him to the Yankees – that was of course after the Red Sox won five of the first 15 World Series in history. Additionally, Frazee cared more about Broadway musicals than baseball.
- The Yankees owned Fenway Park when they signed Ruth, because the pact included a $300,000 loan backed by a mortgage on the Red Sox home field.
- New England schoolteachers apparently disliked the spelling of “Sox” initially. Also, the Red Sox only started spelling their team name with an “x” because the White Sox had done it.
- The Green Monster was built to keep fans from watching the games for free behind the left field wall. Our tour guide called this “the biggest overreaction in baseball history.”
- The ladder on the Green Monster: “the most pointless ladder in baseball history,” according to our guide.
- Three men work the manual scoreboard inside the Green Monster. “There were four, but Manny Ramirez left,” kidded our tour guide. (I’ll admit, he was a knowledgeable joker). There are only three light bulbs inside the monster and no air conditioning during the summer or heat in the fall/early spring/winter. Two of the scoreboard operators have been doing their job for 20 years; the other has been there for 10. Those positions won’t be opening up anytime soon.
From there we scaled our way up to the top of the Green Monster to take in the view.
I liked how “Boston Strong” was still mowed into the outfield grass.
After the view from atop the Green Monster we climbed up to the press box, which seemed like a longer ascension than going up to the monster. Not for nothing, it was a hike! On the way there, we came across an artifact that made for a great story.
The Los Angeles Angels apparently gave every team in baseball a statue of Mickey Mouse for their respective ballparks – and each statue corresponds to each team. For instance, they gave the Yankees a statue of Mickey Mouse painted with pinstripes and interlocking NYs, looking like a real Bronx Bomber.
The Red Sox were given their Mickey Mouse in poor condition; in fact, his arm was broken when they received him. They made a joke out of it though, going as far as putting a sling around his broken arm. However, they eventually fixed him– and almost immediately after they fixed their statue of Disney’s lovable mouse, they started winning. And, as we know, went on to win the World Series this year.
Perhaps I should’ve re-broke the arm before leaving.
Once we arrived at the press box, we got some more history of the park. A cool fact about the Fenway press box is that there is a row reserved for the Baseball Writer’s Association of America. It’s fantastic that Fenway acknowledges that elite group of baseball writers.
We then went over a lot of things I already knew about, such as the instance of assigned seating in the press box, the names of the foul poles: the left field being the (Carlton) Fisk pole and right field being the (Johnny) Pesky pole, and the Red Sox retired numbers.
Number 42, as we all know, is retired throughout all of baseball. Our tour guide asked us, “who is this number retired for?”
In the spirit of the pinstripes I vociferously answered, “Mariano Rivera!”
“Nice try,” he replied, as everyone laughed. He assured us that Boston, collectively, is relieved Rivera has hung ‘em up.
Relieved. Get it?
(Of course we all know 42 is retired for Jackie Robinson).
We were also told a wonderful story in the press box – fitting, because wonderful stories are usually produced in the press box.
According to this tale, the Citgo sign is Boston’s proverbial North Star; if you see the Citgo sign, you know Fenway isn’t far.
A great player by the name of Joe Carter, famed for being a Toronto Blue Jays World Series hero, loved hitting at Fenway because of the Citgo sign. A reporter remarked,
“C’mon, Joe. Citgo’s a gas station.”
Carter replied, “When I hit, I can C-IT-GO (see it go)!”
You can’t script baseball. And you have to be romantic about it.
After our time in the press box we walked down to the right field deck, where we got a good look at the famous lone red seat in the right field grandstand – denoting where the farthest-hit ball landed in Fenway’s 101-year history. Ted Williams owns the blast measured at 502 feet, crushed on June 9, 1946.
The ball struck a straw hat-wearing gentleman in the head, who apparently fell asleep at the game. When the man woke up he was flanked by a medic and a reporter. The journalist asked him, “how do you feel?”
He replied, “How far away must one sit to be safe in this park?”
The tour concluded in the Red Sox archive room, where a plethora of notable memorabilia is shown off. Among the hardware displayed: a bat signed by Babe Ruth, lineup cards, pictures of Red Sox teams past, ticket stubs to notable games (including the 1999 All-Star Game held at Fenway), MVP awards won by various Red Sox players, and the American League Championship trophies.
I asked for the whereabouts of the World Series trophies, as they weren’t present in the archive room. They are stored in the corporate offices and there aren’t any replicas of them showcased. I explained how, at the museum in Yankee Stadium, there are replicas of the 1977, 1978, 1996, 1998, 1999, 2000, and 2009 trophies for show.
Even the tour guide and personnel at the end of the tour admitted there should be replicas for Boston’s trophies on display.
I would say Brian and I had a lot of guts, strutting around Boston this weekend with enemy colors. It wasn’t easy; we heard some boos, received some heckling, ran into only two other Yankee fans, and we were even told the “NY” on our hats stands for “next year.”
On the tour a professional photographer took our picture at Fenway. He looked at us and asked, “Yankee fans?”
We apologized. “Sorry.”
But he didn’t make a joke out of it. He said something that’ll stick with me for the long haul:
Hey. Without you, there’s no us.
I had never really considered that. Every hero needs a villain. Every team needs a nemesis. Batman needed The Joker. Superman needed Lex Luthor. And the Red Sox need the Yankees, although in our minds, the Yankees are the heroes and the Red Sox are the villains. If it weren’t for the Red Sox, would the Yankees be . . . the Yankees?
I knew going to Fenway I would learn a lot I didn’t know – and I did learn a lot. Harry Frazee’s role in the Curse of the Bambino, the history of the Green Monster, and even an amusing anecdote about Mickey Mouse.
But I didn’t think going to Fenway would teach me a lesson. I suppose that’s the beauty of baseball.
The Boston Red Sox are your 2013 World Series Champions. And in case you haven’t heard, just look to your left. Or your right. Or up. Or down. You haven’t been able to look in any direction without seeing or hearing about “Boston Strong” these past few days, and not one to be a sore sport, congratulations to the Red Sox.
The team that wins the World Series is the best team, and there’s no doubt Boston put the best team in baseball on the field in 2013, capping a tremendous turnaround. Any Yankee fan or Red Sox hater would clearly look like an idiot trying to deny the resiliency, power, and fortitude the BoSox put forth this year.
Boston winning the World Series doesn’t bother me. However, there is an issue that has gotten underneath my skin, not just as a Yankee fan, but as a baseball fan.
Since the Red Sox clinched the title last Wednesday, the Twitter and Facebook feeds of MLB Network, MLB, and ESPN have gone absolutely berserk. Each social media contingent has gone fawning over Boston’s World Series victory – almost to the point of absurdity.
Sure, there was bound to be a lot of chatter on social media the night of and the day after Boston beat St. Louis in Game 6. That’s acceptable and inevitable. Yet now, some four (nearly five) days after the fall classic has ended, social media is still abuzz with Red Sox pictures, posts and praise.
It’s funny. I do not remember the San Francisco Giants receiving this much laud days after winning it all last year. In 2011 I do not recall the Cardinals being shoved in the MLB fan base’s collective face so strongly.
Even in 2009, the Yankees were not worshipped this much by MLB and ESPN. It’s almost as if everyone (running these social media sites) believes the 2013 Red Sox represented the second coming of Christ. In fact, I’m not even positive the New York Giants received this much adulation from the world in the days following their upset of the New England Patriots in Super Bowl 42.
We understand. We comprehend. We get it. The Red Sox won. Point taken.
Probably the cheesiest picture and aspect of it all was the Twitter account I came across representing the World Series trophy. Yes, a Twitter account made for the World Series trophy. The “trophy” sent out a picture of itself with a fake beard on it, coinciding with the Red Sox trademark, scraggly facial hair this season.
Could you get any tackier, or any more shallow, MLB?
I also found it quite ironic that, on ESPN Baseball Tonight’s Facebook page, posted was a photo of Boston celebrating. Adjacent to it was a story with an attached picture of Alex Rodriguez, posing the question, “when his career is over, will Alex Rodriguez have been bad for baseball?”
It should come as no shock. Ever since 2004, a lot of fans have been under a well-founded impression that ESPN does the Red Sox bidding. Something like this only helps prove the point.
When Boston swept Colorado in 2007, it was much easier to take, at least for me. I was a junior at Mercy College in New York with no Facebook and no Twitter. I had no interest in watching Boston win, and only watched briefly during Game 4 when Rodriguez opted out of his contract, a few short innings before Boston went on to win the title.
The Red Sox clinched the ’07 World Series on a Sunday night. With an early Monday morning class, I didn’t watch any TV; I was not subjected to the agony of watching the Red Sox dog pile, or the pain of the Boston champagne party.
The only tidbit I heard from anyone in 2007 – on Boston’s World Series victory – was from a professor, when I arrived at school that Monday. Wearing my Yankee jacket, the prof spotted me with a (bleep)-eating grin and remarked,
“Yankees, huh? I’m from Boston. A Red Sox fan. I’m having a good day today!”
I forced a laugh and replied, “Yeah, man. Live it up.”
That was it. Other than that, I heard absolutely nothing about it.
Fast forward to 2013 and it’s a totally different story. The advent of Facebook and Twitter did all but whack me over the head with a “Boston Strong” sign. The posts have gotten way out of hand and taking it as far as creating a Twitter account for the trophy is downright ridiculous.
This year took winning the World Series to a new atrocious level – and I mean a whole new level. Boston won. Congratulations Red Sox Nation.
Now, can we “take it down to about a 4” in terms of glorifying the Red Sox?
We can only hope the Yankees are not visiting Fenway Park when the Red Sox receive their rings next season. The Yanks had to suffer in 2005 (for the ’04 ceremony), the least the schedule maker can do is keep them away from Fenway for the 2013 ring party.
Then again, looking back on all these tweets and posts, MLB just might give us Yankee fans one final kick in the face for good measure, and schedule the ring ceremony on a day the Yankees are in Beantown.
If you remember the movie “Spiderman 2” you may remember a scene on a New York City train that involved Spidey trying to protect innocent citizens from the hijinx of the evil Dr. Octopus. The Daily Bugle newspaper had done all it could to make Spiderman look like a menace rather than a hero, but being the true guardian he is, Spiderman still fought the villain.
As “Doc Ock” began to get the better of Spidey, a large Italian man – dare I say a stereotypical New Yorker – went to bat for Spiderman and said, “We’re New Yorkers. You mess with one of us, you mess with all of us!”
Might as well have been the slogan of last night’s fireworks during the Yankees-Red Sox game.
As Yankees fans, we may not be happy with Alex Rodriguez. There’s usually a media circus in baseball every season, but this year, it’s A-Rod who is driving the tiny car. The Biogenesis mess has turned Yankee fans on one of their own, as evidenced by A-Rod’s mixed reaction the day he made his first start at Yankee Stadium on Aug. 9. Up until last night, Yankee Universe only made time to cheer for A-Rod whenever he did something noteworthy at the plate, while booing him at every other chance.
But after last night there’s a better chance more Yankee fans will rally behind him.
After Red Sox starter Ryan Dempster threw behind Rodriguez, he buzzed him inside on two more pitches – and it’s worth mentioning all three pitches were fastballs. On a 3-0 count, Dempster plunked A-Rod on the elbow, singlehandedly igniting the Yankees-Red Sox feud: a feud that’s been dormant for the better part of five years or so.
The benches cleared, the bullpens emptied, giving Fenway Park the ambience of old: the heated atmosphere once made famous by Thurman Munson and Carlton Fisk, and Pedro Martinez and Jorge Posada – and even Rodriguez and Jason Varitek. Heck, even Joba Chamberlain and Kevin Youkilis.
This time however it wasn’t Rodriguez who was all that upset, but Yankee skipper Joe Girardi, who had some choice words for Dempster. Girardi was absolutely infuriated with home plate umpire Brian O’Nora, as he never issued Dempster a warning, or even ejected Dempster, after clearly throwing at Rodriguez with intent.
Girardi got his money’s worth and then some, vehemently arguing with O’Nora; getting in his face for a bad judgment call, not punishing a pitcher for an oh-so-obvious wrongdoing. Girardi may have been ejected as the Fenway faithful cheered wildly, but A-Rod had the last laugh.
In the sixth inning, Rodriguez took Dempster’s offering deep; 446 feet, as a matter of fact, over the center field fence, an A-Bomb which, according to ESPN, was the longest home run tape measured by a Yankee this season. The solo tater cut Boston’s lead to 6-4.
Brett Gardner ironically enough stood up for Rodriguez during the fracas, and wound up clearing the bases later in the frame with a triple to give the Yankees a 7-6 lead, which they never relinquished. The Yanks got what they called “ultimate payback” by going on to win 9-6, taking the series from the Red Sox.
Rodriguez called Dempster’s decision to hit him “stupid, silly and “unprofessional” – and the thought never occurred to this writer that Dempster beaned Rodriguez because, being heavily involved in the union, he doesn’t like the fact that Rodriguez is allowed to play while his 211 game suspension is being appealed.
Actually, it didn’t occur to me until Girardi’s postgame presser.
“Ryan Dempster has hit six guys in 320 innings; he threw the first ball behind him – intentionally – he threw the next one inside, he didn’t hit him – intentional. At some point Brian O’Nora’s got to give him a warning,” Girardi told a crowd of reporters around his desk in the clubhouse.
“The one thing you can’t do is start changing the system because you don’t like it. Ryan Dempster has been a player rep, he has been very involved in the union, and he knows, this is what these guys decided to do [allow suspended players to play while appealing]. You can’t change it, just take your potshots.
“I thought it was handled very poorly. Ryan Dempster didn’t hit Nelson Cruz. He didn’t hit Francisco Cervelli, you know? I think it’s flat wrong.”
Girardi went on to mention that he would be disappointed if Dempster didn’t get suspended and miss a start. In his own words, “it has to cost him (Dempster) something.” The Yankee manager added how he thought the Boston fans – more specifically the kids in the stands – cheering a hit-by-pitch was not right.
“What is wrong with people?” he continued. “You cheer when someone gets hit? What if that was your son? What if your son got hit? Breaks an arm, gets hit in the head, gets a concussion? I’d be embarrassed. And I see little kids in the stands. I wonder what’s wrong with our world today.”
After Girardi said his peace, Red Sox manager John Farrell and Dempster both denied the intent behind A-Rod’s HBP; both said he was just trying to set up pitches on the inner half of the plate and establish the strike zone.
Now that it’s become apparent, what really may not make sense to many people is that Dempster and the union voted that players can play during suspension appeals, yet he still went after Rodriguez. Then again with the news of Rodriguez supposedly outing Ryan Braun of the Milwaukee Brewers and teammate Cervelli, dropping their names in connection to
Biogenesis – perhaps he took issue with that.
Maybe that was the real reason he hit him?
What’s bogus were Dempster’s postgame comments. It was obvious there was indeed intent behind the bean ball; although there haven’t been too many pitchers who have struck batters intentionally like Cole Hamels (as he did with Bryce Harper) and openly told the tale of how he proudly and maliciously plunked a hitter.
If nothing else, A-Rod may have gained back support from Yankee fans. It’s possible, in fact likely. He himself even said the whole thing brought he and his teammates together. Yankee Universe of course has the mentality of, “it’s OK for us to be angry with our guy – with A-Rod – but it’s sure as heck not OK for anyone else to kick him when he’s down. Especially Boston.”
Fully expect Rodriguez to get a huge hand during tomorrow’ doubleheader vs. Toronto at Yankee Stadium. Dempster may have done him a favor by plunking him, and in the process, refueled the Yankees-Red Sox rivalry tank: a tank that’s been seemingly running on empty for awhile now.
Boston and New York have seven games remaining against each other this season (four in the Bronx Sept. 5-8) and the last three at Fenway (Sept. 13-15). Therefore it’s possible Dempster and Rodriguez may meet again, which you can be sure, will
be quite an interesting encounter.
Rodriguez described himself as “pissed” after Dempster hit him. He added that the thought of charging the mound never entered his mind, because getting ejected and punished for a fight wasn’t an option. He called himself “too valuable to lose” when the Yankees are trying to win games. And while that may seem like an egotistical statement, A-Rod went on to say every Yankee player is too valuable to lose when they are trying so very hard to make a run right now.
Instead of starting more trouble Rodriguez kept his cool and got revenge a much better way: obviously a long, loud, momentum-swaying home run. Better than getting ejected and (gulp) suspended for a basebrawl.
Yet keep in mind, Girardi mouthed off to Dempster, and in his haste before getting ejected by O’Nora defiantly claimed, “Someone’s getting hit.” It may not have been last night, but with seven games remaining – bank on a Red Sox player getting beaned by a Yankee pitcher at some point in retaliation.
Again, it will undoubtedly be interesting, however it all unfolds.
Because after all, we’re Yankees, right? You mess with one Yankee, you mess with all Yankees. Even if it’s A-Rod. I mean, he’s not heavy. He’s our third baseman.
If you were on Twitter last night and went to the search box and typed in “Phil Hughes” this came up:
Appropriate, because these days if you’re watching Hughes pitch, you might need aspirin.
In the Red Sox 11-1 thrashing of the Yankees last night, Hughes was the losing pitcher, dropping to 2-4 on the season with an ERA in the sky at 5.37. The big blow yesterday came off the bat of Mike Napoli, a grand slam home run in the third inning, a blast that stuck a pin in the Yankee balloon effectively giving the short-handed Bronx Bomber lineup no chance at a comeback.
Napoli’s slam marked the second time this season Hughes has let up a home run with the bases loaded – and the 12th meatball he’s served up this year. What’s more, it was the 100th tater he surrendered in his career – a career in which he’s made 114 starts, coming out to nearly one home run allowed per start.
Opponents are taking advantage of every pitch Hughes throws at them, on average batting .292 against the right-hander this season. He’s also allowed 69 hits in the 58.2 innings he’s pitched this year, not exactly fooling anyone he faces.
The 24-32 Seattle Mariners proved that to be true when they beat Hughes up on May 15, chasing him from the game after just two-thirds of an inning pitched in what wound up being a 12-2 Yankee loss. (Worth noting Hughes delivered a grand slam in the first inning of that nightmare stinker to former Yankee Raul Ibanez).
Putting it nicely, this season Phil Hughes has been “Phail Hughes.”
To his credit, he recently went on record as saying, “Everyone has been taking me out of the park these days.” At least, if nothing else, he’s self-aware of how poorly he’s been pitching. Yet it doesn’t change the fact that every time he toes the rubber, Yankee Universe has to hold its collective breath because there’s usually a good chance Hughes will put the team in a hole, not giving the Yankee offense – which has only mustered 223 runs this year (11th in the American League, 18th in the majors) – a chance to come from behind.
A la, last night.
There hasn’t been anyone who has been a bigger critic of Hughes than me. Ever since Game 6 of the 2010 ALCS, an elimination game that Hughes lost decisively to the Texas Rangers (the Yankees ousted and unsuccessful in their attempt to defend their 2009 World Series title) I’ve never had faith in him.
He hasn’t given me reason to trust his stuff. His fastball is flat with no tailing action, he hooks his breaking balls, and he gets ahead in counts, but somehow always manages to fall behind and turn what should be easy innings into long, dragged-out marathons.
Just sitting through a Hughes start is torture.
In what might be an upside for most Yankee fans that are becoming tired of every home run derby that ensues each time Hughes takes the ball, this is the final year of his contract – and he isn’t exactly making a great case for a return to the Bronx in 2014, given his crummy numbers and ineffectiveness. Additionally, considering his age (26, 27 on June 24), one has to wonder,
If he hasn’t found it yet, when the heck will he? There are pitchers younger than Hughes finding significantly more success than he is. If you don’t believe me, talk to Matt Moore, Chris Sale, and Alex Cobb.
On the downside, the Yankees may be stuck with Hughes for the remainder of 2013. Even if the Yankee brass looks to move him, Hughes’s trade value, at this point, is incredibly low. If the Yanks wanted to move him for purposes of finding a player to help them reach the playoffs, the odds of anyone taking him are likely astronomical, despite the fact that he’ll come cheap. I just cannot think of a team that would take him, otherwise.
After all, no team wants a pitcher who does nothing but toss batting practice, right?
I suppose what the Yankees could do is put Hughes into the bullpen; give him a relief role. To fill his void in the rotation, they can always call on Vidal Nuno, Ivan Nova, or David Phelps – or try to make a trade before the non-waivers deadline, although it’ll be difficult to make a swap, seeing as how the market for a starting pitcher is, as FOX Sports’ Ken Rosenthal described last night, “uninspired.”
In 2009 Hughes flourished in his role of setup man, bridging the gap to Mariano Rivera in the eighth inning. In fact he pitched so well, he filled in for Rivera a few times and picked up three saves that season; striking out 96 batters in 86 innings and posting a respectable ERA of 3.03 along the way.
That almost begs the question, “Why did they pull him out of a role which he clearly embraced and succeeded at?”
I’ll never know.
Luckily for Hughes, the Yankees (31-24) are only two games behind Boston in the AL East standings heading into their series finale/rubber game tonight; a chance to close the deficit to just one game.
So throughout all the bad news, there’s a shred of decency.
Yet whether Hughes sticks it out as a starter or is placed in the bullpen this season, an adjustment needs to be made; a solution must be found to this ongoing problem. If we see more of what we saw out of Hughes last night – and this entire season, thus far – it’s going to be a long summer.
A very, very long summer.
Legendary golfer Arnold Palmer once said, “I’ve never rooted against an opponent. I’ve never rooted for him, either.”
Some of what I’ve witnessed these past 20 days might leave Mr. Palmer rethinking his words.
On March 10 I made my way to Christl Arena at West Point to cover the New York State girls’ basketball regionals. The best team in my newspaper’s coverage area, Ossining, was matched up against a team located not far from the United States Military Academy, Monroe-Woodbury.
Ossining this season had arguably the best girls’ hoops player in New York State girls’ basketball history: a young lady who next year is heading to UConn by the name of Saniya Chong. This past season Chong broke the New York State all-time scoring record.
Along with that she holds countless records and has won an endless amount of awards – and if you have never heard of her, you’ll probably see her playing in many “March Madness” games for the UConn Huskies somewhere down the line, within the next few years.
Ossining handed Monroe-Woodbury a 79-50 loss to advance to the Class A New York State girls’ basketball finals, which, by the way, they went on to win. But after winning the game for the region crown, I noticed how players from the losing Monroe-Woodbury team approached Chong, after being defeated.
And with appreciative and respectful smiles across their faces, the losers posed for pictures with her – in my two-and-a-half years of doing this, the most dignified gesture I have ever witnessed. In fact, the Ossining head coach called it “a class act” when I inquired about it in my postgame interview.
Twenty days later, some of the exact same class was clear and present at West Point.
Today, in the Yankees’ final tune-up of the spring before Opening Day on Monday, the Bombers visited the Army Black Knights for an exhibition; the 22nd time in the Yankees’ history they’ve played the Army baseball team. Coming into today, statistically, the Yankees had never lost to the Black Knights; a perfect 21-0 for the Yanks over Army.
If you watched closely though, today wasn’t really about stats, or even the action on the field.
Yankee players were given a tour of the campus upon arrival at the Military Academy, ate pulled pork in the mess hall with the cadets, and in a lot of ways really embraced their opponents. Despite beating the Black Knights 10-5 (maintaining the win streak, the Yanks now at an undefeated 22-0 vs. the USMA), the Bombers went out of their way to show their appreciation for Army.
While not just posing for pictures with them, the Yanks (most notably Andy Pettitte, the injured Mark Teixeira, and Brett Gardner) hung out with the Black Knight players during the game in their dugout, while Joba Chamberlain left the bullpen for awhile and sat with the cadet spectators in the bleachers.
The Yanks signed autographs before the game and after, and in the spirit of sportsmanship high-fived the Army team following the final out – like a regular old Little League, high school, or college game.
The class just seems to pour out of West Point, doesn’t it?
In this writer’s opinion, what transpired in these two games at the USMA within the past 20 days have proven that, no matter the sport or the level, gracious losers and respect for a team’s opponent do exist. The realm of sports is such a competitive environment, and in a world where the whole idea is to beat the other team, it’s nice to see.
Yet, we can’t expect the same kind of attitude from the Yankees on Monday. Opening Day they’ll face off with their fiercest rivals, the Boston Red Sox.
Funny how quickly the Yankees are going to go from caring about their opposition to wanting to beat the other team more than anything in the world in a matter of roughly 48 hours.
Four years ago this very day – two days before Christmas, 2008 – the Yankees agreed to terms with free agent first baseman Mark Teixeira, having already made agreements with free agent studs CC Sabathia and A.J. Burnett. By signing all three of them, the Yankees poised themselves for a strong playoff run; one that was capped by a 2009 World Series title.
Four years later on Festivus, or Dec. 23, it’s almost as if the Yanks are living in the Bizarro world. Instead of adding key players, the Yankees seem to be losing them.
Catcher Russell Martin chose the Pittsburgh Pirates on Nov. 29, and just last night, the Yanks’ seemingly only clutch player in October, DH Raul Ibanez, signed back with one of his old teams: the Seattle Mariners.
And now, just this morning, it was reported that free agent right fielder Nick Swisher signed a four year, $56 million deal to play for the Cleveland Indians, a nice early Christmas gift for the tribe.
It was almost common knowledge that Swisher was leaving. The fans didn’t expect him to return, and although I have no way of knowing, I would think the front office didn’t expect him to return, either. After a difficult 2012 postseason, both offensively (5-for-30 at the plate) and defensively (a costly misplay in right field in Game 1 of the ALCS) Swisher’s chances of returning to the Bronx were slim to none.
What strikes me the most is how the Yankees signed back three players who are older – Mariano Rivera (43), Andy Pettitte (40), and Ichiro (39) – but let two young(er) players in Swisher (32) and Martin (29, 30 in February) walk. Yes, they let Ibanez go, who is 40, but he was also basically the only hitter who did anything worthwhile in the postseason, so perhaps it evens out.
Bottom line: when the Yankees are accused of being a so-called “older team,” there’s no defense for it. If Red Sox fans – or Yankee haters anywhere in the world, for that matter – wish to call them the “Bronx Geezers” they are perfectly within their right, only because it’s accurate.
The youngest player the Yanks signed this winter was Kevin Youkilis – who’s 33 and will turn 34 on March 15, before the regular season begins. Add Youkilis to the mix of the 38-year-old Derek Jeter (39 on June 26 next year), the 37-year-old and injured Alex Rodriguez (38 on July 27 next year), and there’s no way around it:
The Yankees are old.
The way I see it, the only way for them to field a productive, young team again, like they did during the dynasty of the late ‘90s, is for them to draft better players (easier said than done, being that the Yanks will never have the first pick overall) – however, they will receive a first-round pick from the Indians because they signed Swisher and he declined the Yankees’ qualifying offer of one year and $13.3 million, an offer the Yankees made him on Nov. 9.
The Yankees get the pick as a result of a rule instituted under the collective bargaining agreement.
They also need to develop the minor leaguers they already have in their system now; groom the “Baby Bombers” to be big leaguers instead of letting their young guys fade away into obscurity down on the farm.
But I digress. Now that he’s officially leaving town, it’s time to say goodbye and thank you to Swisher; remember all the great moments he’s afforded the Yankees and Yankee Universe over the past four years.
Out of the ‘pen…sort of
What sometimes gets lost in the Yankees’ run for the 2009 World Series title is how awful a start they got off to. They were beaten 22-4 in April by the very team Swisher signed with today (the Indians) and in a lot of ways couldn’t buy a win, the Bombers taking their lumps in the early going of a championship season.
On April 13, 2009 – the Yankee bullpen already taxed and in need of assistance – Swisher came in, not from the ‘pen, but like a regular Little Leaguer right from his position in right field, and a tossed a perfect eighth inning on the road vs. the Tampa Bay Rays. It marked the first time Swisher took the mound since he was a freshman in high school.
Swisher was the first Yankee position player to pitch since Wade Boggs came on in relief on Aug. 19, 1997 vs. the Angels.
Manager Joe Girardi laughed about it after the season saying, “You have to wonder why I didn’t bring him in (to pitch) more. Swisher was the only one of our pitchers that didn’t have an ERA.”
September 8 was his date
The Yanks gradually got a lot better following the rough the start in ‘09, winning 103 games when it was all said and done – none of those wins more important than Sept. 8 at home vs. the Rays.
In the bottom of the ninth tied 2-2, Swisher came up and lifted Dan Wheeler’s offering into the seats in right-center field, giving the Yankees a 3-2 win over the Rays, putting them one step closer to their eventual AL East crown.
Exactly a year later to the day, it was the same story, only against a different division rival.
At home vs. the Orioles on Sept. 8, 2010, Swisher once again came up with a chance to end the game, and did so with one swing. Swisher clubbed the ball deep off Koji Uehara, all the way into the visiting bullpen, giving the Yankees yet another 3-2 win – a win that prevented a sweep.
Call it coincidence, freak luck; call it what you will, Swisher had a knack for winning games on Sept. 8.
A World Series Homer
Swisher may not have put together the strongest postseason in 2009 in terms of offensive numbers, but he did manage to do what most players can only dream of doing: he hit a home run in the World Series.
In Game 3, the fall classic knotted at 1-1, Swisher homered to help propel the Yankees to an 8-5 victory over the Phillies, an impressive road win in the hostile environment of Citizen’s Bank Park. The round-tripper was one of only two hits Swisher collected in the World Series, but hey, at least he made it count.
Beating Tampa Bay for Bob Sheppard & “The Boss”
The Yankees suffered two losses off the field in July of 2010. Bob Sheppard, the “voice of God” at Yankee Stadium had passed away on July 11 – and principal owner George Steinbrenner passed two days later on July 13.
The Yankees were off for the All-Star break when Steinbrenner died and when the news broke of Sheppard’s death. The Bombers faced the Rays in their first game back at Yankee Stadium on July 16, almost a must-win game.
After a beautiful pre-game ceremony, which concluded with Mariano Rivera placing flowers on home plate in memory of the fallen Yankee family members, the Yanks fell behind the Rays; trailed 4-3 going into the eighth.
Enter Swisher, who wouldn’t allow the Yanks to go down easy.
In the bottom of the eighth, Swish tied the game with a solo home run, and then ended it in the ninth with a spectacular, sharply-lined RBI single into right field for a 4-3 Yankee victory – one Sheppard and Steinbrenner would be proud of.
As per his classy personality, Swisher dedicated his big hits to the Boss.
“On a day like this when we celebrate his life, got to take him out on a W,” he told the media after the win. “Today was Mr. Steinbrenner’s day. Regardless of the situation, regardless of anything, we went out there and played that game as best as we could for him today.”
Taking out the Red Sox in grand style
When the Yankees trailed 9-0 on April 21 this year on the road vs. the Red Sox, most fans (including myself) had given up hope; the game a lost cause and the afternoon a stinker.
But, as the Yankees learned in 2004, no lead is safe. And the Red Sox learned the same lesson they taught, as the Bombers rallied back from a nine-run deficit.
Once again Swisher proved his value on offense, being at the forefront of the comeback. He smashed a grand slam and a two-run double in the seventh to put the Yankees ahead, 10-9. They added five more runs in the eighth and embarrassed Boston 15-9 for a stunning victory; one that left Red Sox Nation in disbelief.
On Aug. 17 Swisher continued to make the Red Sox collective life miserable.
He smacked two homers on the way to a 6-4 Yankee win over Boston at home; pouring salt in Boston’s wound and adding to forgettable Red Sox season.
To Swisher, at least, the game possessed the atmosphere of a normal, heated Red Sox-Yankees game.
“The way this game started, man, two teams battling it up…it felt just like a Yankee-Red Sox rivalry game.”
On behalf of Yankee fans everywhere THANK YOU Nick Swisher for four fun-loving years of service. The patented “Swisher Salute” to the bleacher creatures in right field during roll call will be sorely missed, as well as your affinity for big hits and ear-to-ear smiles following Yankee victories.
Although your time in New York ended on a sour note – a nasty elimination in Game 4 of the ALCS and a round of the blame game to boot – we truly appreciated everything you did in pinstripes.
Congrats on your lucrative, new deal and going back to your old stomping grounds in Ohio.
Best of luck with the tribe.
In light of the tragic events in Newtown, Conn. this morning – a tragedy that hit rather close to home – I thought it might be nice to blog about something good, or at least go back to Yankee matters. Instead of ending the day on a sad note, it might be nice to write about something positive, because positivity is what we all need right about now. Once again, thoughts and prayers are with those affected here in Newtown.
Within the last 72 hours, the unfathomable has occurred. Longtime Yankee nemesis, third baseman Kevin Youkilis, has jumped ship. The former member of the Red Sox signed a one-year deal valued at $12 million, and will indeed play for the “Evil Empire” in 2013. Youkilis will be filling the void at third base which will be left by an aging and ailing A-Rod, who will not return to the team from rehabbing from his hip surgery until mid-season.
Yes, it’s really happening.
Youkilis joins a number of former Red Sox who have made the switch from Red Sox Nation to Yankee Universe, and even he admitted he was shocked that he’s changing teams – coming to the Yanks being painted so heavily with Red Sox colors. According to Yankee beat writer Bryan Hoch, Youkilis was said to be “humbled” and “amazed.”
It’s important to keep in mind Youkilis was moved to Chicago last season and played for the White Sox before becoming a free agent this off-season, and the Red Sox never made him an offer to return. That might take a little bit of heat off him in the eyes of the Boston fans, but the reaction he receives when the Yankees first visit Fenway Park on July 19 this season will be interesting.
What will also be interesting will be his relationship with (now) teammate Joba Chamberlain.
Youkilis and Chamberlain have a noted past – and by “noted” I mean hostile. Chamberlain has thrown at Youkilis multiple times over the years, and the so-called “Greek god of walks” never took too kindly to it. However, I did read earlier today that Chamberlain has already reached out to Youkilis on the phone – but Youkilis has said he hasn’t had time to return the call.
Now, the Yankee fans can only hope Youkilis will help them, as oppose to punishing them, as he has in the past wearing the Sox; do some great things for them rather than against them. With Boston and Chicago Youkilis smacked 13 lifetime home runs vs. the Bronx Bombers, including one of the loudest blasts this writer has ever heard on April 24, 2009 – when he smashed a walk-off home run over the Green Monster off Damaso Marte; a well-struck shot to lift the Red Sox past the Yankees.
If history shows us anything, this move could be good for the Yankees and has the potential to pay dividends. A few noted former BoSox have gone on to thrive in pinstripes.
It all started with
Yes, the Sultan of Swat. The Colossus of Clout. The King of Crash…and every other one of his nicknames we learned in “The Sandlot.” The Babe brought his power and might to the Yankees, as we all know, after a stint in Boston.
It seemed almost instantly when Ruth joined the Yankees they became relevant. The Bombers won their first World Series in 1923 and the rest is basically history. His presence made the Yankees a better team – and before he got there, he was a member of the Red Sox.
Of course later in the century there was
Boggs brought his six batting titles from Beantown to the Bronx, where he rode off into the sunset in 1996. The one picture that remains printed in everyone’s mind is undoubtedly Boggs on the back of the horse after the World Series that year.
Then after Boggs was
Like Youkilis, Clemens spent time with another team after his time in Boston – the Toronto Blue Jays – before making his debut in New York in 1999. The Rocket accomplished with the Yankees what he couldn’t with the Red Sox: winning the World Series (in ’99 and 2000).
Clemens also captured the AL Cy Young in 2001, and remains the last Yankee to ever win the coveted award (CC Sabathia won the AL Cy in 2007, but as a member of the Cleveland Indians).
It might even make sense for Youkilis to take Clemens’s number, 22. I don’t think there’s a chance they give him number 20, which belonged to Yankee fan-favorite Jorge Posada for 16 years.
Anywho, the next notable BoSock to turn heel was
Or, as the Red Sox fans called him, “Judas DamoNY.”
In making the leap from Boston to New York, Damon had to shave his beard and cut his hair; and it obviously didn’t affect his play on the field. The outfielder gave the Yanks four remarkable years of service, capping it off by stealing the show in the 2009 World Series.
Damon, in one of the most heads-up plays of all-time, stole second base and third base in one deft move, putting himself in scoring position to line the Yanks up for a 7-4 Game 4 win over the Phillies.
There are also a number of other players to go from Boston to New York and vice versa: Derek Lowe, Ramiro Mendoza, Alan Embree, Doug Mientkiewicz, Mark Bellhorn, Mike Myers, Don Baylor…the list can go on and on. Some have made lasting impressions, other haven’t.
Of the players mentioned, Ruth, Mendoza, and Damon are three that have won the World Series with both Boston and New York. Youkilis, a World Champ in 2004 and 2007 with Boston, will look to add his name to that list.
If the history among Ruth, Boggs, Clemens, and Damon is any indication, it’s certainly possible. And from a fan’s perspective, maybe Youkilis can serve as a lightning rod; spark the Yankees-Red Sox rivalry, which was in a lot of ways dormant for most of 2011 and all of 2012.
In other news
Ichiro has decided to return to the Yankees, agreeing to come back on a two-year deal worth between $12-13 million.
The Yankee Stadium outfield, through 2014, can be called “Area 31.”
It surprised me to see Ichiro get two years, being 39 years old. The reason may have been because of the Phillies – they might have forced the Yanks’ hands.
From what I gather, Philly was ready to offer Ichiro two years and close to $14 million, probably looking to fill one of their outfield holes. Last year Philadelphia traded away center fielder Shane Victorino to the Dodgers – and now Victorino has signed with Boston for three years.
Lucky the Yanks were able to negotiate with Ichiro and get him back before Philly snagged him, being that Nick Swisher is basically gone and the option of signing Josh Hamilton is off the table. Not that I expected the Yankees to make a run for him, anyway, but nonetheless the option no longer exists with Hamilton’s agreement with the LA Angels yesterday afternoon.
Next year’s Yankee outfield is looking like:
CF Curtis Granderson
LF Brett Gardner RF Ichiro
If nothing else, the Yanks will have an awful lot of speed and athleticism in the outfield.
The Yankees got some good news this week and some bad news.
The good? Crafty veteran Andy Pettitte and the greatest closer of all-time Mariano Rivera will indeed be pitching in the Bronx next season, the Yanks inking one-year deals with both hurlers. Pettitte was signed for $12 million for 2013 while Rivera was locked up for $10 million.
For one more year, the Bronx Bombers will be treated with each pitcher’s services. Yes, good.
The bad news? The Yankees lost their starting catcher, Russell Martin, to free agency last night. Martin agreed to terms with the Pittsburgh Pirates; a deal worth two years, $17 million.
Just like that, the Bronx Bombers are without a viable starting catcher.
It was quite surprising the Yankees didn’t at least pursue Martin in free agency, coming off a year in which he set a career-high in home runs with 21. His batting average (.211) may have been the lowest of his career, but the subpar BA shouldn’t have completely ruined his chances of returning.
Last year Pettitte came back on a dime, only signing for $2.5 million. The 40-year-old lefty was injured most of last season with a fractured ankle, as was the 43-year-old Rivera – who as we all know tore his ACL shagging fly balls on the warning track in Kansas City in May.
Martin, only 29 (although will be 30 on Feb. 15), (in this writer’s opinion) should have, at the very least, been offered something. Perhaps the Yanks could have given Pettitte and Rivera a little less – being that they’ll only be around for one more year, anyway – and reached out to the catcher for a deal.
Now, along with the likelihood of right fielder Nick Swisher not making a comeback and the Yankees needing to fill the void in the corner outfield spot, they will now need to seek an everyday backstop – which they’ll most likely be hard-pressed to do.
Right now their options include signing A.J. Pierzynski, a 35-year-old (36 on Dec. 30) with a history of not being the “nicest kid in class,” so-to-speak; striking a deal with Mike Napoli, the 31-year-old free agent who put up numbers somewhat similar to Martin’s in 2012 (.224 BA, 24 HR, 56 RBI); or just using Chris Stewart, Francisco Cervelli, and/or Austin Romine in 2013.
Stewart served as Martin’s backup last season, mostly working as CC Sabathia’s personal catcher, while Cervelli spent almost the entire season in the minors – not to mention Cervelli has suffered a number of concussions over the course of his young career. Romine also has an injury history and has not played a full Triple-A season his entire career.
Now the course of action is up to the Yankees’ front office; a catcher possibly on the Yankees’ wish list. In the meantime, I’d like to look back on a few of Martin’s best moments in pinstripes. Although he was only a Bomber for two years, he provided the team with jolts and boosts to make them a better ballclub in 2011 and 2012.
A part of history
The Yankees were off to a poor start vs. Oakland on the afternoon of Aug. 25, 2011. They had given the A’s a 7-1 lead by the third inning, the day looking like a lost cause; a stinker.
But Martin came up with a plan.
In the fourth inning he cut the lead down to 7-2 with a solo home run. Robinson Cano followed in the fifth with a grand slam to chop the lead to 7-6. Then in the sixth, Martin came up with the bases chucked and did Cano one better, crushing a grand slam of his own for his second homer in the game, giving the Yankees a 10-7 lead.
You would think the grand ol’ day was over, but there was more to come.
After Martin added another run on an RBI single as part of a six run seventh, Curtis Granderson smacked the Yankees’ third grand slam of the game in the eighth, the Yankees going absolutely wild on the way to a 22-9 win over the A’s. It was the first time a team had homered with the bases loaded in a single game three times in MLB history.
“It’s pretty amazing,” Martin told the media when it was over. “This game has been played for a long time. Pretty much everything has already happened. I’m waiting to see who’s going to hit four – I don’t know if it’s ever going to happen, but we’ll see. Three is pretty cool.”
Helping spoil the centennial
On April 20 the Yankees visited Fenway Park, joining the Red Sox in celebrating 100 years at 4 Yawkey Way in Boston. After a rather bizarre toast by former Red Sox Kevin Millar and Pedro Martinez, the Yanks got to work, putting some runs on the board and halting the BoSox behind the stellar pitching of Ivan Nova.
The Yanks basically had the game in the bag during the top of the sixth, up 5-2, but Martin added a run for good measure. The catcher clobbered a pitch off Clay Buchholz over the Green Monster – and over the Sports Authority billboard – a solo home run to give the Yanks a 6-2 lead to finish off the Red Sox.
Martin had already earned his pinstripes as a Yankee in 2011 when, towards the end of the season after a Yankee win over Boston, he said,
“We enjoy giving the Red Sox a hard time!”
Winning with the bat – and the arm
Martin had a rough go of it the first half of the 2012 season, only batting .179 before the All-Star break. Manager Joe Girardi even pulled him aside and spoke to him about his struggles, hoping his pep talk might turn his fortunes around.
And in the first game back from the All-Star break, he proved the tables had in fact been turned.
Against the Angels at home on July 13, Martin knocked in the go-ahead run with an eighth-inning RBI single. But his biggest contribution was yet to come.
With the Yanks leading 6-5 in the ninth, Howard Kendrick attempted to advance to second base on a ball in the dirt that almost got by Martin. But the catcher recovered nicely; picked up the ball and threw out Kendrick to end the game, propelling the Bombers to a win.
Sometimes it only takes one good game to give a player confidence going forward –and the solid effort certainly did give Martin confidence going into the second half of the season.
“I’m starting to feel a little bit better about myself,” he told the media afterward. “And that’s never a bad thing.”
A Twitter shout-out
This is more of a personal moment, but I’ll throw it in, nonetheless.
In April of 2011, Martin conducted a Twitter Q & A. Hoping to get some recognition, I sent him a tweet question. Little did I know he would respond to me! (Note: he answered me back when my handle was @OriginalAJ615)
(Follow me on Twitter @AJ_Martelli)
Walking off a hero
Twice this year, Martin made the most of clutch situations.
On June 10 after Rafael Soriano had blown a save vs. the Mets at home, Martin brought his big stick to the plate. Tied 4-4 in the ninth, he hammered a pitch off Jon Rauch deep to left field for a home run to not only lift the Yanks to a 5-4 victory over the Metropolitans, but a Subway Series sweep of their cross-town rivals.
Three months and 11 days later, it was the same story. This time however, vs. the Oakland A’s.
Tied 1-1 in the ninth on Sept. 21, Martin pounded another pitch to left; another solo, walk-off home run to beat the A’s 2-1 with one swing.
It’s safe to say Martin knew how to play the role of hero in 2012.
Leading the way in Game 1
The Yankees hadn’t beaten a team not named the Minnesota Twins in the ALDS since 2001, when they beat the A’s in five games. This year they were up against a familiar foe, the division rival Baltimore Orioles, in the first round of the playoffs, looking to finally quell a team other than the Twins in round one.
And it was Martin that set the table, playing a huge role in getting the Yanks out of the funk.
Knotted 2-2 in the ninth, the catcher broke the tie with a most impressive home run off Baltimore closer Jim Johnson, who had saved 51 games during the regular season – which led the majors. Martin’s round-tripper started a five-run rally for New York, as the Yanks went on to take Game 1 from the O’s, 7-2.
Yet it wasn’t just his offense that proved to be the difference.
Martin also made two remarkable plays on defense behind the plate in the fifth, preventing a pair of runs from coming in. It seemed he was just grateful to help the team win, no matter how.
“Whether I help the team win offensively or defensively,” he said, “I am happy.”
On behalf of Yankee fans everywhere, THANK YOU RUSSELL for the two years of service.
Best of luck in Pittsburgh. Tell A.J. Burnett and Jeff Karstens we say hi.