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)
Last night was embarrassing. Let’s face it. The Yankees, who had just taken two out of three from the Los Angeles Angels, came home to face their hated rivals, the Boston Red Sox. Having won six of their last seven games, the Bronx Bombers were stopped dead in their tracks, losing 6-4 to Boston.
But the Yanks didn’t just lose. They brought it to a new level.
In the first inning, Yankees’ starter Freddy Garcia surrendered three runs, putting the Bronx Bombers in a quick hole. Already down in the game, Boston starter Jon Lester beaned Mark Teixeira in the right knee cap, forcing the Yankees’ hottest hitter out of the game.
Later in the frame Russell Martin was hit, as Lester had no control at the outset of the game.
Luckily for the Yanks, Teixeira’s x-rays were negative. There is a contusion on his knee and he will be reevaluated today. As for him playing tonight, Yankee manager Joe Girardi said, “probably not.”
Were the bean balls intentional?
No. Lester was going to his cutter and it wasn’t cutting.
Could it have cost the Yankees if the injury had been worse?
Absolutely. If Teixeira had broken his knee cap, the Yankees would be in serious trouble.
At the end of the inning: two hit-batsmen and no retaliation. OK.
The Bombers scraped one run across the plate in the bottom of the first, receiving an RBI single off the bat of Robinson Cano. They blew their chance to break out and erase the three-run first however, leaving the bases loaded to end the first inning.
Down 4-1 in the top of the fifth, David Ortiz stepped up to the plate with Adrian Gonzalez on first. Reliever Hector Noesi threw an inside pitch (middle-in) that brushed Ortiz off the plate.
Big Papi looked a bit flustered, but clearly there was no intent.
The next pitch, Ortiz crushed over the right field wall. Instead of just dropping his bat and running, he flipped the bat in a rather cocky manner, as if to show up the young Yankee pitcher.
So now: two hit-batsmen, an act of cockiness, and the Yankees were losing. Perfect grounds for retaliation and the Yanks did not respond.
May I ask why?
After Ortiz’s bat flip, one thing came to my mind; I thought back to the worst movie in the Rocky series, Rocky V. In the final fight scene, Tommy Gunn and Rocky Balboa were fighting in the streets. Balboa knocked Gunn down, then Gunn’s manager, George W. Duke, screamed at his protégé, “Fight back, you bum, fight back!”
My sentiments exactly. The Yanks should have fought back.
In the bottom of the fifth, New York got two runs back and cut the lead to 6-3. Nick Swisher, who had grounded out in the first to leave the bases loaded, came around and clubbed a two-run double.
The Bombers made one last ditch effort to win the game in the bottom of the ninth. Brett Gardner walked, but Captain Derek Jeter, now 12 hits away from 3,000, lined out to right field.
Curtis Granderson struck out, setting up Jorge Posada, who replaced Teixeira at first base. Gardner took second on defensive indifference and scored on a single by Posada.
Up came Alex Rodriguez, the tying run, 0-for-4 on the night. He made it 0-for-5 with a strikeout to end the game.
But there was plenty of blame to go around; enough goats in this game, other than A-Rod.
Granderson was 0-for-4 with three strikeouts and left three men on base. Quietly he has gone into a little slump, and his batting average has dipped to .269.
Andruw Jones was another non-factor, going 0-for-4 with three strikeouts. He stranded three men on base. Girardi started Jones because he is a right-handed hitter and Lester is a lefty; he hoped Jones would have an advantage, righty vs. lefty, on the Boston hurler.
I guess there is no such thing as an advantage against Lester.
What bothered me the most about the game was not retaliating against Boston following Ortiz’s showboating. There was no reason for the conceited bat toss and no reason the Yanks should not have responded to it. It seemed as if the Yankees were just laying down for Boston without caring.
Plus, if they couldn’t beat them on the scoreboard and they’re showing off, beat them with the ball. Show some gumption and some fight by hitting back.
I couldn’t help but think of May 23, 2006, when the Red Sox hosted the Yanks at Fenway. Manny Ramirez belted a long, three-run home run, but before he ran the bases he stood in the box and admired his shot.
The home plate umpire even had to intervene, telling Ramirez to get out of the box and run.
Did the Yanks fight back then?
Nope. They just let it slide.
After the game Girardi let the media know that he was not a fan of the bat flip and he took offense to it.
“I didn’t care for it,” the Yankee skipper said.
“I don’t know if Ortiz was upset that he (Noesi) came in hard at him. I never had a problem with David; he has always played the game hard. I’m just protecting my young kid.”
Ortiz’s comments on the matter:
“That’s Papi style,” he said with a smile on his face.
“It’s not the first time and it’s not my last one. I’m a home run hitter. It’s not like I do it all the time. What can I tell you? Just another homer for Papi.”
The whole situation could mean retaliation tonight, but if history repeats itself and they just let it go as they did in ‘06, they won’t do anything back.
Yet tonight’s starter A.J. Burnett (6-3, 3.86 ERA) has a history of being wild. Whether he means to or not, there’s a good possibility a Boston batter could get hit with a pitch tonight. He is 2-0 with a 3.44 ERA and 15 strikeouts in his last three starts, and it will be his first start of the season against the Red Sox.
The Yanks will face 44 year-old knuckleballer Tim Wakefield (2-1, 4.40 ERA) who took the spot in the Boston rotation left by Daisuke Matsuzaka, who needs Tommy John surgery. Over the last 10 years alone vs. New York, Wakefield is 7-13 with a 4.58 ERA – and he’s been around longer than 10 years.
The Yanks have had a good amount of success vs. Wakefield, but in turn Boston (34-26) has handled Burnett in the past.
It could be a wild one in the Bronx tonight, but only if the Yankees (33-25) show some fire; if they show some hustle. If they show they won’t lay down in front of their arch-rivals.
If they show some fight.
Yesterday I added a new piece to my seemingly never-ending Yankee memorabilia collection. I purchased the official “Winning Streak Dynasty” banner from Modells, since they were having a sale and marketing it for a relatively low price.
Just by glancing at the banner, and each of the 27 years the Yankees have won the World Series, gave me an idea: a look inside some of the World Series the Yankees have won. I figured I would explore the reasons why the Yankees won that specific year, provide some background on the regular season, examine turning points that made each fall classic special, and identify the key players who made it what it was.
I figured I would first relive a very magical season: 1998.
Regular season record: 114-48
Postseason record: 11-2
Manager: Joe Torre (3rd season)
The 1998 Yankees, who went on to set a Major League record for most games won overall in a season, began their year in a slow fashion. They lost four out of their first five games to start the year, including a 10-2 beat-down at the hands of the California Angels.
Manager Joe Torre called an “angry meeting” and aired out some of his feelings to his players. The pitchers and the position players noticed somewhat of a rift between each other; some batters were hit and felt the pitchers did not do enough to retaliate.
They eventually found their groove on April 7 against the Seattle Mariners, beating the M’s 13-7. From there, they won their next seven games and wound up ending April with a record of 17-6.
On May 17 starting pitcher David Wells tossed a perfect game at home vs. the Minnesota Twins. He retired 27 consecutive batters leading the Yanks to a 4-0 win. It was only the 15th perfect game in MLB history and only the second perfecto thrown by a Yankee.
Later in the season on Sept. 1, Wells almost threw another perfect game. Facing the Oakland Athletics, Wells was perfect through 7 2/3 innings. Needing only seven outs for another perfect game, Jason Giambi lined a single off an 0-2 count to break it up.
May 19 marked a turning point in the season. After Baltimore Orioles’ closer Armando Benitez allowed a three-run home run to Bernie Williams, he pegged Tino Martinez in between his shoulder blades. He was immediately run from the game, but the HBP practically caused a riot.
A fracas ensued and the Yanks and O’s exchanged shoves, and eventually punches.
The Yankees went on to beat the Orioles 9-5 in that game, and also swept them in that series three games to one.
A Year-Long Tear
The Yankees only lost 17 games in the summer months of July and August, while winning 42. Williams described the season as a “year-long tear,” as there really was no other way to characterize how the Bronx Bombers played.
In the ALDS, the Yankees easily handed the Texas Rangers a clean sweep. Juan Gonzalez, the player who eventually captured the 1998 A.L. MVP Award was no match for the starting pitching the Yanks had. David Wells, Andy Pettitte, and David Cone shut down the Rangers three games in a row, each notching a playoff win.
Rookie Shane Spencer, Brosius, and right field warrior Paul O’Neill led the Yanks, all hitting home runs in the first round of the postseason.
The American League Championship Series pitted the Yanks against began the defending A.L. Champs, the Cleveland Indians. New York was looking to erase their 1997 ALCS defeat and beat the Tribe 7-2 in Game One.
Game Two however was an ugly defeat for the Yanks. The game was tied up until inning number 12 when Travis Fryman laid down a bunt. Reliever Jeff Nelson threw the ball to first base, as the second baseman Knoblauch covered the bag. The ball hit Fryman in the back and Knoblauch argued with the umpire instead of retrieving the ball, which at that point was trickling down the first baseline.
Enrique Wilson scored and the Indians went on to win 4-1. The momentum carried into Game Three, as the Indians brought the lumber with them. Playing at home, sluggers Jim Thome and Manny Ramirez left he yard twice, and Mark Whiten added a homer en route to a 6-1 win over the Yanks. They pounded Pettitte while newly acquired Yankee Bartolo Colon cruised to a complete game victory.
But the Game Three loss marked the last time the Yanks would lose a playoff game in ’98.
Down two games to one, Orlando “El Duque” Hernandez took the hill, needing a clutch outing to keep the Yanks alive. Seven shutout innings later, and with some help from O’Neill (who homered) Hernandez and the Yanks picked up a 4-0 Game Four win.
Game One winner Wells took the ball again in Game Five. Now with the ALCS even at two, the Yanks rolled to a 5-3 win, under the strength of a fourth inning home run off the bat of Davis to give the Yanks a three-run lead. Kenny Lofton and Thome both hit home runs, but the Yankee bullpen was able to hold off the rest of the Cleveland lineup.
Now needing one win to get the fall classic, the Yanks came home to play Game Six. They jumped all over Charles Nagy, scoring six runs in the first three innings. Cleveland did not give up easily however, scoring five runs in the fifth, with the main blow being a grand slam from Thome.
The Yankees answered with three runs in the six, plating runs on a triple by Derek Jeter and a single by Williams. They went on to make a winner out of Cone, beating the Indians 9-5 and winning the A.L. pennant for the 35th time.
The Yankees were then headed for the World Series, set to play the San Diego Padres.
The World Series
1998 was the 94th World Series played in MLB history and the Yankees were gunning for their 24th title in franchise history. The Padres were looking for their first World Series victory, having lost the fall classic in 1984–the only other year in their history that they won the National League pennant.
In Game One, San Diego took a 5-2 lead, getting home runs from sluggers Greg Vaughn and Tony Gwynn. But going into the seventh inning, the Yanks came up with a plan. Knoblauch atoned for his ALCS blunder, smacking a game-tying three-run home run into the left field seats.
Later in the frame with the bases loaded, everything changed.
Martinez came up with the bases loaded and on a full count, blasted a grand slam home run into the upper deck tier seats in right field, giving the Yankees a 9-5 lead.
Yankee Stadium exploded.
And it was the turning point in the series, simply because the Yankees carried the momentum from that home run with them the rest of the way. In Game Two, the Yankees beat the Padres 9-3, with home runs off the bats of Williams and Jorge Posada.
Heading out to San Diego and the Yankees up two games to none, Cone took the mound in Game Three. Both teams didn’t score until the sixth, when the Padres plated three runs. The Yanks answered with two in the seventh, receiving a two-run home run from Brosius.
Trevor Hoffman was called on in the eighth inning. San Diego manager Bruce Bochy wanted his closer to nail down a six-out save leading 3-2 going into the frame. Hoffman folded however, giving up a three-run home run to Brosius, which gave New York a 5-3 lead.
Vaughn cut the lead to one with a sac fly in the bottom of the eighth, but the Padres could not rally all the way back, and the Yankees took Game Three, 5-4.
Many people argue that Game Four was just a formality, and in a lot of ways it was. The Padres were all but defeated in the ’98 World Series after Game Three, having been outscored 24-13 in the previous three games. Pettitte toed the rubber, hoping to wrap up New York’s 24th Championship.
Both teams were kept off the board until the sixth, when the Yankees plated a run on a groundout by Williams that scored Jeter. The Yankees added two more runs in the eighth, with an RBI single by Brosius and a sac fly by Ricky Ledee to score O’Neill.
The Padres made an effort to come back in the eighth, loading the bases on Nelson. However, Mariano Rivera wiggled out of the jam and pitched a scoreless ninth to clinch the World Series title.
1998 was just one of those special seasons that nothing went wrong. They have been described as “The Greatest Team Ever” being that they won 125 total games and only lost 50. Those types of seasons don’t come around very often and when they do, it’s important to remember them.
I will always remember the 1998 baseball for the Yankees–not Mark McGwire or Sammy Sosa breaking the home run records. I had more fun watching a team play every game as if it were their last than watching two guys race for a hallowed baseball record.
I think that says a lot about how exciting the Yanks were.
The New York Yankees enjoyed another win today, beating the Houston Astros 9-3. The Bronx Bombers are now 39-23, a season-high 16 games above .500.
Derek Jeter smacked a lead-off homer, belting a solo dinger over the left field wall and into the visiting bullpen. That round-tripper marked Jeter’s 24th career lead-off homer, which ties him with Ricky Henderson for most lead-off homers in team history.
One more and Jeter will have the Yankee lead-off home run record.
Including the postseason, that home run also marked Jeter’s 3,000th career hit. Yeah, I know it was not his real 3,000th career hit, but it still says a lot about how much the Yankee Captain has done over the years.
Later in the game, Jeter was at it again. In the in bottom of the sixth he crushed a three-run homer, this time to right-center field. He now has nine career multi-homer games, eight homers on the season, and he finished the day with four RBIs.
Although Jeter did not hit a grand slam, he might as well be credited with one. This brings me to my point: grand slams. It seems this season the Yanks have been frequently leaving the yard when the bases are loaded.
June 12: Jorge Posada
The Yankee catcher was struggling mightily heading into today. But with the bases loaded in the bottom of the third, Jorge Posada took an 0-1 curveball over the right-center field wall. It was his seventh home run of the year and eighth career grand slam.
Posada’s visit to granny today also marked his 250th career home run. He is now one of five catchers to have hit 250 homers, had 1,500 hits, and 350 doubles in a career. The others are Carlton Fisk, Ivan Rodriguez, Gary Carter, and Johnny Bench.
That stat could perhaps be Hall of Fame worthy for the Yankee backstop.
Before Posada took Astros’ starter Wandy Rodriguez deep, the game was tied 2-2. With one swing of the bat Posada gave the Yankees a four run lead which they never looked back from. He later singled to right field in the fifth and was hit by a pitch in the seventh.
Perhaps Posada has turned the corner and has broken out of his slump. Entering today, he only had two hits in his last 29 at-bats. In other good news for Posada, it was confirmed after today’s win that he will be catching behind the plate in tomorrow’s series finale vs. Houston.
After coming back from the disabled list on June 2, Posada had not caught a game and had been confined to the designated hitter spot. With the majority of the team banged up, it’ll be interesting to see who Joe Girardi puts in the DH hole tomorrow.
As for Posada, nicely done. He needs to keep on swinging the bat the way he did today.
June 8: Curtis Granderson
On Tuesday, the 29 year-old centerfielder broke out the mustard and rye for a grand salami against the Baltimore Orioles. Curtis Granderson took O’s starter Kevin Millwood deep to right field in the top of the third inning.
For Granderson, it was his second career grand slam and his fourth homer of 2010.
The big blast made it 6-0 Yankees and the Bombers went on to take the game 12-7 from the Orioles. One of the better parts of Granderson’s granny was the fact that it came off a left-handed pitcher.
After he was acquired by the Yankees this past off-season, many people said Granderson has trouble hitting lefties. While he is currently only hitting .217 vs. lefties, Granderson has a .248 overall batting average, which is something he can work on as the season progresses.
Also keep in mind his numbers might have been a little better if he had not injured himself and been sidelined on May 1. Granderson missed practically the entire month of May, but since his return has not been struggling nearly as badly as he was before he went down.
When he went on the disabled list, Granderson was hitting a weak .225.
But he has since raised his average, has played some prodigious defense in centerfield, and has been a better offensive player. The grand slam on Tuesday was just another example of how much of an asset he can be to a team.
Down the stretch we will probably see more great things from him.
May 14 & 31: Alex Rodriguez
Twice (so far) this season, the Yankee slugger has cleared the bases with one swing.
On May 14, Alex Rodriguez took Minnesota Twins’ reliever Matt Guerrier deep into the left field seats for a grand slam in the bottom of the seventh, a go-ahead moon shot that gave the Yanks a 7-4 lead. The Bronx Bombers went on to win 8-4.
Guerrier had come into the game to face Rodriguez after an intentional walk of Mark Teixeira, much to the confusion of almost everyone in the ballpark. Heading into the at-bat, Rodriguez was 4-for-6 lifetime vs. Guerrier, four of those hits being home runs.
Twins’ skipper Ron Gardenhire gambled and it didn’t pay off. He said after the game, “In that situation it’s kind of like you have to pick your poison.”
That marked Rodriguez’s 19th career grand slam and his 587th career homer, which put him ahead of Eddie Murray on the all-time home runs list–seventh place.
17 days later, the third baseman did it again, this time vs. the Cleveland Indians.
On May 31, Rodriguez came up (again) in the bottom of the seventh with the bases chucked. The Yankees were only leading 2-1 at that point and once again Teixeira was intentionally walked before the opposing hurler threw to Rodriguez.
With a full count, Rodriguez absolutely murdered the offering and deposited it into Monument Park for a glorious-looking grand slam. It was his 20th career bases-loaded homer and 590th career round-tripper.
The Yankees went on to cruise into an 11-2 win over the Tribe.
Now with 20 career grannies, Rodriguez sits in third place on the all-time career grand slams list behind Manny Ramirez (21) and Lou Gehrig (23).
At press time Rodriguez has eight homers on the year with a .290 batting average and 43 RBIs. He is having an “A-Rod” type season, and he will probably hit well enough to finish with at least 30 home runs and over 100 RBIs.
As long as Rodriguez stays healthy, he will be in good shape. He had to sit out these last three games because of an injury to his hip. He was diagnosed with tendinitis in his right his flexor, coupled with groin stiffness. Girardi said that will continue to evaluate Rodriguez every day, indicating that he probably doesn’t know when he will return to the lineup.
Hope he gets back soon; Rodriguez is one of the biggest threats on the team. Playing a scuffling Astros team, the Yanks were able to win these last two games without him. But can they win their upcoming games against the defending National League Champion Philadelphia Phillies and the New York Mets without A-Rod?
Well, we might not have to worry about it. With any luck, our cleanup man will be back before either one of those series begins.
May 28: Robinson Cano
Three days before Rodriguez’s second grand slam this year, the Yankees’ hot-hitting second baseman smacked a grand slam of his own. Against the Indians on May 28, Robinson Cano blasted a seventh inning slam off Tribe reliever Tony Sipp.
With the bases-loaded blast, Cano now has three career slams.
That night was special for Cano, not only because he hit a grand slam, but because it was the first time in his career he batted from the number four spot in the lineup. Before the game, Girardi actually asked Cano if he was comfortable being the number four hitter.
Cano reassured him he was fine with it and obviously he was; it worked out nicely. Cano didn’t feel the pressure and came through with a big time blast. In fact, Cano said after the game that it was a good feeling to be the cleanup hitter and that it was “exciting.”
The Yankees carried on and beat the Indians 8-2.
Because of Rodriguez’s hip flexor injury, Cano has batted from the cleanup spot these last two games. Over the last two days, Cano has collected a pair of hits and scored two runs along with maintaining the best batting average in the American League with .371.
By the end of the season Cano will probably have to make more room in his trophy case. There could be a batting title in his future. If he keeps up the outstanding numbers an MVP Award could be there and of course the big one–another championship ring if everything goes according to plan.
Right now Cano is a hitting machine that mainly produces RBIs. And it doesn’t look like he is slowing down, either. That only means good things for the Yanks and scary things for opposing pitchers.
So there you have it. The Yankees are having a “grand” old season.
Two things I have noticed about their grand slams this year: all of them have come in either the third or seventh inning…and every game they have hit a grand slam in, they have gone on to win.
As I said before, I wish we could credit Jeter with a grand slam today. Instead he got two homers and four RBIs. The Yankee Captain only has one career slam–in June of 2005 he hit his first career grand slam at Yankee Stadium vs. the Cubs.
I’m sure Jeter will take anything as long as the Yanks win, which they did. Tomorrow they will look to sweep the Astros behind Phil Hughes (8-1, 2.71 ERA).
The 23 year-old righty will be gunning for his ninth win of the season and will be opposed by Brian Moehler (0-2, 6.12 ERA).
The first thing I’d like to do is thank everyone who became fans of “Yankee Yapping” on Facebook. It’s great to have a following on the ‘net, and I hope everyone enjoys the blog every week and the other postings each day.
Anyway, away we go!
My thoughts on…
Road Trip and Why the Yankees Didn’t Get Washburn
It’s been an up-and-down road trip for the Bronx Bombers to this point, as they’ve gone 3-4 over their last seven games.
Taking two of three from Tampa Bay was a great thing and a good way to start the trip, but it all came tumbling down for some reason when the Yanks got to Chicago.
Game one of the four game series wasn’t terrible; we just caught a bad break in the bottom of the ninth and we lost, 3-2. But respect to Nick Swisher for keeping us alive in the top half of the ninth with that solo home run.
The White Sox turned it on and just beat us down in the next two games, and the Yanks really didn’t help themselves. They played some sloppy defense and didn’t get great pitching on Friday night. Sergio Mitre, simply put, was awful. It was disgraceful to watch as a Yankee fan.
Friday was also the non-waivers trade deadline and I was hoping for the Yankees to make a pitching move. One name that kept popping up was Jarrod Washburn, but it just didn’t happen for the Bombers.
The unfortunate truth is that the Yanks called Seattle about Washburn who has put up some decent numbers this year (Washburn was 8-6 with a 2.64 ERA at the deadline) But the Mariners wanted either Jesus Montero or Austin Jackson in the deal. Unwilling to part with either one of those top prospects, the Yanks tried to negotiate for lesser players and called Seattle to inquire.
But Seattle never got back to the Yanks, giving them the opportunity to trade Washburn away to the Tigers. And it proved to hurt the Yanks, seeing as how poorly Mitre pitched in Friday night’s 10-5 loss (three innings, five earned runs on seven hits, two walks, and one strikeout)
So instead of a pitcher, the Yanks added utility man Jerry Hairston, Jr. Coming over from the Cincinnati Reds and only playing in two games for the Yanks thus far, Hairston already has three hits, two RBIs, and a run scored.
Hairston has also played some solid defense in the last two games, earning himself a “Web Gem” on Sunday night’s edition of “Baseball Tonight” on ESPN. He made a great, diving stop at third base to prevent a hit in the first inning of Sunday’s game.
Good pickup for the Yankees in Hairston, but we could have used a starter.
For as bad as everyone said A.J. Burnett looked on Saturday afternoon, I personally didn’t think he was that horrible. He walked a batter with the bases loaded in the second inning, an inning that the White Sox scored six runs.
But if you took a close look at the pitch that was called ball four, it was not a ball. That pitch was right over the plate and knee level, but the umpire refused to ring it up. Burnett only walked two batters and he struck out four over the 4.2 innings he pitched, but he was getting no help from the umpires and overall wasn’t terrible. The Yanks lost big, 14-4.
Finally the Yanks pulled out a win in Sunday’s game, winning 8-5 and hopefully gaining the momentum back for tomorrow’s game against the Toronto Blue Jays.
In yesterday’s 8-5 win, it was a banner day for Melky Cabrera. He started the Yanks off on the right note with a home run in the top of the second.
He then went on to double in the fourth, single in the fifth, and triple in the ninth, completing the first Yankee cycle since Sep. 3, 1995 when Tony Fernandez accomplished the feat against the Oakland Athletics.
He also became only the 15th Yankee to ever do it, joining the likes of Mickey Mantle, Joe DiMaggio, and Bobby Murcer among others.
Another interesting stat that came up was that like Cabrera, Mantle and DiMaggio also hit their cycles against the White Sox.
Looking at the emotion on his face after he slid head-first into third base, you could just tell how happy Cabrera was. I think it really meant a lot for him to hit for the cycle, and after the game he was so thankful for Joe Girardi giving him the chance to play everyday.
Remember that Cabrera and Brett Gardner battled for the starting centerfielder job in Spring Training, a battle that Gardner won. But so far it looks like Cabrera is winning the war.
Cabrera has set a career-high in home runs this season with 10 to this point (the most he ever hit in a season was eight coming into this year) and he has been clutch in every facet of his game. He’s made some great catches on defense and has a handful of walk-off hits under his belt.
He was named Pepsi’s Clutch Performer of the Month in May, and he certainly earned it. As of June 9, Cabrera had 23 RBIs on the year, and of those 23 runs batted in, 11 of them either tied the game or gave the Yanks the lead in the seventh inning or later.
At press time Cabrera is sporting a .292 batting average with the noted 10 homers and 40 RBIs. Fans can expect more big things from the clutch Cabrera down the stretch, as this is proving to be his best season yet.
I think the Yanks made the right move not trading him for Mike Cameron in the off-season.
David Ortiz and his use of PEDs
I’m really not surprised David Ortiz’s name was on the list of 104 players that tested positive for performance-enhancing drugs.
As a Yankee loyalist, I am by no means a supporter of the Boston Red Sox, but I have to say I was disappointed in Ortiz for it. I really have nothing against him personally; I feel he has been the face of their organization for a few years now, and he has such a way about him.
Ortiz seems to keep the Boston clubhouse loose with his attitude and presence, and he’s been doing that ever since he arrived in Boston.
But I cannot tell you how many conversations I had with my best friend about how Big Papi all of a sudden gained legendary power.
We used to say all the time, “he didn’t hit anything when he was a Minnesota Twin. Then he goes to Boston and he’s Mr. Power?” It didn’t make sense then, but it does now.
While a member of the Twins, Ortiz hit a total of 58 home runs over six years. In his first year with the Red Sox in 2003 (which was also the year he tested positive for PEDs) he hit 31 home runs and averaged .288 with 101 RBIs. Before ’03 Ortiz had never knocked in more than 75 runs in a single season.
I would be extremely upset if I were a Boston Red Sox supporter. That would be like finding out Derek Jeter took steroids. It would crush me.
Hopefully the players wise up and realize that if you take steroids, you will get burned. Your reputation gets tarnished and everything you do is looked at differently. Now other players (most notably Torii Hunter of the Los Angeles Angels) are saying Boston’s 2004 and 2007 World Series Championships are tainted.
I would say in a way they are, more so ’04 than ’07. Ortiz was a major reason (if not the reason) the BoSox even made it to the World Series in ’04. He was named the MVP of the ALCS that year—the series Boston rallied back from 3-0 to beat the Yankees.
Speaking of MVP Awards, Manny Ramirez was named the ’04 World Series MVP. He was also caught for using PEDs, so yeah; I would say Boston’s ’04 World Title is looking pretty phony and artificial.
But good performances and timely hitting from clean players like Dustin Pedroia and Mike Lowell were bigger reasons they won it in ’07. Unless players from the ’07 team test positive for banned substances in the future, I would say they won it fair and square that year.
Upcoming Series vs. Boston
On Thursday, the Yanks start up a four-game series against the arch-rival Red Sox. This is the series that can either make or break either team, and determine which club will have the upper hand in the AL Eastern Division and which one will have to stay afloat in the Wild Card.
At press time the Yankees currently sit in first place with their record of 63-42. Boston is 62-42, ½ game out of first place and even with New York in the loss column.
Girardi is doing the right thing with today’s off-day. He is re-configuring the rotation so that the better of the Yankee pitchers match-up with the Red Sox.
Andy Pettitte and Mitre are starting the two games against Toronto, while the brunt of the staff will go head-to-head against Boston.
Joba Chamberlain, Burnett, CC Sabathia, and Pettitte will be the four pitchers the Red Sox will see (on Thursday, Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, respectively). Right now the Yankees are looking at John Smoltz and Josh Beckett in games one and two of the series, and it is not yet known which two Red Sox pitchers will go on Saturday and Sunday.
The Yankees have not beaten the Red Sox at all this year, going 0-8 against their worst enemies. But the Yanks have an advantage playing at home where they are 35-17 this year.
Whatever happens, the Yankees need to at least split this series, and if not take three out of four or sweep them. If the Yankees and Red Sox finish with the same record and Boston wins the season series against the Yankees, Boston gets the division crown.
So with roughly two months to go, this series may prove to be huge in which team gets the division.
“It’s the master plan…God’s way…Yankees/Red Sox.”–Johnny Damon
That does it for this week’s edition of Yankee Yapping. I’ll be back next week with more topics and analysis.
Until then, Go Yankees!