By Dr. Harvey Frommer
The following excerpt from my The Ultimate Yankee Book celebrates “Booney,” the new guy on the block as manager of the New York Yankees. You can read more about Aaron Boone and other Yankee moments, streaks, feats and much more in the book. Enjoy.
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It was a match up that all baseball fans looked forward to with so much on the line.
Pedro Martinez vs. Roger Clemens.
It was also at Yankee Stadium in 61 degree October temperature - -Yankees against Red Sox. It was the American League Championship Series. All tied up – winner take all.
Unfortunately for Yankee fans Roger Clemens was off his game and Pedro Martinez was on his. The Rocket fizzled yielding four runs in three plus innings. Joe Torre replaced him with Mike Mussina, in his first career relief appearance. It was some spot for the “Moose” to be in - - no outs, runners standing on first and third.
Varitek struck out. And Johnny Damon hit into a double play ending the threat. Yankee faithful cheered. Mussina held the Sox scoreless the next two innings. He was followed on the mound by Felix Heredia, Jeff Nelson, David Wells.
Pedro Martinez had the powerful Yankees on his string, just cruising along even though he surrendered solo homers to Jason Giambi in the fifth inning and seventh innings.
In the top of the eighth, DavId Ortiz homered giving the Sox a 5-2 lead. Red Sox pilot Grady Little decided to let Martinez start the bottom of the eighth inning even though the Dominican star’s pitch count was high.
When Nick Johnson popped up, the Yankees were down to their last five outs. For the many Red Sox fans in the stands, it seemed there team was destined to “break” the curse and finally get into the World Series.
Not so fast.
A Derek Jeter double.
A Bernie Williams single. Jeter scored.
Hideki Matsui, who had doubled twice off Martinez in the series, was ready.
The tired ace got two strikes on Matsui. Red Sox Nation relaxed a bit. A fastball inside. Matsui pulled the ball down the right field line. It bounced into the stands - - ground-rule double. Posada was ready in the batter’s box. The tying runs were on base.
There was no move from the beleaguered BoSox manager who was aware that his ace had thrown 111 pitches, most under mounting pressure.
Later Little said: “He had enough left in his tank to finish off Posada.”
On the top step of the dugout Derek Jeter shouted to Posada: “Stay back. Wait for your pitch.”
The count was 2-2. The next pitch was an inside fastball that Posada lifted over second base as Posada Both Williams and Matsui scored.
Score tied. Little removed Martinez. Alan Embree and then Mike Timlin held the Yankees back as the game moved deadlocked 5-5 to the 11th inning. Mario Rivera choked off the Red Sox in the ninth, tenth and 11th innings -- the longest stint for the Yankee closer in seven seasons.
Knuckleballer Wakefield with two victories over the Yankees in the series, had hurled a scoreless tenth inning. He came in to pitch the eleventh inning.
The Yankees had traded for Aaron Boone on July 31, 2003 with the plan of his holding down third base. Ineffective in the ALCS, Torre benched Boone. In his place was the less-experienced Enrique Wilson for Game 7. Boone, had entered the game earlier as a pinch runner. Now he came to bat.
The time was 16 minutes past midnight, Friday morning
Wakefield’s first pitch was inside, below Boone's hands. Boone swung. The ball jumped off his bat and went deep over the left-field wall.
There was so much stamping and movement that it seemed like the big Bronx ballpark shook.
"I knew it was out. I finally put a good swing on it,” Boone said later. The 6-5 New York win gave New York its fifth pennant in six seasons, its 39th American League pennant. .
"Damn Yankees!" was the Friday front-page headline in the Boston Herald.
The Daily News banner headline read "Boone Town!”
I don't know about a curse, but I believe we have some ghosts in this stadium that have helped us out," Derek Jeter said. "We've just had some magical stuff that has happened to us tonight."
Like Derek told me, 'The ghosts will show up eventually,'" Boone said.
“I'm thankful that it's me instead of one of my players' taking the blame,” Little said afterwards. “If we don't win the World Series, which is the definition of winning here, somebody's got to be that man and I'm just glad it's me instead.''
Boston General Manager Theo Epstein remarked: “You can dwell on what happened and wake up in the middle of the night screaming, `Five more outs!' but I'm not going to do that.”
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