Happy Aaron Boone Day!

What were you doing, and where were you doing it, 10 years ago today, October 16, 2003?

It was the night of Game 7 of the 2003 ALCS. Pedro Martinez vs. Roger Clemens. In his first game at Yankee Stadium since he tried to kill Don Zimmer, Pedro gets the hell booed out of him – and that’s a lot of hell. But the Sox take a 4-0 lead over the Yankees in the 4th, before Joe Torre lifts Clemens and brings in Mike Mussina. Making the first relief appearance of his career, Mussina stops the bleeding.

Jason Giambi hits 2 home runs to make it 4-2 in the 7th, but David Ortiz – not for the first time, and certainly not for the last (cough-steroids-cough) – hurts the Yankees by blasting a home run off David Wells. It’s 5-2 Yankees, and although I’m not much of a lip-reader, Wells appears to be yelling, “Fuuuuuuuuck!”

Pedro gets the first out in the bottom of the 8th, but then… Derek Jeter doubles. Then Bernie Williams singles, scoring Jeter to make it 5-3. Pedro is over the 100-pitch mark. From pitches 1 through 99, he throws like Sandy Koufax; from pitch 100 onward, he throws like Sandy Duncan. Red Sox manager Grady Little goes to the mound to remove Pedro…

No! He leaves him in! We got the headhunting son of a bitch!

Hideki Matsui hits a ground-rule double down the right-field line, moving Bernie to third. Well, now, for sure, Little has to pull Pedro. No, he stays in the dugout. He’s sticking with Pedro come hell, high water, mystique or aura.

Jorge Posada, the man that Pedro the Punk threatened with a fastball to the head in Game 3, hits a looper into short center, scoring the tying runs.

Just 5 outs from the Pennant, and the greatest victory the Red Sox would have since, oh, 1918, they have choked again.

Mariano Rivera pitches the 9th, 10th and 11th for the Yankees. He pitches the top of the 11th pretty much on courage alone. The Yankees need to win it in the bottom of the 11th, because the bullpen situation doesn’t look good.

Tim Wakefield, the knuckleballer who won Games 1 and 4 of this series, is on the mound. Leading off the inning is Aaron Boone, the Yankee 3rd baseman.

You know where I was at this moment? I was going from place to place watching the game, and I decided to get on the Subway and head up to The Stadium. Win or lose, I felt I had to be there. But the Subway was crawling, seeming to take forever. I forgot that it was after midnight. Frustrated, I got off at the 50th Street station of the A train.

Next thing I know, I’m standing in front of 220 West 48th Street, the Longacre Theatre. Do you know who built (in 1912) and owned this theater? Harry Frazee. The very man who broke up the Red Sox and sold off so many of their players to the Yankees, including Babe Ruth. What a place to be standing in as the Yankees and Red Sox battled for the Pennant.

In 1935, Clifford Odets’ play Waiting for Lefty debuted at the Longacre. Sox fans were still waiting for Alan Embree, the lefty that Little refused to bring in for Pedro.

It was 12:16 AM, actually October 17, 2003, but since the game started on the 16th, it goes down in history as October 16.
I had my headphones on, and on WCBS 880, I heard Charley Steiner say this:

“There’s a fly ball, deep to left! It’s on its way! There it goes! And the Yankees are going to the World Series! Aaron Boone has hit a home run! The Yankees go to the World Series for the 39th time in their remarkable history! Aaron Boone down the left field line, they are waiting for him at home plate, and now he dives into the scrum! The Yankees win it, 6-5!”

Together, Steiner and John Sterling yell Sterling’s tagline: “Ballgame over! American League Championship Series over! Yankees win! Theeeeeeeeeeeeeeee Yankees win!” Steiner: “I’ve always wanted to say that!”

 

The Longacre is at the northern end of Times Square. It sounded like a million car horns went off at once. People poured out of the restaurants and bars in the Square. People were slapping each other on the back, giving high five after high five.
 

By the time I finally got home at around 2 in the morning, my hair was soaked with sweat, my eyes were aching from being up too late, my voice was shot from screaming, my hands throbbed from shaking and high-fiving, my legs and feet throbbed from all the walking.

I’ve never felt better in my life.

Boone joined Tommy Henrich (1949 World Series vs. Brooklyn Dodgers), Mickey Mantle (1964 WS vs. St. Louis Cardinals), Chris Chambliss (1976 ALCS vs. Kansas City Royals), Jim Leyritz (1995 AL Division Series vs. Seattle Mariners) and Bernie Williams (Game 1 of ALCS in both 1996 and 1999) as Yankees who have hit walkoff home runs in postseason play.  And he joined Enos Slaughter (1946 Cardinals), Lou Boudreau (1948 Cleveland Indians), Bob Gibson (1967 Cardinals), Joe Morgan (1975 Cincinnati Reds), and, collectively, the 1978 Yankees (especially Bucky Dent) and the 1986 Mets as Red Sox postseason tormentors.

Jeter said, “We’ve got some ghosts in this Stadium.”

Fortunately, they made the trip across the street.

Clemens, Wells, and pitching coach Mel Stottlemyre walk out to the Babe Ruth Monument, and offer the Big Fella some champagne. Clemens slaps the plaque on the tablet, and says, “He’s smiling! He’s smiling! He’s smiling, Mel!”

Grady Little was not smiling. He was fired as Sox manager within days.

The next day’s Daily News headline read, “THE CURSE LIVES.” For the Sox… once again, it was “Wait Till Next Year.”

No, no. Really. They meant it this time.

Has it really been 10 years? Wow. Only 1 player is still with the Yankees: Derek Jeter.  Still with the Red Sox: Only David Ortiz.

Boone got hurt in the off-season, leading the Yankees to trade for Alex Rodriguez. Injuries and a heart ailment ended his career after the 2009 regular season, after which he was an analyst on Fox’ postseason broadcasts as the Yankees won their first Pennant since his walkoff. He now works for ESPN.

A descendant of early American hero Daniel Boone, he is the grandson of 1950s major leaguer Ray Boone, the son of 1970s Phillies catcher Bob Boone, the brother of 1990s-2000s big-leaguer Bret Boone, the husband of Playboy’s Miss October 1998 Laura Cover), and the father of 2 children, neither of whom is anywhere near old enough to make the Boones MLB’s first 4-generation family. The David Bells — Gus, Buddy and David — didn’t beat them to being the first 3-generation, but 4-generation is still up in the air.

A lot can change in ten years.  We now have a black President, Twitter, YouTube, the Kardashians on TV, Snooki, NCIS, Castle, and Kevin Youkilis has become a Red Sock and a Yankee.

And we have seen the Red Sox win 2 World Series, breaking the Curse of the Bambino — and we have seen them exposed as dirty rotten cheaters, and continue to lie about it, meaning we can no longer chant, “NINE-teen-EIGHT-teen! (Clap, clap, clap-clap-clap),” but we can still write 1918*.

Happy Bucky Dent Day!

This is a revision of a piece I did a year ago.

In the movie Field of Dreams, Kevin Costner plays Ray Kinsella, who builds a baseball field on his Iowa farm, and sees the eight banned Chicago White Sox players from the 1919 World Series come back to life.  James Earl Jones plays Terence Mann, a reclusive writer.  (In the novel it was based on, Shoeless Joe, author W.P. Kinsella makes it the real-life writer J.D. Salinger.)

They go to Chisholm, Minnesota to meet Dr. Archibald Graham, who, under the nickname Moonlight Graham, played 1 inning in right field, without coming to bat, for the New York Giants in 1922.  But they find out he died in 1972, 16 years before the film takes place.  Yet taking a walk outside his hotel, Ray meets Graham, played by Burt Lancaster.

(The book reflects the real-life truth: Graham’s single game was in 1905, he died in 1965, and they knew that before they ever set out, having read it in The Baseball Encyclopedia — the seven-pound, 2,000-plus-page record book that we used beforeTotal Baseball and then the creation of the great website Baseball Reference.)

Ray asks Graham’s ghost if he thought it was a tragedy that he only got to be a big-league ballplayer for 5 minutes, and never got to bat.  Graham tells Ray, “If I’d only gotten to be a doctor for 5 minutes, now that would have been a tragedy.”

(In real life, on June 29, 1905, Graham actually played 2 innings, the 8th and 9th, against the Dodgers at Washington Park in Brooklyn, and was on deck when the 3rd out was made in the top of the 9th, so he almost got to bat.  He played in the minors from 1902 to 1908, and took his medical degree and hung out his shingle in Minnesota, although he was from North Carolina.)

Ray: “So now, I don’t know what we’re doing here.”

Terence: “Maybe it was to see if one inning could change the world.”

Ray: “You think it did?”

Terence: “It did for these people.  If he’d gotten a hit, he might’ve stuck with baseball.”

And he while he might have gone on to have a good career, and gone on to do something good after baseball, he would’t have been able to do all the good he did for the people of Chisholm.

*

Last night was a busy night in Major League Baseball.

October 2, 1949: The Yankees played the Boston Red Sox, in the last game of the season, and the winner was going to win the AL Pennant (in the pre-Divisional play era).  The Yankees led 1-0 going into the top of the 8th, when Joe McCarthy, who’d led the Yankees to 7 World Championships but was now managing the Red Sox, sent up Tom Wright to pinch-hit for pitcher Ellis Kinder (in the pre-Designated Hitter era).  This proved to be a mistake, as Mel Parnell and Tex Hughson — pretty good starting pitchers for Boston — let in 4 more runs in the bottom of the 8th.  The Sox pulled 3 back in the top of the 9th, but the Yankees held on to win, 5-3.

Among the Yankees who played in that game, 63 years ago, only Yogi Berra and Jerry Coleman are still alive.  From the Red Sox, only Wright and Hall of Fame 2nd baseman Bobby Doerr survive.

Yes, one inning can change a season.  Red Sox fans know this well:

October 2, 1972: The Sox began a 3-game series with the Detroit Tigers at Tiger Stadium, which would decide the AL East.  (Only 2 Divisions per League back then.) Whoever won 2 out of 3 would win the Division.

In the top of the 3rd, Carl Yastrzemski doubled off Mickey Lolich.  Tommy Harper, who was on 3rd base, scored easily.  Luis Aparicio, the legendary shortstop of the Chicago White Sox, was on 1st for the Red Sox and should have scored easily.  And yet…

If you made a list of the Top 10 players in the history of baseball known for baserunning, Aparicio might be on that list.  But he tripped rounding 3rd, and had to hold there, and Yaz was thrown out trying to stretch his double to a triple.  Reggie Smith then struck out to end the inning.  The game was tied 1-1, but should have been at least 2-1 Red Sox.  The Tigers ended up winning 4-1, and won the next night to win the Division.

Yes, one inning can change a season.  Red Sox fans know this well:

On October 2, 1978, the Yankees and Red Sox played that famous one-game Playoff at Fenway Park, the Boston Tie Party.  When the top of the 7th began, the Sox led 2-0 and Mike Torrez was pitching a 2-hit shutout.

Think about it: Today, Torrez would probably have been told he’d pitched a great game, and let the bullpen handle it from here.  Although, to be fair, Sox fans generally don’t blame Torrez for what happened next.  They blame manager Don Zimmer.

But Torrez was left in.  He got Graig Nettles to fly to right, but allowed singles to Chris Chambliss and Roy White.  Jim Spencer pinch-hit for Brian Doyle, who was subbing at 2nd base for the injured Willie Randolph.  (Fred “Chicken” Stanley took over at 2nd the rest of the way).  Spencer flew to left.

And then up came Bucky Dent.  You know what happened: As Yankee broadcaster Bill White said on WPIX-Channel 11: “Deep to left, Yastrzemski will… not get it! It’s a home run! A three-run home run for Bucky Dent, and now, the Yankees lead it by a score of 3-2!”

Then Torrez walked Mickey Rivers, and then Zimmer pulled him for Bob Stanley.  Mick the Quick stole 2nd.  Thurman Munson doubled him home, before Stanley finally ended the rally by getting Lou Piniella to fly to right.  It was 4-2, and the Yanks would win, 5-4.

Yes, one inning can change a season.  Red Sox fans know this well.

Happy Bucky Dent Day!

*

October 2, 1908:  In a wild 3-team American League race, every bit as tight as the 3-team race going on in the National League at the same time, the AL has perhaps its greatest pitching dule ever, between 2 future Hall-of-Famers, at League Park in Cleveland.

Ed Walsh of the Chicago White Sox strikes on 15 batters, which will be an AL record for 30 years.  But it’s not enough, as Addie Joss of the Cleveland Indians pitches a perfect game, and the Indians win, 1-0.

And yet, neither team wins the Pennant.  The Detroit Tigers do, the Indians finishing half a game behind, the White Sox 1 1/2 behind: Detroit 90-63, Cleveland 90-64, Chicago 88-64.  Why wasn’t the Tigers’ missing 154th game made up? I don’t know.

It’s the 2nd of 3 straight Pennants for the Tigers.  The ChiSox had won in 1901 and 1906.  The Indians will not get this close to a Pennant again until they win it all in 1920.  Speaking of that year…

October 2, 1920: The only tripleheader ever played in the 20th century, forced by rainouts, is played at Forbes Field in Pittsburgh.  The Cincinnati Reds win the first two games, 13-4 and 7-3, with the Pittsburgh Pirates avoiding the sweep in the finale, 6-0. Peter Harrison is the home plate umpire for all three games.

October 2, 1932: The Yankees win their 12th consecutive World Series game and sweep the Fall Classic for the 3rd time, for their 4th World Championship overall. At Wrigley Field, the Bronx Bombers (the nickname has now replaced “Murderers’ Row”) bang out 19 hits as they club the Chicago Cubs, 13-6.

October 2, 1936: In Game 2, the Yankees even the World Series at a game apiece by routing the Giants at the Polo Grounds, 18-4. The lopsided win is the largest margin of victory in the history of the Fall Classic.

The last out of the game has the Yankees’ rookie center fielder, Joe DiMaggio, catching a fly ball, and his momentum carrying him up the steps of the center-field clubhouse.  He stays at the top, as a special guest of the Giants, President Franklin D. Roosevelt, is helped to a special car on the field, and it drives off.

October 2, 1938: Cleveland Indians fireballer Bob Feller, just 20 years old, fans 18 Detroit Tigers at Cleveland Municipal Stadium, establishing a modern major league record for strikeouts in a game.  But Rapid Robert loses the contest, 4-1.

Twice, Hank Greenberg is a victim.  Greenberg finishes the season with 58 home runs, the 3rd time someone has come close to Babe Ruth’s record of 60 set in 1927.  (Jimmie Foxx, who hit 50 this year, had hit 58 in 1932.  Hack Wilson had hit 56 in 1930.) Some people argue that, due to Greenberg being Jewish, he was frequently walked (intentionally or “not”) so that he wouldn’t break the Babe’s record.  Hank would go to his grave insisting that pitchers had pitched to him fairly.

October 2, 1947: In Game 3 of the Fall Classic, Yogi Berra hits the first pinch-hit home run in World Series history. The historic homer comes off Ralph Branca in the 7th inning at Ebbets Field in Brooklyn.  But the Dodgers win the game anyway, 9-8.

October 2, 1952: Carl Erskine, owner of perhaps the best curveball of his generation, strikes out 14 Yankees in Game 3 at Yankee Stadium, to establish a new World Series mark. The Dodger hurler’s performance bests the record of Howard Ehmke, who struck out 13 Cubs for the Philadelphia Athletics in Game 1 of 1929 Fall Classic.

Still alive from this game, 61 years later: For the Dodgers, Erskine and left fielder Andy Pafko; for the Yankees, only Yogi Berra.

October 2, 1954: The Giants complete the World Series sweep of the Indians, when Don Liddle beats Bob Lemon, 7-4. The Tribe, who had not lost four consecutive games this year, completed the regular season with a 111-43 record, establishing an American League mark for victories.  It will be the last World Championship for the Giants in New York, the last for the franchise for 46 years.

Four Giants are still alive from their ’54 World Series roster: Center fielder Willie Mays, left fielder Monte Irvin, shortstop Alvin Dark and pitcher Johnny Antonelli.

October 2, 1961: Coming out of retirement, former Yankee skipper Casey Stengel agrees to manage the Mets, New York’s National League expansion team.  Actually, he goofs, and says, “I’m very pleased to be managing the New York Knickerbockers.” I guess nobody told him the real name of the team — which, since it hadn’t played a game yet, was partly responsible.

October 2, 1963, 50 years ago: Game 1 of the World Series.  Ten years to the day after Erskine struck out 14 Yankees for the Brooklyn edition of the Dodgers, Sandy Koufax strikes out 15 Yankees for the Los Angeles edition. Both records were set at the old Yankee Stadium.  The 15 Ks are no longer a Series record, but it is still a Series record for lefthanders.

“I understand how he won 25 games,” Yogi says after the game. “What I don’t understand is how he lost 5.”

Still alive from this game, 50 years later: From the Dodgers, Koufax, shortstop Maury Wills, right fielders Frank Howard and Ron Fairly, left fielder Tommy Davis and 2nd baseman Dick Tracewski; from the Yankees, pitchers Whitey Ford and Stan Williams, 1st baseman Joe Pepitone, 2nd baseman Bobby Richardson, shortstop Tony Kubek, and pinch-hitters Hector Lopez and Phil Linz.  Yogi was on the roster, but did not play in the game.

October 2, 1965: Winning 14 of their last 15 games, the Dodgers clinch the National League Pennant on the next-to-last day of the season at Dodger Stadium. Sandy Koufax gets his 26th victory defeating the Braves in the clincher, 2-1.  Koufax allowed only 4 hits, while Milwaukee hurler Tony Cloninger allowed only 2.

October 2, 1968: Bob Gibson establishes a new World Series mark by striking out 17 batters, as the St. Louis Cardinals defeat the Detroit Tigers in Game 1 of the Fall Classic, 4-0.

October 2, 1969: Only 5,473 patrons attend the Pilots’ last game in Seattle, as the last place team is defeated by the Oakland Athletics 3-1, for their 98th loss of year. The AL expansion franchise attracts only 677,944 fans for the season — an average of 8,370 per game — and will play in Milwaukee as the Brewers next season.

October 2, 1972: Bill Stoneman throws the 2nd of his 2 no-hitters when he holds the Mets hitless in the Expos’ 7-0 victory at Jarry Park. The Montreal All-star right-hander, who also accomplished the feat in 1969 against the Phillies in Philadelphia in just his 5th major league start, becomes the 1st major league pitcher to toss a no-hitter in Canada.

October 2, 1973, 40 years ago: Scott David Schoeneweis is born in Long Branch, New Jersey, and graduates from Lenape High School in Medford.  He won a World Series with the Anaheim Angels in 2002, but he was also a member of the Met teams that collapsed in 2007 and ’08.  But he was released by the Red Sox in 2010 and hasn’t pitched since.

He used steroids and developed cancer.  Yeah, that kind.  However, his 577 major league appearances are the most among Jewish pitchers, and he’s probably the greatest player who ever wore the Number 60 in the majors.

October 2, 1974: In his last National League at-bat, Henry Aaron homers off Rawly Eastwick of the Reds for his 733rd round-tripper which is also the his 3600th career hit.

Also on this day, Texas Rangers manager Billy Martin elects not to use a designated hitter, and allows starting pitcher Ferguson Jenkins to bat for himself.  It works: Fergie gets a hit in the Rangers’ 2-1 victory over the Minnesota Twins at Metropolitan Stadium.

October 2, 1983, 30 years ago: Carl Yastrzemski plays in his 3,308th and final game, 5 years to the day after popping up to end the Bucky Dent Game.  Playing left field for Boston, he collects a hit, the 3,419th of his career, which includes 452 home runs.  Among human beings still alive in 2013, only Pete Rose and Hank Aaron have more hits.  (Assuming he doesn’t get hurt again, Derek Jeter should surpass him next summer.)

After the Red Sox’ 3-1 victory over Cleveland, Yaz takes a lap of honor around Fenway Park, and stays to sign autographs on Yawkey Way for over an hour.

No player, in the history of North American major league sports, has appeared in more games without winning a World Championship.  But Yaz is still one of the all-time greats, and he just had a statue of him dedicated outside Fenway.

October 2, 1985: Darrell Evans becomes the first player in major league history to hit 40 home runs in a season in both Leagues. The Detroit Tigers first baseman, who had hit 41 with the Atlanta Braves in 1973, goes deep off Toronto Blue Jays’ hurler Dave Stieb to reach 40 on the last day of the season.  He ends his career with 407 home runs.

October 2, 1986: Yankee 1st baseman Don Mattingly establishes a new team record, collecting his 232nd hit of the season, breaking the mark set in 1927 by Earle Combs. ‘Donnie Baseball’ will finish the season with a league-leading 238 hits.

October 2, 1988, 25 years ago: In St. Louis, Mets’ outfielder Kevin McReynolds establishes a major league record swiping 21 bases without being caught stealing during the season. The A’s Jimmy Sexton had set the record in with 16 stolen bases without being thrown out in 1982.

October 2, 1991: The Toronto Blue Jays clinch the American League East title, beating the Angels 6-5, in their last home game of the season.  The sellout crowd of 50,324 allows them to become the first sport franchise in history to draw four million fans in one season: 4,001,527.

Yes, the Blue Jays used to sell out.  No, I’m not kidding.

October 2, 1995 In a one-game playoff for the American League West title, Seattle Mariners’ southpaw Randy Johnson throws a three-hitter and beats the Angels, 9-1. The ‘Big Unit’ finishes the season with an 18-2 record to establish a new AL mark for winning percentage by a lefthander, of .900, surpassing the record set of .893 by Ron Guidry in 1978.  (Guidry still has the mark for lefty AL pitchers winning at least 20 games.)

The Angels led the Division by 11 games on August 9, and 6 games on September 12.  But a 9-game losing streak, and a 7-game winning streak by the Mariners, doomed the Halos.

October 2, 2005: In a recorded message shown at the start of the last regular season game at the 1966 edition of Busch Stadium, Joe Buck, unable to be in attendance due to calling a NFL game on national television, asks the crowd to honor his late father by singing the “Star-Spangled Banner” a cappella. A stirring rendition fills the ballpark when 50,000 voices join in unison to sing the National Anthem, a fitting tribute to the late and beloved Cardinal broadcaster.

In the top of the 6th inning, Ozzie Smith emerges from the gate in right field wall in an open convertible. After touring warning track, the former Cardinal shortstop removes the digit “1”, his old uniform number, which is affixed to the outfield wall, revealing a “0,” to indicate the number regular-season games left to be played in the stadium.

The Cards beat the Cincinnati Reds, 7-5.  But the Cards win the NL Central, so there will be Playoff games played there.

October 2, 2008: In the franchise’s first postseason game, the Tampa Bay Rays defeat the visiting Chicago White Sox at Tropicana Field, 6-4. Tampa Bay’s rookie third baseman, Evan Longoria, joins Gary Gaetti of the 1987 Twins in becoming only the second player to homer in his first two postseason at-bats.

October 2, 2013: The Pirates beat their arch-rivals, the Cincinnati Reds, 6-2 at PNC Park, to win the NL Wild Card Play-in game, and advance to the Playoffs proper.  Russell Martin — whom Yankee GM Brian Cashman let get away, resulting in the Pinstripes struggling at the catcher position all season long — hits 2 home runs.

This is the first time the Pirates have won a postseason game in 21 years, since George Bush was President.  The father, not the son.  And it’s the first time they’ve advanced in the postseason since they were “Family” in 1979.  The Seventies.  The Carter years.  The dreaded Disco Period.