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*.

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Bill Mazeroski Day — Not a Happy Anniversary for Yankee Fans

October 13, 1960: Bill Mazeroski hits a home run off Yankee Ralph Terry in the bottom of the 9th of Game 7 of the World Series, to give the Pittsburgh Pirates their first World Championship in 35 years.

After the Series, Yankee owners Del Webb and Dan Topping fired Casey Stengel. They made Casey read a statement in which he said he was resigning, but Casey put the paper down, and told the press, “I guess this means they fired me.” He later said that they forced him out due to his age: “I’ll never make the mistake of being 70 again.”

Well, in 2003, Jack McKeon managed the Florida Marlins to a World Championship. He was about to turn 73. In 2009, the most successful Yankee manager since Casey, Joe Torre, managed the Los Angeles Dodgers to a second straight NLCS berth. He was 69.

The Baseball Gods were cruel to Ralph Terry that day in Pittsburgh, but they would be kind to him for the next 2 years, allowing him to win 39 regular-season games for back-to-back Yankee World Championship teams, and to add his own shutout in Game 7 of the 1962 World Series. Which brings me back to one of my points: As bad as certain moments of Yankee history have been, there’s usually a sequel that sets it all right, and goats become heroes.

Of the men who played in that game, 53 years ago, the following are still alive:

Pirates: 2nd baseman Mazeroski, shortstop Dick Groat, center fielder Bill Virdon, left fielder Bob Skinner, catcher Hal Smith, pinch-runner Joe Christopher (lost in the 1962 expansion draft to the Mets), and pitchers Vernon Law, Bob Friend and Elroy Face. Not entering the game but on the roster and still alive: Shortstops Dick “Ducky” Schofield and Dick Barone, outfielder Roman Mejias, catcher Bob Oldis, and pitchers Joe Gibbon, Bennie Daniels and Red Witt.  Pitcher Red Witt dies this past January, and catcher Danny Kravitz this past June.

Yankees: Terry, left fielder Yogi Berra, 2nd baseman Bobby Richardson, shortstop Tony Kubek, substitute shortstop Joe DeMaestri, pinch-hitter Hector Lopez, and pitchers Bobby Shantz, Jim Coates and Ralph Terry. Not entering the game but on the roster and still alive: Outfielder Bob Cerv; and pitchers Whitey Ford, Art Ditmar, Luis Arroyo, Eli Grba, Bill Short, Fred Kipp, Johnny James and Hal Stowe.  Pitcher Bob Turley died this past March.

Today, William Stanley Mazeroski is 77 years old, retired and living in Panama City, Florida, and is a spring-training fielding instructor for the Pirates. The Pirates have retired his Number 9, and in 2010, on the 50th Anniversary of the homer, dedicated a statue to him outside PNC Park. He was elected to the Hall of Fame in 2001, the same year PNC Park opened.

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October 13, 1775: The Continental Congress orders the creation of the Continental Navy, the forerunner of the United States Navy.

This would seem to have nothing to do with baseball, but, during World War II, it would be the Navy that would have, arguably, the three greatest catchers in baseball history: Mickey Cochrane, Bill Dickey and Yogi Berra. (I thought Johnny Bench served in the Army Reserve during Vietnam, but I can’t find any record of this.)

The WWII Navy would also have Phil Rizzuto, Pee Wee Reese and, through the Marine Corps which is officially part of the Navy, Ted Williams, Jerry Coleman, and broadcasters Jack Brickhouse and Ernie Harwell. The Army would have Hank Greenberg, Warren Spahn, Jackie Robinson, and, through the Army Air Corps, forerunner of the U.S. Air Force, Joe DiMaggio.

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October 13, 1862: In a game against Unions of Morrisania (now part of The Bronx), Jim Creighton of the Brooklyn-based Excelsiors hits a 6th-inning home run, after doubling in each of first 4 times to plate.

When he crosses home, the 21-year old Brooklynite complains of having broken his belt. It turns out to be a suspected ruptured inguinal hernia, caused by the torque created by his all upper-body hard swing with the bat. Medicine being what it was during the years of the American Civil War, he dies in agony 5 days later.

Creighton was the first true baseball superstar, and his monument in Brooklyn’s Green-Wood Cemetery is rather outlandish. Had this not happened to him, he could have lived to see baseball in the 20th Century.

Also buried in Green-Wood are pioneer sportswriter Henry Chadwick, Dodger owner Charles Ebbets, actor DeWolf Hopper (famed for his recitings of “Casey at the Bat), “New York, New York” lyricist Fred Ebb, conductor Leonard Bernstein, pianomaker Henry Steinway; Theodore Roosevelt’s parents, uncle and first wife; minister Henry Ward Beecher; publishers Horace Greeley, James Gordon Bennett and Henry J. Raymond, and reporter Nellie Bly; artists Nathaniel Currier and James Ives, Louis Comfort Tiffany and Jean-Michel Basquiat, inventors Samuel Morse and Elias Howe, New Jersey’s first Governor William Livingston; the two people for whom the male and female components of New Jersey’s State University are named, Henry Rutgers and Mabel Smith Douglass; New York Governor DeWitt Clinton and “Boss” William Marcy Tweed, actors Lola Montez, Laura Keene (onstage when Lincoln was shot) and Frank Morgan (the title role in The Wizard of Oz); and mob boss Albert Anastasia and the man often suspected of killing him, “Crazy” Joey Gallo.

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October 13, 1899: The Louisville Colonels score 4 runs in the 9th to take a 6-5 lead over the Pirates‚ but heavy black smoke from the Pittsburgh steel mills spills over the field, and the game is called because of poor visibility. The score reverts to what it was at the end of the previous inning: Pirates 5, Colonels 2. The Colonels, led by shortstop Honus Wagner, end the season today in 9th place at 75-77.

It will be their last season, as the National League contracts from 12 to 8 teams. The Pirates’ owners buy the Colonels franchise, lock, stock and Honus, and will win 4 of the next 10 NL Pennants and be in the race for most of the rest. Louisville has since been one of the top minor-league cities of the last 100 years, but it has never returned to the major leagues.

October 13, 1903: The Boston Pilgrims, forerunners of the Red Sox, win the first World Series, 5 games to 3, defeating the Pittsburgh Pirates, 3-0 in Game 8. Hobe Ferris singles home 2 runs in the 4th, and Bill Dineen, pitching his 3rd win of the Series, outduels Deacon Phillippe, pitching his 5th complete game. Boston is the champion of the baseball world.

As with my previous mention of the 1904 Pilgrims/Red Sox, the last survivor was shortstop Freddy Parent, who lived on until 1972.  Right fielder Tommy Leach is the last surviving 1903 Pirate, living until 1969.

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October 13, 1914: The Boston Braves complete a shocking four-game sweep, the first in World Series history, over the mighty Philadelphia Athletics, winning Game 4, 3-1 at Fenway Park. Johnny Evers, former second-base star with the Chicago Cubs, singles in the 5th to make the difference.

The “Miracle Braves,” who came from last place on the 4th of July to win the whole thing, had abandoned South End Grounds, at whose location they had played since their founding as the Boston Red Stockings in 1871, in mid-season, because the new stadium they were building was not yet ready, and because Fenway Park had a larger seating capacity. A year later, Braves Field would open, and because it was the largest stadium yet built, with a capacity of 40,000, the Red Sox would play their 1915, ’16 and ’18 home games there. It would be 1946 before Fenway Park hosted another postseason game.

Fighting the rise of salaries caused by the Federal League, A’s owner-manager Connie Mack sold off most of his stars after this Series, ending a run of 4 Pennants and 3 World Championships in 5 seasons. In fact, he had won 6 of the first 14 AL Pennants and was in the race nearly every year. In 1915, the A’s would collapse to last place, and in 1916 they would produce a record of 36-117, the most losses in the major leagues between the 1899 Cleveland Spiders and the 1962 New York Mets, and still the lowest winning percentage since 1899, .235. To this, Mack is alleged to have said, perhaps coining the now-familiar phrase, “Well, you can’t win them all.” It would take Mack until 1927 to get the A’s back into a Pennant race and 1929 to get them back into the Series.

The Braves would not be unable to maintain their prosperity, either. They finished 2nd in 1915 and 3rd in ’16, but in ’17, catcher Hank Gowdy, a key figure in their ’14 run, became the first big-leaguer to enlist in World War I. (In fact, he would go on to become the only big-leaguer to serve in that war and World War II.) Like the A’s, the Braves would go on to become symbolic of baseball frustration: From 1917 to 1932, the Braves would have one season above .500, and 4 seasons of at least 100 losses. A 4th-place finish in 1933 was followed by a 38-115 season in 1935, a .248 winning percentage that’s the lowest in baseball in the last 95 years and the lowest in the NL in 112, even less than the 40-120 ’62 Mets’ .250. Not until 1947 would they get back into a Pennant race, not until 1948 would they win another Pennant, and by the time they won another World Series, 1957, they would be in Milwaukee, and the Red Sox would be in Boston all alone.

The last survivor of the 1914 Miracle Braves was 3rd baseman Charlie Deal, who lived on until 1979.

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October 13, 1915: The Boston Red Sox beat the Philadelphia Phillies, 5-4 in Game 5, and win the World Series. The Sox would get to the next World Series, and another 2 years later. The Phillies would not get to another for 35 years.

This would be the last game in a Boston uniform for their superstar center fielder, Tris Speaker, who is soon traded to the Cleveland Indians. The trade doesn’t hurt the Sox much, though, as a new star had his first full season in 1915, although he did not appear in the Series: Babe Ruth.

October 13, 1921: For the last time, the World Series is a best-5-out-of-9 affair. Game 8 is played at the Polo Grounds, home for one more season after this of both the National League’s Giants and the American League’s Yankees. George “Highpockets” Kelly of the Giants hits a ball through the legs of Yankee shortstop Roger Peckinpaugh in the first, scoring a run. It is the first time Peckinpaugh has blown it in a Series game, but it will not be the last.

The game is still 1-0 in the 9th, when Aaron Ward draws a walk with one out. Frank “Home Run” Baker, previously a Series star for Connie Mack’s A’s against the Giants, hits a line shot that Giant second baseman Johnny Rawlings snares, and throws to first to get Baker with the second out. Ward, thinking the ball had gone through, heads for third base, and Kelly throws across the infield to Frankie Frisch, and Ward is out. That’s the game and the first “Subway Series” (although the term wouldn’t be used for another few years), as the Giants win, 5 games to 3.

For the Giants, it is their 2nd World Series win, their first since 1905. For Giants manager John McGraw, it is proof that his scrappy, run-scratching, pitching-and-defense-leading style of baseball, is better than the Yankee style, which is to get guys on base and wait for someone (most likely Babe Ruth, who was ineffective in this Series) to hit a home run. For the Yankees, their first World Series ends in disappointment. They will, however, be back.

The last survivor of the ’21 Giants was Kelly, who lived until 1984.

Also on this day, Louis Henry Saban is born in Brookfield, Illinois, a suburb of Chicago.  He played linebacker for Paul Brown on the Cleveland Browns, winning all 4 All-America Football Conference titles, 1946 to ’49.

He did not play in the NFL.  Rather, when the Browns joined in 1950, Saban was offered the head coaching job at Cleveland’s Case Western Reserve University.  Like later coaches Larry Brown in basketball and Harry Redknapp in soccer, he would be known for never staying at a single job for very long.  His last head coaching job was at Chowan University, a Division II school in North Carolina.  In between, he would be the head coach at Northwestern, Western Illinois, Maryland,  Miami, Army, Central Florida, SUNY-Canton, the Boston Patriots, the Denver Broncos, and the Buffalo Bills on 2 separate occasions.

He is the only man ever to coach the Bills in a season in which they went as far as the rules would allow them to go, winning the 1964 and ’65 American Football League Championships.  Typical Bills luck, these would be the last 2 AFL Champions who would not face the NFL Champions in a world championship game, a.k.a. the Super Bowl.  Lou died in 2009.  You may know him best as the father of Nick Saban, winner of National Championships at Louisiana State and Alabama.

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October 13, 1931: Edwin Lee Mathews is born in Texarkana, Texas. The Hall-of-Famer is the only man to have played for the Braves in Boston (his rookie season, 1952, was their last there), Milwaukee (all 13 years the franchise played there) and Atlanta (their first season there, 1966, was his last with the team).

His 47 home runs in 1953 was a franchise record, tied by teammate Hank Aaron in 1971, until Andruw Jones broke it with 51 in 2005. Mathews hit a 10th-inning walkoff home run to give the Braves Game 4 of the 1957 World Series, which they would win in 7 games. He hit his 500th career home run as a Houston Astro in 1967, finished his career as a World Champion with 512 home runs with the 1968 Detroit Tigers, and managed Aaron when he became the all-time home run leader in 1974.

The Braves retired Mathews’ Number 41, and along with Mike Schmidt, George Brett and Brooks Robinson, he is one of the top 4 3rd basemen of all time — or top 5, if you count Alex Rodriguez as a 3rd baseman.

October 13, 1941: Paul Frederic Simon is born in Newark, New Jersey, and grows up in Forest Hills, Queens. In 1967, looking around at a world seemingly falling apart, he wrote a song that was used in the film The Graduate: “Mrs. Robinson.” A Yankee Fan, he included a tribute to a Yankee player who exemplified a seemingly (but hardly) simpler, more innocent time: “Where have you gone, Joe DiMaggio? A nation turns its lonely eyes to you.”

Simon later met DiMaggio, who was puzzled by the reference, saying, “I haven’t gone anywhere.” Simon explained that the line was a longing for what DiMaggio represented. When Mickey Mantle asked Simon why his name wasn’t used, Simon, who turned 10 as DiMaggio was replaced by Mantle, said that the rhythm and the syllables of the song wouldn’t have worked for Mantle’s name.

Simon recorded it with his singing partner, Art Garfunkel. “Mrs. Robinson” hit Number 1 in June 1968, and it was on top of the charts when Robert Kennedy was assassinated, making its search for meaning and hope even more poignant.

In 1972, now gone solo, Simon released “Me and Julio Down By the Schoolyard.” In 1988, he made a video of the song, and he’s shown pitching to kids in a stickball game. And Mantle shows up. I guess Paul had to make it up to Mickey, and while Mickey whiffs on Paul’s first pitch, Mickey blasts the next one, and then lip-synchs the title (though it’s still Simon’s voice we hear).

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October 13, 1962: Jerry Lee Rice is born in Starkville, Mississippi. He may be the greatest player in the history of American football. Certainly, he is the greatest receiver.

Also on this day, Kelly Preston is born in Honolulu, Hawaii, and grows up there and in Adelaide, Australia.  A high school classmate of Barack Obama, the actress played Kevin Costner’s love interest in the film For Love of the Game. And, of course, she is married to John Travolta.

Hmmmm, Hawaiian-born, Australian-raised, married a goofy Scientologist… Ah, but Kelly is still married to Travolta, whereas Nicole Kidman is no longer married to Tom Cruise.

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October 13, 1963, 50 years ago: The last baseball game of any kind is played at the Polo Grounds.  In the first (and last) Hispanic American major league All-Star Game, the National League team beats the American League 5–2 at the Polo Grounds.

The game features such names as Felipe AlouLuis AparicioOrlando CepedaRoberto ClementeJuan MarichalJulián JavierMinnie MiñosoTony Oliva and Zoilo VersallesVic Power receives a pregame award as the number one Latin player — a justifiable award at the time, if not in retrospect, as Aparicio, Cepeda, Clemente and Marichal are all in the Hall of Fame, while Miñoso and Oliva should be.

NL starter Marichal strikes out six in four innings, though reliever Al McBean is the winning pitcher. Pinch hitter Manny Mota drives in two runs against loser Pedro Ramos.

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October 13, 1965: Jim “Mudcat” Grant wins Game 6 of the World Series, pretty much all by himself. He pitches a one-hitter, and hits a three-run home run. The Minnesota Twins beat the Los Angeles Dodgers, 5-1, and the Series goes to a Game 7.

October 13, 1967: Trevor William Hoffman is born in Bellflower, California. Having spent most of his career with the San Diego Padres, he finished his career as baseball’s all-time saves leader with 601.

Sports Illustrated dedicated their May 13, 2002 issue to Hoffman, calling him “the greatest closer in MLB history.” I guess they forgot about Mariano Rivera: Not only did Mo go on to break Trevor’s record, but the question was settled in the 1998 World Series, when Rivera got 3 saves and Hoffman blew one against… Scott Brosius?

Still, Hoffman is a class act, and a sure Hall-of-Famer — he will be eligible in January 2016.  The Padres have retired his Number 51.  His brother Glenn Hoffman was also a big-league player, and briefly managed the Dodgers.

Also on this day, the American Basketball Association has its first game, at the Oakland Coliseum Arena (now known as the Oracle Arena).  The host Oakland Oaks defeat the Anaheim Amigos, 134-129. The ABA will last 9 seasons, and 4 of its franchises will be absorbed into the NBA in 1976: The 2-time ABA Champion New York (now Brooklyn) Nets, the 3-time ABA Champion Indiana Pacers, the Denver Nuggets (who lost to the Nets in the last ABA Finals) and the San Antonio Spurs (who never won anything in the ABA but have been consistently successful in the NBA, winning 4 titles).

October 13, 1970: In Game 3 of the Fall Classic played at Memorial Stadium, Dave McNally goes deep with the bases loaded in the bottom of the 6th inning off the Reds right-hander Wayne Granger, to become the first pitcher to hit a grand slam in World Series history. The Oriole hurler’s offensive output contributes to the Birds’ 9-3 victory over Cincinnati, and gives Baltimore a commanding 3-0 game advantage in the seven-game series.

October 13, 1971: The first night game in World Series history is played. The Orioles blow a 3-0 lead, and the Pirates win 4-3, on a pinch-hit single in the 8th by backup catcher Milt May. The Pirates have tied the Series at 2 games apiece.

October 13, 1973, 40 years ago: The Houston Aeros beat the Los Angeles Sharks, 4-3 at the Los Angeles Sports Arena.  This World Hockey Association match is notable for the main line for the Aeros, consisting of Mark Howe at left wing, Marty Howe at center, and their father Gordie Howe on right wing.

The Detroit Red Wings legend, now 45 years old, had come out of retirement to play with his sons, because the Red Wings weren’t listening to his personnel and strategy suggestions, and, thinking they just wanted his historic name on their letterhead, he said, “I was tired of being vice president in charge of paper clips.”  When the Aeros win the 1974 WHA Championship, Gordie will be awareded the Gary Davidson Trophy as league Most Valuable Player — and the trophy, named for the league’s founder (Davidson was also a founder of the ABA and the WFL), will be renamed for him.

Also on this day, Brian Patrick Dawkins is born in Jacksonville, Florida.  A devastating safety, he made 9 Pro Bowls, and the Philadelphia Eagles just retired his Number 20.  He will be eligible for the Pro Football Hall of Fame in January 2017.

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October 13, 1978: Game 3 of the World Series. Joe DiMaggio throws out the ceremonial first ball at Yankee Stadium. The Dodgers lead the Yankees 2 games to 0. The Yankees are desperate for a win. They send out Ron Guidry, who has already won 26 games (including the Divisional Playoff against Boston and the Pennant-clincher against Kansas City) against only 3 losses, but is exhausted. And he doesn’t have his best stuff: He strikes out only 4 and walks 7.

But… Graig Nettles puts on a clinic at third base, much as Brooks Robinson did 8 years to the week (including the day) earlier. He makes 6 sensational plays, including 2 scintillating stops that end innings with forceouts at 2nd base.

Roy White’s 1st-inning home run gets the Yankees going, and, somehow, Guidry goes the distance in a 5-1 win, striking out the dangerous Ron Cey for the final out. The Yankees are still alive in the Series.

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October 13, 1984: Franklin Michael Simek is born in St. Louis, once considered the capital of American soccer.  He was the first American ever to play for Arsenal Football Club, the pride of London. And that was just one game, at right back in the League Cup against Wolverhampton Wanderers at Highbury on December 2, 2003. Arsenal won, 5-1, although he had neither a goal nor an assist.

He would later play for Queens Park Rangers, Bournemouth, Sheffield Wednesday and Carlisle United, and is currently a free agent.  He played 5 times for the U.S. national team, all in 2007.

Only one other American has ever played for Arsenal, Danny Karbassiyoon, a forward from Roanoke, Virginia who played 3 League Cup matches for the Gunners in the 2004-05 season, scoring a goal on his debut. He is now Arsenal’s chief North American scout.

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October 13, 1985: The Cardinals rout the Dodgers 12-2, to even the NLCS at 2-2‚ but also lose rookie sensation Vince Coleman to one of the most bizarre injuries in sports history. Coleman is stretching before the game when his left leg becomes caught in Busch Memorial Stadium’s automated tarpaulin as it unrolls across the infield‚ trapping him for about 30 seconds. He is removed from the field on a stretcher and will not play again this year.

This will turn out to be a critical injury – not for Coleman’s life, or even for his career, but for the Cards’ lineup, as they will not have their leadoff man and sparkplug for the World Series, in which they put up one of the most pathetic batting performances in postseason history.

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October 13, 1993, 20 years ago: The combined pitching of Tommy Greene and Mitch Williams give the Phillies a 6-3 win over the heavily-favored Atlanta Braves and the National League Pennant, only the 5th flag in Fightin’ Phils history. Dave Hollins hits a 2-run homer for the winners‚ while Mickey Morandini and Darren Daulton also drive in 2 runs each. Curt Schilling is named the NLCS MVP despite no victories: He gave up just 3 earned runs and struck out 19 in 16 innings, 2 no-decisions.

And, lest Phils fans forget, they would not have gotten that far if Williams hadn’t been a terrific closer all year long, including getting the final out tonight at Veterans Stadium. I was at a Phillies game in August 2011, when John Kruk was inducted into the Philadelphia Baseball Hall of Fame. Williams was one of the guests, and he got a nice hand. So Philadelphia sports fans do have some class, and some understanding.

With long hair, chewing tobacco, in a few cases being well overweight, and some bad manners, the 1993 Phillies were known as “Macho Row,” and remain, despite the dream ending a little sourly in the World Series, one of the most popular teams in the history of Philadelphia sports.  And, while they share Lenny Dykstra with the similarly slobbish 1986 Mets, any resemblance to the 2004 Red Sox “Idiots” is strictly coincidental.

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October 13, 1996: The Yankees defeat the Orioles‚ 6-4 at Camden Yards‚ giving them the Pennant, 4 games to 1. The victors score all of their runs in the 3rd inning‚ which features homers by Jim Leyritz‚ Cecil Fielder‚ and Darryl Strawberry. Scott Erickson gives up all 3 homers in one inning‚ a first in the LCS. Bobby Bonilla‚ Todd Zeile‚ and Eddie Murray homer for the losers.

The last out of the game is a bit of a torch-passing moment: Cal Ripken, the face of the Oriole franchise, for the last few years and possibly for the rest of his life, hits a ground ball to the Yankee shortstop, a rookie named Derek Jeter, who goes on to become the face of the Yankee franchise. Jeter throws to Tino Martinez at first, and Ripken, desperate to keep the series alive, slides head-first. He’s too late, and the Yankees have their first Pennant in 15 years.

There’s another torch-passing fact: The Orioles’ manager is Davey Johnson, who, 10 years ago, managed the Mets to New York baseball’s most recent Pennant; while the Yankees’ manager is Joe Torre, who, after 4,279 combined games as a player and a manager, more than anyone who’s never participating in a World Series in either role, has finally made it.

I’ll never forget (and this is another torch-passer) Reggie Jackson, in the Yankee dugout, with a big smile, giving Joe a big hug, and Joe trying to maintain his composure as Mr. October gives him his long-worked-for due. However, after the game, Reggie is interviewed in the locker room, and he speaks a truth he knows full well: “They’ve got another leg to go. They’ve got another lap to make. Not done yet.” There’s still the matter of winning 4 more games against either the Cardinals or the Braves.

The Orioles, who last won a Pennant 13 years earlier, are frustrated, not in the least because of the Jeffrey Maier incident in Game 1.  However, they lost all 3 home games in the series, and a team that can’t defend its home field in the Playoffs needs to zip their lips. Especially since that Oriole team had Rafael Palmeiro (proven steroid user), Brady Anderson (almost certainly a steroid user, because the 50 homers he had that year far outpaced his previous high of 21 and his next-best later total of 24), and Bobby Bonilla (never proven a steroid user but the guy had some incidents that suggest “roid rage”).

*

October 13, 1998: The Yankees win Game 6 of the ALCS over the Indians, 9-5 at Yankee Stadium, to take their 35th American League Pennant. Chuck Knoblauch, in his first game back in The Bronx after his Game 2 “brainlauch,” leads off the bottom of the 1st, and gets a big hand from the fans, who’ve seen the big double plays he started late in both Game 4 and Game 5. “Apparently, all is forgiven,” says Bob Costas on NBC.

October 13, 1999: Bernie Williams, who had previous hit one to win Game 1 of the ’96 ALCS (the Jeffrey Maier Game), becomes the first Yankee to have hit 2 walkoff home runs in postseason play. His drive off Rod Beck goes over the center field fence to lead off the bottom of the 10th, and the Yankees win the first official postseason Yankees-Red Sox game, 4-3. (The 1978 “Boston Tie Party” is counted by MLB as a regular season game.)

Red Sox fans, buoyed by the success of Pedro Martinez and Nomah Gahciahpawhah – or, at least, that’s how Nomar Garciaparra’s name sounded in their New England accents – were sure that this was The Year that the Red Sox were finally going to “Reverse the Curse” and stick it to the Yankees. But Bernie remembered the script handed to him earlier that day by Yankee legend Yogi Berra: “We’ve been playing these guys for 80 years. They cannot beat us.” Not yet, anyway.

October 13, 2000: Extending his streak to 33 1/3 innings, Mariano Rivera breaks the 38-year-old record of Whitey Ford for consecutive scoreless frames in postseason play when the Yankees defeat the Seattle Mariners, 8-2 in Game 3 of the ALCS. The Yankees’ Hall of Fame lefty had established the record from 1960 to 1962 with 33 innings as a World Series starter.

*

October 13, 2001: The Yankees enter Game 3 at the Oakland Coliseum (or whatever corporate name the “Mausoleum” had at the time) down 2 games to 0 against the Athletics, and are desperate for a victory.

Jorge Posada homers in the top of the 5th, to give the Yanks a 1-0 lead. That lead holds in the 7th, but Terrence Long drives one into the corner. Right fielder Shane Spencer heaves the ball home, but it’s off the line. Jeremy Giambi, brother of star Oakland slugger Jason Giambi, will score for sure.

Except… out of nowhere comes Yankee shortstop Derek Jeter, who sprints in, grabs the ball, and, holding it for less than half a second, flips it to Posada at the plate, and Posada juuuust barely tags Giambi on the back of the knee, before his foot touches the plate, completing one of the most amazing defensive plays in baseball history.

“The Flip” allows Mike Mussina and, in the 9th, Mariano Rivera to preserve the 1-0 shutout, and keep the Yankees from being eliminated.  The Yankees would win the series in Game 5 at the old Yankee Stadium, with Jeter making another amazing play, tumbling into the stands to catch a foul pop, also off the bat of Terence Long.

Has it really been 12 years? Of the men who played in that game for the Yankees, only Jeter will still be the active roster next Opening Day.  For the A’s, none are left. In fact, 3 of them would go on to become Yankees: Jason Giambi, Johnny Damon, and Eric Chavez.  Did somebody mention that Billy Beane was a genius?

*

October 13, 2002: The Anaheim Angels – as they are officially known at the time – score 10 runs in the 7th inning on their way to a 13-5 win over the Minnesota Twins, winning the first Pennant in the team’s 42-season history. Adam Kennedy is the hero for Anaheim with 3 homers and 7 RBIs. Scott Spiezio also homers for the Angels‚ with Francisco Rodriguez getting the win in relief.

Prior to the Angels’ first Pennant, they were considered “cursed”: The Curse of the Cowboy was legendary entertainer Gene Autry, who founded the team and died without them ever winning a Pennant. This one wasn’t funny, as men had died while still active with the Angels, in addition to their 1979, ’82 and ’86 ALCS collapses, and their late-season swoon that cost them the ’95 AL Western Division title.

Between 1959 and 1988, their rivals up Interstate 5, the Los Angeles Dodgers, had won 9 Pennants in a 30-year stretch, including 5 times winning the World Series. Since 2002, however, the Angels have been in the postseason 5 times in the last 10 years, including a World Championship; the Dodgers, twice, and still no Pennants in the last 25 years. It’s premature to say that the Angels have surpassed the Dodgers as Southern California’s most popular baseball team, but they are certainly the more successful one now.  (The Dodgers can change that, but they’ll have to rebound from being 2-0 down in this year’s NLCS.)

October 13, 2012: Derek Jeter breaks his ankle trying to field a grounder in the top of the 12th inning, and hasn’t been the same since.  The Tigers beat the Yankees, 6-4, and the Yankees don’t win another game until April.

Last Yankees to Wear the Numbers

Before they were retired, of course — or before the players for whom they were retired wore them.

I’m also including numbers that will be retired, or should be.

1 Bobby Murcer, CF, 1974. Retired for Billy Martin, 2B, 1950-57; MGR, on and off 1975-88.

2 Mike Gallego, SS, 1994. Will be retired for Derek Jeter, SS, 1995-present.

3 Cliff Mapes, OF, 1948. Retired for Babe Ruth, RF, 1920-34.

4 Lou Gehrig, 1B, 1939. Retired for him. Only Yankee ever to wear it.

5 Nick Etten, 1B, 1945. Wore it while Joe DiMaggio was serving in World War II. Retired for DiMaggio, CF 1936-51.

6 Clete Boyer, 3B, 1961-66 (previously wore 34); coach, 1988, 1992-94. Last player to wear it, Steve Sax, 2B, 1989-91. Will be retired for Joe Torre, MGR, 1996-2007.

7 Cliff Mapes, OF, 1949-51. Yes, the same guy who was the last to wear 3 before it was retired for the Babe. Retired for Mickey Mantle, CF, 1951-68.

8 Aaron Robinson, C, 1945-47. Retired for Bill Dickey, C, 1928-46; MGR, 1946; coach, 1949-60 (wore 33 then); and for Yogi Berra, C, 1946-63 (started out wearing 35); MGR, 1964 and 1984-85; coach, 1975-83.

9 Graig Nettles, 3B, 1973-83. Retired for Roger Maris, RF, 1960-66.

10 Rick Cerone, C, 1980-84 (and would later return and wear other numbers). Retired for Phil Rizzuto, SS, 1941-56; broadcaster, 1957-96.

15 Tom Tresh, LF, 1961-69. Retired for Thurman Munson, C, 1969-79.  Tommy Henrich, RF 1937-50 and a fantastic player, wore both 7 and 15, but neither was retired for him.

16 Ernie Nevel, P, 1950-51. Only wore it for 3 games before being sent down, wore 26 upon his return. Retired for Whitey Ford, P, 1950-67. (Wore 19 when he first came up, missed ’51 & ’52 seasons due to Korean War service, got 16 when he returned and never looked back.)

20 Mike Aldrete, OF, 1996.  Should be retired for Jorge Posada, C, 1995-2011 (wore a few numbers before 20).

21 LaTroy Hawkins, P, 2008.  Got booed for wearing it.  Switched to Roger Clemens’ 22, and was not booed for it.  Last player other than its eventual honoree to wear this number full-time was Scott Sanderson, pitcher, 1991-92. Will be retired for Paul O’Neill, RF, 1993-2001.

23 Don Zimmer, coach, 1983.  Last player to wear it, Barry Foote, C, 1981-82.  Retired for Don Mattingly, 1B, 1982-95; coach, 2004-07. (Wore 46 his first season.)

32 Ralph Houk, C, 1947-54.  (Wore 34 when he managed, 1961-63 and 1966-73.) Retired for Elston Howard, C, 1955-67; coach, 1969-80.

37 Bucky Harris, MGR, 1947-48.  Only 2 players ever wore it, both in 1946: Herb Karpel and Gus Niarhos.  Karpel pitched 2 games, on April 19 and 20, the extent of his major league career, and wasn’t even the greatest ’46 Yankee who went to Richmond Hill High School in Queens in the late 1930s — he was a teammate there of Rizzuto.  Niarhos, a backup catcher from Birmingham, Alabama, was also a rookie in ’46, but had a much longer career, sticking with the Yankees until 1950, winning a World Series ring in 1949, and last played in 1955 with the Philadelphia Phillies.  Retired for Casey Stengel, MGR, 1949-60.

42 Mike Brown, coach, 1994.  Last player to wear it, John Habyan, P, 1991-93.  Also worn by Jerry Coleman, 2B, 1949-57; broadcaster, 1963-70.  Retired for Mariano Rivera, P, 1995-2013.

44 Mike Ferraro, coach, 1991.  Mainly worn by coaches before Mr. October arrived.  Last player to wear it, Terry Whitfield, LF, 1975-76.  He also wore 51 long before Bernie, and went on to play 4 decent seasons with the San Francisco Giants, where he had to switch from 44 to 45 because of Willie McCovey.  Retired for Reggie Jackson, RF, 1977-81.

46 Terry Mulholland, P, 1994.  A very good pitcher, normally wore 45 in his career, but Danny Tartabull was then wearing that on the Yankees.  Will be retired for Andy Pettitte, P, 1995-2013.

49 Kerry Dineen, CF, 1975.  Wore it for 7 games, got sent down, returned the next season wearing 47, played 4 games, got traded to the Phillies, played 5 games with them, and that was it.  Retired for Ron Guidry, P, 1975-88.

51 Chuck Cary, P, 1989-91.  Will be retired for Bernie Williams, CF, 1991-2006.

You’ll notice I haven’t included Number 24.  Whether it is retired for Robinson Cano, already the greatest 2nd baseman in team history, largely depends on how this contract situation works out.  If he leaves, I don’t think it will be retired — not for Robbie, not for Tino Martinez, not for anyone else.

As for Number 13, for Alex Rodriugez, I don’t know.  But Roger Clemens’ 22 is still in circulation.

Then again, so are Lefty Gomez’s 11 and Allie Reynolds’ 22, and they have Monument Park plaques.  (Red Ruffing has a plaque, but his 15 is retired for Munson.) So are Waite Hoyt’s 11, Herb Pennock’s 16, Catfish Hunter’s 29, Dave Winfield’s 31 and Goose Gossage’s 54, and they’re in the Hall of Fame.  So are Lou Piniella’s 14, Willie Randolph’s 30, David Cone’s 36 and Hideki Matsui’s 55.  And none of those guys disgraced themselves the way A-Rod and Clemens did.

Close Out the Game, Mariano, Man!

I wrote this in 2009, as the Yankees were going for Title 27.

It’s 7:00 on a Saturday.
The regular crowd shuffles in.
There’s an old man sitting next to me
who once shared with Babe Ruth some gin.

He says, “Son, this new park has no memories.
Back there, I sure knew how it goes.
But it’s going to be sweet when the game is complete
all because of the man who will close.”

La, da-da, da-de-da…
La-da, da-de-da, da-dum…

Close out the game, Mariano, man.
Close out the game tonight.
Well, we’re all in the mood for a victory.
And he’ll get us feeling all right.

Now John in the press box, a friend of mine.
He says, “Yankees win!” with such glee.
And he’s quick with a quip about Jeter’s big flip
and there’s no place that he’d rather be.

I hear, “Bill, I believe this is killing me.”
It’s from Mantle with his ghostly face.
“Well, I’m sure that I would be more comfortable
if we were still at the old place.”

Oh, la, da-da, da-de-da…
La-da, da-de-da, da-dum…

Now, Paul was a right-fielding warrior
who helped lift Yanks out of their strife.
And he’s talking with Whitey, a lefty not righty.
In October he showed lots of life.

Reggie Jackson is talking with Bucky Dent.
They both made Red Sox fans go get stoned.
Yes, they shared them a drink they call champagne and
I think it was Dom Perignon!

 

Close out the game, Mariano, man.
Close out the game tonight.
Well, we’re all in the mood for a victory.
And he’ll get us feeling all right.

It’s a pretty good crowd for a recession
and the manager, Girardi, will smile.
‘Cause he knows as he’ll go he can always trust Mo
and forget about life for a while.

And the organ, it sounds like a carnival
as the Bleacher Creatures finish their beer.
Twenty-six World Series, new park, new memories?
They say, Mo, you gotta finish one here!

Oh, la,da-da, da-de-da…
La-da, da-de-da, da-dum!

Closed out the game, Mariano, man!
Closed out the game tonight!
We were all in the mood for a victory!
And he’s got us feeling all right!

Top 10 Mariano Rivera Moments

The Yankees were officially eliminated from Playoff qualification last night.  This is only the 2nd time in the last 19 years that this has happened.

And you don’t care about the circumstances, so I won’t discuss them.

Tonight, the Yankees play their last home game until April 7, 2014.  Ivan Nova starts against the Tampa Bay Rays’ Alex Cobb.

Presumably, regardless of the score, Mariano Rivera will come in to pitch the top of the 9th inning.  And there is a rumor going around that, with the season-ending series in Houston against the Astros having no effect on the Playoffs, he will not appear in those games, making tonight his last career appearance, and making it at home,

Top 10 Mariano Rivera Moments

These items are in chronological order.

NOTE: I have updated it to include his final appearance at The Stadium.

1. October 4-5, 1995.  Game 2 of the American League Division Series.  This was the 15-inning epic against the Seattle Mariners.  Mariano, not yet having proven himself, pitched the 12th, 13th, 14th and 15th innings for the Yankees.  When Jim Leyritz hit that opposite-field drive through the raindrops at 1:22 AM, Mariano was the winning pitcher.

Mariano also pitched in Game 3, but in Game 5, when David Cone was running out of gas, manager Buck Showalter had him warm up, but not come in, until Cone had thrown 147 pitches — a number that wouldn’t have made Catfish Hunter, Jim Palmer or Steve Carlton flinch but a monumental total by today’s standards — and allowed the Mariners to tie the game.  Mo got the last out in the 8th, but Buck didn’t trust him to pitch the whole 9th, and he brought in Jack McDowell, a starter, and it didn’t work.

Buck didn’t learn how to handle Mo properly.  The next manager, Joe torre, would.

2. Collective Entry: The 1996 Season.  Until August 1995, Mariano was a starter.  He was converted to a reliever, and in 1996, if you didn’t have a lead on the Yankees after 6 innings, it was “Game over.” Because Mariano would come in, as the setup reliever, and pitch the 7th and 8th innings, and John Wetteland would pitch the 9th, and you wouldn’t have a chance.  In 1996, Mo pitched 107 2/3 innings, and struck out 122 batters, breaking the Yankee record for relief pitchers held by Goose Gossage.

So when Wetteland decided to sign with the Texas Rangers for the 1997 season — apparently, North Texas and team owner George W. Bush was more in line with his evangelical beliefs than those liberal New Yorkers and New Jerseyans — Rivera was promoted to closer.  He also started throwing that cutter, and the rest is history.  But it’s also worth noting that never again did Mariano pitch as many as 81 innings in a season.

3. October 5, 1997.  Game 4 of the Division Series at Cleveland.  Mariano came in for the 8th inning, and allowed a home run to Sandy Alomar Jr. to tie the game.  Ramiro Mendoza then allowed the winning run in the 9th, and the Yanks lost the game to the Indians.  The Indians won Game 5 and the series.

A lot of people wondered if Mo could bounce back from such a mistake.  He did.  One of the hallmarks of the Torre Era — at least, until October 2004 — is that the Yankees learned how to treat any loss as just one game, and move on to the next one.  Mo did not let this defeat bother him.  Nor the one in Game 7 of the 2001 World Series (which had been Number 7 on this list before I updated it).  Nor the ones in Games 4 and 5 of the 2004 ALCS.

Before “The Sandman” became Mo’s most common nickname, I took to calling him “The Silent Assassin,” because he never seemed to say much, never seemed to betray emotion, and still managed to leave the opposition dead.  He never let himself get too down from a mistake, or too high from an achievement.  NCIS Rule Number 11: “When the job is done, walk away.”

4. October 21, 1998.  Game 4 of the World Series.  The Yankees complete the sweep of the San Diego Padres, with Mariano getting the last 4 outs.  In the postseason of the greatest season any MLB team has ever had, Mo pitched 13 1/3 innings, allowing 6 hits, 2 walks, and no runs, for 3 saves.

5. October 27, 1999.  Game 4 of the World Series against the Atlanta Braves.  Mo finishes the Braves off, and is named Series MVP.  In the 9th inning, he breaks 3 bats, 2 of Ryan Klesko’s and 1 of Ryan Lockhart’s.

In a postseason that featured the Yankees going 11-1, Mo pitched 12 1/3 innings, allowing 9 hits, 1 walk, and no runs, for 2 wins and 6 saves.

6. October 26, 2000.  Game 5 of the World Series against the Mets at Shea Stadium.  Mo’s streak of 33 1/3 consecutive scoreless postseason innings — slightly breaking the record of Whitey Ford, who still holds the World Series record — had come to an end in Game 2, but Mo still became the first pitcher to record the last out of 3 straight World Series.

In  Game 7 of the 2001 World Series, against the Arizona Diamondbacks in Phoenix, Mo became the first player to be involved in World Series-ending plays for 4 straight seasons.  But, that time, it didn’t work out for him, or for us.  And, because it didn’t, Buster Olney put a picture of Mo with his back turned to the camera on his book about this season, and in particular this game, titled The Last Night of the Yankee Dynasty.

And how did Mo react to this proof of his fallibility? Pretty well.  In 2002, he kept on closing games out.  That the Yankees didn’t win another World Series for 8 years was hardly his fault.

7. October 16-17, 2003.  Game 7 of the American League Championship Series.  The Yankees were down to their last 5 outs, and losing 5-2 to the Red Sox.  They came back to tie it.  Mo pitched the 9th, 10th and 11th innings.  He hadn’t pitched 3 innings since April 19, 2000.  Somehow, he got through it.  But we all knew he couldn’t pitch the top of the 12th, so we had to win it in the bottom of the 11th.

That half-inning lasted one pitch, and Aaron Boone sent it into the left-field stands.  The Yankees ran onto the field, and Mo ran out to the mound, collapsing in exhaustion.  But he had a look of unbelievable joy on his face.  He had given everything he had, and was the winning pitcher in a contender for the title of “the greatest game in Yankee history.”

8. June 28, 2009.  Mo is the all-time leader in saves, with 652.  But I’m not going to include his record-breaking 602nd save, which allowed him to pass Trevor Hoffman.  I’m including his 500th.  Why? Well, yeah, it came against the Mets, at Citi (Pity) Field.

But the most amazing thing about this 4-2 Yankee win, which Mo saved for Chien-Ming Wang, occurred in the top of the 9th.  Francisco “K-Rod” Rodriguez, who had driven the Yankees (among other teams) crazy since he became the closer for the Whatever They Were Calling Themselves Back Then Angels of Anaheim, had been acquired by the Mets, and Met fans were talking about how he was going to replace Mo as the best closer in New York.  This game settled that.

Jorge Posada led off the inning with a single.  Melky Cabrera grounded into a forceout, then stole 2nd base.  Brett Gardner drew a walk.  Johnny Damon lined out.  Derek Jeter was intentionally walked to load the bases, because this was an Interleague game in a National League park, and the designated hitter was not allowed, and so the pitcher had to come to bat.  The Yankees were up 3-2, and could have sent up a pinch-hitter to try to get a run or two (or three, or four) home.  But manager Joe Girardi trusted Mo to pitch the bottom of the 9th, so he sent him to bat in the top half.

In 1,114 career appearances, Mo has come to the plate only 4 times.  Three of these were official at-bats.  None of those resulted in hits.  This was the other one.  And he worked K-Rod for a walk.  The Mets’ closer couldn’t even get a pitcher with (at the time) 2 career plate appearances out.

After the game, Mariano said of the achievement, “The RBI is the best.  It was my firs tRBI.  It was my 500th save.”

9. September 22, 2013.  Mariano Rivera Day at Yankee Stadium II.  His Number 42 was retired, with the inference that there will be a Plaque in Monument Park, once his final stats are in.  There was a partial reunion of the 1996-2003 Dynasty, with guests Joe Torre, Paul O’Neill, David Cone, Jorge Posada and Hideki Matsui, and of course the still-active Derek Jeter and Andy Pettitte.  Metallica were on hand to play “Enter Sandman” live.  And Mariano gave a very humble speech.  If only the Yankees had won the actual game…

10. September 26, 2013.  The ovation that followed his final “Enter Sandman.” The ovation that followed his closing out the 8th inning.  The ovation that followed Jeter and Pettitte coming out to the mound to relieve him, so that he could get one more standing ovation from the Bronx faithful.

Last night, a lot of girls cried because Cory Montieth’s character was written out of Glee.  A lot of women, and a lot of grown men, cried because Mariano, though very much still alive, was saying goodbye.

More than any player, even Derek Jeter, Mariano Rivera has been the reason for the Yankees’ success since 1996.  He is the most valuable player in all of baseball in his generation.

And through 19 seasons, he has never acted high and mighty, never put on an act of “Don’t you know who I am?” Not once has he ever said, “I’m Mariano Rivera, dammit/bitch!” He has been class all the way, as if being the greatest relief pitcher ever hasn’t affected him at all.

And that’s why Mariano Rivera is so admired.  Not because of what he’s done, but because of who he is.

Yankees Honor Mariano, Then Dishonor His Generation of Yankees

On occasions like Old-Timers’ Day or the retirement of a uniform number, the current players owe it to the former players to put up a good fight.  Not necessarily to win, but to at least look like they’re trying to win.

Yesterday was Mariano Rivera Day, the first “day” for a player at the new Yankee Stadium.  The Yankees honored Mariano with the retirement of his uniform number 42, and the presentation of a few gifts.  (Implicit in this is the eventual dedication of a Plaque in his honor at Monument Park, but they can’t cast the Plaque until his career truly is over, and they have final statistics that they can put on it.)

On hand were many representatives of the 1996-2003 Yankee Dynasty: Joe Torre, Bernie Williams, Paul O’Neill, Jorge Posada, Tino Martinez, David Cone, John Wetteland, Jeff Nelson, Hideki Matsui.  And, of course, the still-active Derek Jeter and yesterday’s starting pitcher, the also-retiring Andy Pettitte.

Also on hand were members of the family of Jackie Robinson, for whom Number 42 was retired throughout baseball, with the provision that players then wearing it could continue to do so for the rest of their careers.  And, 16 years later, Mariano is the last one.  A Plaque was unveiled in Monument Park honoring Jackie, making him the first player who never played for the Yankees to be honored there.  (Jackie is, of course, a part of the history of the old Yankee Stadium, having played World Series games there for the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1947, ’49, ’52, ’53, ’55 and ’56 — most notably stealing home plate in Game 1 in ’55.)

The opposing San Francisco Giants also presented Mo with a gift.  Their pitching coach is Dave Righetti, who had been the Yankees’ all-time saves leader until Mo surpassed him.  “Rags” never won a Series with the Yankees (though he was a part of the 1981 Pennant as a rookie starter), but he’s helped the Giants win 2 of the last 3 World Series.  (They won’t make the Playoffs this time.)

With all that talent on hand, you’d think the Yankees would have at least put up an effort.

*

Certainly, Pettitte did.  He had a perfect game going until the 5th inning, before walking a batter, who was subsequently erased in a double play.

And then, on WCBS — the Yankees have announced they’ll be on WFAN next season — John Sterling said the N-word.

No, not that N-word.  Not the one that Jackie Robinson faced time and time again in his struggle first to integrate baseball, then to make it fully integrated, and later to make it more fair for those who integrated it.  Sterling said, “Andy Pettitte has pitched a no-hitter through 5 innings.”

It’s one of “the unwritten rules of baseball” that you do not say the word “no-hitter” while one is in progress, because it will jinx the pitcher.  You can say, “He hasn’t allowed any hits.” Or, “He is pitching hitless baseball.” Or, “No (member of the opposing team) has gotten a hit yet.” Anything, so long as the word “no-hitter” is not used.  (Author John Thorn, who’s written a bunch of books about baseball and is now MLB’s Official Historian, once wrote, “Strangely, the words ‘perfect game’ can be spoken without similar effect.”)

But Sterling said, “no-hitter.”

I’ve heard broadcasters use the word plenty of times.  When Andy Hawkins had one going for the Yankees against the Chicago White Sox in 1990, Phil Rizzuto used the word on WPIX-Channel 11 many times.  Hawkins kept the no-hitter, but he walked a few batters, and errors by Mike Blowers at 3rd base, Jim Leyritz in left field (he was a rookie and had never played the position before) and Jesse Barfield (normally a great fielder but he lost the ball in the Comiskey Park sun) led to 4 ChiSox runs.  Hawkins pitched 8 innings — with the home team winning, a bottom of the 9th was not necessary — and allowed no hits, but lost, 4-0.  A candidate for the strangest game I’ve ever seen, right up there with that 4th of July marathon the Mets played in Atlanta in 1985.

At least 5 times, on YES, Michael Kay has used the word “no-hitter” and jinxed a game.  Usually, when something like that happens, it doesn’t matter: The pitcher gives up a hit, and still wins.  Sometimes, with help from the bullpen.  But it usually only costs the pitcher’s team the no-hitter, not the game.

This time, Sterling said, “Andy Pettitte has pitched a no-hitter through 5 innings.” Naturally, in the 6th, Andy allowed a hit, and then a run.

That wouldn’t have been a big deal, except it was only 1-0 Yankees at that point.  Mark Reynolds, who drove the Yankees so crazy last year for the Baltimore Orioles and has been a good pickup this year, hit a home run.

Andy pitched into the 8th, but allowed the runner that would decide the game.  Joe Girardi pulled him, and, to a standing ovation, left the mound at Yankee Stadium (either one) as an active pitcher for the last time.  (Assuming he doesn’t get injured, he has one more start this season, it’s on the road, and he will not be pitching in the Playoffs.  No current Yankee will.)

David Robertson couldn’t prevent the run from scoring, and Girardi had to bring Mo in for a 5-out save.  Bringing him in for more than a 3-out save is always a risk, as he has been damn near unhittable for 3 outs since 1997, but for more than that, he’s had his troubles.  (It’s why, when people call him “the greatest relief pitcher ever,” you have to consider the guys in the pre-Dennis Eckersley days who pitched the last 2, 3, even 4 innings of games, including Yankee stars Joe Page, Luis Arroyo, Sparky Lyle and Goose Gossage.) Mo got the 5 outs without making it any worse.

But the Yankees didn’t get the job done with the bats.  Until Reynolds led off the 3rd with his homer, the Yankees had no baserunners.  Ichiro Suzuki drew a 2-out walk that inning, but got caught stealing.  Robinson Cano singled with 1 out in the 4th, but was stranded.  Brendan Ryan doubled with 2 out in the 5th, but was stranded.  With 2 out in the 6th, Cano singled and Alfonso Soriano walked, but Curtis Granderson struck out.

Eduardo Nunez led off the 7th with a single.  Reynolds struck out.  Ryan singled, but a reliever came in and struck out Vernon Wells and Ichiro.

Alex Rodriguez led off the 8th with a single, and Cano doubled pinch-runner Zoilo Almonte to 3rd.  But Soriano grounded to 3rd, and Almonte was thrown out at home, leaving runners on 1st and 2nd with 1 out.  Granderson struck out again.  Nunez singled, but Cano tried to score and was thrown out at home.  And the Yankees went out meekly, 1-2-3, in the bottom of the 9th.

Giants 2, Yankees 1.  This is not the right way to honor Mariano.  Indeed, it was as if an entire generation of Yankees had seen everything they worked for planted firmly in the past, with the present a mess and the future a mist.

*

So here is where Major League Baseball stands, with 1 week remaining in the regular season:

* The Boston Red Sox have clinched the American League East.  The Oakland Athletics have clinched the AL West.  The Detroit Tigers have a Magic Number of 2 to clinch the AL Central.

* If the current Wild Card standings hold, the Tampa Bay Rays will get the 1st AL berth, and the Cleveland Indians the 2nd.  The Texas Rangers are a game and a half back, the Kansas City Royals 3 1/2, the Yankees 4, and the Baltimore Orioles 4 1/2.

* The Yankees’ elimination number is 3: Any combination of Yankee losses and Cleveland wins adding up to 3, and the Yankees don’t make the Playoffs, for only the 2nd time in the last 19 seasons.  And since the Indians have 3 home games against the Chicago White Sox followed by 3 road games against the Minnesota Twins, who have already lost 94 and 90 games, respectively, and the Yankees still have to play 3 home games against the Rays before closing with 3 games at the Houston Astros (whose 105 losses are easily the most in the majors), it seems incredibly unlikely that the Yankees can make it.  Even if the Indians do take a nosedive, the Rangers would also have to lose a good chunk of their last 7 games to give the Yankees a shot, and they’re playing the hopeless Astros.  So Yogi Berra can safely call Girardi and say, “It’s over.”

* The Atlanta Braves have clinched the National League East. The Los Angeles Dodgers have clinched the NL West.  The St. Louis Cardinals have a Magic Number of 5 to clinch the NL Central, but the Cincinnati Reds and the Pittsburgh Pirates are both only 2 games back, so that race is hardly decided.

* The Reds and Pirates, in addition to still having a shot to overtake the Cardinals for the NL Central, currently hold the 2 NL Wild Card slots.  The Washington Nationals are 5 games behind them, and are almost certainly out of it.

Oh well, my fellow Yankee Fans.  We didn’t give it a good shot, and we lose Mariano and Andy, and we have the unresolved A-Rod situation, and rumors are running rampant that Jeter will only play one more year, due to his contract situation.  And CC Sabathia and Hiroki Kuroda really tailed off.  And we don’t know if Ivan Nova can keep up his comeback.  And we don’t really have a 5th starter.  And Robertson hasn’t exactly looked like a worthy successor to Mariano the last couple of years.  And, at least for the moment, we still have Phil Hughes, Joba Chamberlain and Boone Logan stinking up the bullpen.  And Joe Girardi refuses to throw out his binder, and with George Steinbrenner dead, it doesn’t look like he’s about to be fired.  And Kevin Long is still the hitting instructor.  And Brian Cashman is still the general manager.  And the hated Red Sox won the Division.

Not good.

Oh well, you’ve still got the New York Football Giants to root for, right?

Not really: As legendary WCBS-Channel 2 sportscaster Warner Wolf would say, “If you had the Giants and 37 points, you lost! Come on, give me a break!”