Friday, July 27, 2012

Yankees-Red Sox: The Defining Moments, Part III, 1996-2012

October 26, 1996, Yankee Stadium, Bronx. The Yankees beat the Atlanta Braves 3-2, to win Game 6 and clinch the World Series, their first such win in 18 years. A moment in time by Red Sox standards, but interminable by ours. Wade Boggs, who'd come so close with the 1986 Red Sox, and signed with the Yankees prior to the 1993 season and became part of the restoration, got on a policeman's horse and rode around the field in the celebration. Rubbing it in? He may not have thought so, but we sure did.

May 24, 1997, Yankee Stadium.  Charlie Hayes is best remembered by Yankee Fans for catching the last out of the 1996 World Series.  Almost forgotten is his walkoff homer against the Red Sox, against John Wasdin -- or "Wayback Wasdin," as some Sox fans called him.  Yankees 4, Red Sox 2.

February 18, 1999, Yankee Stadium. Although the rivalry was amped up a little bit by the Yankees signing Boggs, Boggs riding that horse, and the arrivals in Boston of Pedro Martinez and Nomar Garciaparra -- the latter forging a rivalry-within-the-rivalry with Yankee shortstop Derek Jeter -- and the Sox had made the Playoffs the season before, this is the day the rivalry really gets going again.

On this day, the Yankees trade pitchers David Wells and Graeme Lloyd, and infielder Homer Bush, to the Toronto Blue Jays for Roger Clemens, whom the Red Sox had cast aside 2 years earlier. Then-Sox general manager Dan Duquette saw Clemens not getting enough run support to get a plus-.500 record, and gaining weight, and said he was "in the twilight of his career."

Whether Duquette blew it big-time, or Clemens really was in the twilight of his career and turned that around with performance-enhancing drugs, will never be fully proven.  What we know for sure is this: Clemens got back into shape, had 2 great years with the Jays, and became a Yankee legend, albeit one most of us on the Light Side of The Force are not comfortable with. By contrast, Sox fans have treated Clemens as their "Darth Vader," forgetting just which side is good and which side is evil.

July 13, 1999, Fenway Park, Boston. The Major League Baseball All-Star Game is held at the ancient home of the Sox. Yankee manager Joe Torre is manager for the American League team. Nomar Garciaparra of the Red Sox starts for the American League at shortstop and receives a standing ovation from the fans after Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter comes in to replace him after they embrace. Later in the game when he came to bat, Jeter gave Garciaparra a tribute by mimicking his batting stance. Pedro starts for the AL and strikes out 5 of the 6 National League batters he faces.

Before the game, nominees for the MLB All-Century Team are introduced. The legends wear the current caps of their teams, not necessarily the caps their teams wore in their own time. One of the nominees is Reggie Jackson, former recipient of "Reggie Sucks!" chants from the Fenway stands, and he gets a nice cheer. Hearing this, he looks at the TV camera, wearing his Yankee cap, winks. There was only one person among the nominees who was booed: Clemens. He wore not the cap of the team that made him famous, the Sox, but of the team for whom he played at the moment, the Yanks. Tremendous booing. The AL wins the game.

July 30, 1999, Fenway Park. I was there for this one. The Sox had recently published their plans for New Fenway Park, to be built across the street, and I figured this might be my last chance to see a Yanks-Sox game at Fenway in the heat of a Pennant race. Who knew at the time that, 10 years later, Fenway would still stand, and it would be the Yankees who would build a new stadium across their street?

I paid a scalper $42 for a $24 obstructed-view seat. It was worth every penny. On the 2nd pitch of the game, Chuck Knoblauch hit a home run over the Green Monster. On the 5th pitch of the game, Derek Jeter hit a home run to dead center field. The victimized Sox pitcher was Mark Portugal, who had been a fair pitcher with the Houston Astros, but was now washed up, would retire after the season, and literally fell off the mound a few pitches later.  The Yanks left the 1st inning ahead 2-0, and while the Sox did tie it up, the Yanks unloaded the lumber afterward. Yankees 13, Red Sox 3. Joe Torre let Hideki Irabu pitch a complete game. No, I'm not kidding: Torre let a pitcher go the distance, and Hideki I-rob-you, no less.

At the start of the game, there were about 34,000 people in Fenway, and about 10,000 of them were Yankee Fans. By the 7th inning stretch, there were about 15,000 people in Fenway, and about 10,000 of them were Yankee Fans. A great night. I even ran into a guy who played football at my high school, who was by this point going to Boston College. And he was also a Yankee Fan. What were the odds?

September 10, 1999, Yankee Stadium. Chili Davis hits a home run off Pedro Martinez. That's the only hit that Pedro allows, and he strikes out 17 batters, the most ever fanned by a Yankee opponent. Had Andy Pettitte not allowed a home run to Trot Nixon, Pedro would have pitched a one-hitter and struck out 17 Yankees, and lost. Instead... Red Sox 3, Yankees 1. Pedro begins to achieve godlike status among Sox fans, a status achieved since World War II only by Ted Williams, Tony Conigliaro, Carl Yastrzemski, Carlton Fisk and Nomar. But the Yankees win the American League Eastern Division, while the Sox get the Wild Card.

October 13, 1999, Yankee Stadium.  Game 1 of the American League Championship Series.  Because the Boston Tie Party of 1978 is officially counted as a regular-season game, this is the first "real" postseason game between the Pinstripes and The Scum. Sox fans are sure that their deliverance from the Yankees and the Curse of the Bambino are finally at hand.

Not tonight: Bernie Williams hits a home run to dead center field off Rod Beck. Yankees 4, Red Sox 3. The Yanks will take Game 2 as well.

October 16, 1999, Fenway Park.  Game 3.  Pedro pitches superbly, while the Sox batter Clemens. As Clemens walks off the mound after getting knocked out of the box, a fan holds up a sign saying, "Roger, thanks for the memories -- especially this one!" One side of Fenway chants, "Where is Roger?" The other side chants, "In the shower!" Red Sox 13, Yankees 1. Sox fans are delirious, and are now sure they will beat the Yanks and go all the way.

But, as Boston Globe columnist Dan Shaughnessy, the man who popularized the phrase "Curse of the Bambino," pointed out, the point was not to beat Clemens, but to win the series.

October 17, 1999, Fenway Park.  Game 4.  Admittedly, there were a couple of umpiring mistakes that helped the Yanks. But it's still 3-2 Yanks in the 9th, and poor fielding leads to a Ricky Ledee grand slam off Beck. Sox fans, furious at the umpiring, throw garbage onto the field.

Since then, the description of Boston as "the Athens of America" gets this response from me: "Bullshit." While there were many fans who had stood by the Sox through all the torment, this was a limited few who had come to the team through Pedro and Nomar, and were more likely to get blitzed than the ones who did so in '78, and they were animals. Of course, these are the ones who get noticed, the kind that got stereotyped as the "Red Sox fans" we have come to know, lampooned on Saturday Night Live by Jimmy Fallon (before he moved on to the U.S. version of Fever Pitch).

Anyway, Yankees 9, Red Sox 2. The next night, the Yanks clinched the Pennant, danced on the field at Fenway, and went on to win the World Series.

April 22, 2001, Yankee Stadium.  David Justice bangs his gavel off Derek Lowe, hitting a walkoff homer to give the Yanks a 4-3 win.

May 24, 2001, Yankee Stadium. On Bob Dylan's 60th birthday, Pedro is getting ready to pitch against the Yankees. "I don't believe in curses," Pedro says. "Wake up the damn Bambino, and have me face him. Maybe I'll drill him in the ass." But the Yankees beat him. Yankees 2, Red Sox 1. The Yanks move into first place, Pedro gets hurt in his next start, and doesn't win another game for the rest of the season. You don't believe in curses? You mock Babe Ruth -- a better pitcher than you were, Pedro? What a fool.  As Dylan might have said, "They'll stone you just like they said they would."

September 2, 2001, Fenway Park. Mike Mussina comes within one strike of pitching a perfect game, but Carl Everett's 9th-inning, two-out, two-strike single is the only baserunner allowed by Mussina. By an amazing coincidence, David Cone, the last Yankee pitcher to throw a perfect game in 1999, had started the game for the Red Sox. Yankees 1, Red Sox 0.

September 18, 2001, Fenway Park.  The Sox play their first game since the 9/11 attacks.  They play the Tampa Bay Rays, and win, 7-2.  A holds up a banner of solidarity: "TODAY, WE (HEART) NY." The Yankees also play their first game following the resumption of play, in Chicago against the White Sox, and win, 11-3.

December 26, 2002, Fenway Park. The Yankees sign Cuban pitcher Jose Contreras, and new Sox president Larry Lucchino calls the Yankees "the Evil Empire." Oh, really? The term had been used by President Ronald Reagan -- who knew more about baseball than he did about economics or foreign affairs -- to describe the Soviet Union. Excuse me, Larry, but how do you square the image of the heavily capitalist Yankees with Communism and its prohibition of private property? Some Yankee Fans, however, connect the word "Empire" with the villains of Star Wars, including one fan who made a T-shirt with Darth Vader's helmet, saying, "May the Curse be with you."

October 11, 2003, Fenway Park. Game 3 of the ALCS, and another Roger vs. Pedro matchup. Pedro hits Karim Garcia in the head, on purpose. Not the first time he's hit a Yankee on purpose, nor will it be the last, but it is easily the most notorious. Yelling back and forth. Jorge Posada, himself a former Pedro victim, yells in Spanish so that Pedro has no problem understanding. Pedro points at his head, then at Jorge. Message: "I'm going to hit you in the head." Making such a threat is a crime.

Clemens pitches to Manny Ramirez, and the pitch is head-high... but over the plate. Manny points at Clemens and comes toward him, still holding the bat. The benches clear again, and Yankee coach Don Zimmer -- manager of the Sox in 1978, but also a player who nearly died from a beaning in Triple-A ball in 1953 -- runs toward Pedro.

Pedro Martinez, age 32, grabs Don Zimmer, age 72, by the head, and throws him to the ground. Attempted murder, if the jurisdiction is New York. In Boston, Zimmer ends up forced to apologize, with Pedro getting a $50,000 fine -- pocket change, with what the Sox are paying him. Refresh my memory: Did we have to apologize to Japan for putting Pearl Harbor in the way of our Pacific Coast?

When things finally settle down, Clemens finishes his strikeout of Manny. Yankees 4, Red Sox 3. The next day, Game 4 is rained out, giving a 24-hour reprieve. Probably for the best.

English soccer fans like to refer to their rivals as "The Scum," and their rivals' fans as "Scummers." As far as I'm concerned, this was the day the Red Sox stopped being mere arch-rivals, and truly became The Scum. They can take their "Evil Empire" talk and shove it up their own evil asses.

October 16, 2003, Yankee Stadium. It comes down to a Game 7. David Ortiz hits 2 home runs (cough-steroids-cough), and the Sox lead 5-2 in the bottom of the 8th. By this point, Ortiz, a.k.a. "Big Papi," has been hitting the Yanks like crazy all year. His success against the Yankees will eventually beg the question, "How many times does a guy have to get big hits off you before you plunk him?" Ah, but there's a double standard at work: A Sox pitcher can hit a Yankee batter, and get away with it every... single... time; a Yankee pitcher can hit a Sox batter, and he gets thrown out of the game, fined and suspended. Anyway, the Sox need 5 more outs.

Derek Jeter doubles. Bernie Williams singles, Jeter scores. 5-3. Sox manager Grady Little comes out, and he has to know that Pedro has thrown too many pitches, and that the next 2 batters are Hideki Matsui, lefty, and Posada, a switch-hitter but much better left than right, so the right thing to do is bring in a lefty, probably Alan Embree, to pitch Matsui lefty-on-lefty and turn Posada to his weaker right side.

But he leaves Pedro in. Matsui hits a ground-rule double, moving Bernie to third. Now Little has got to take Pedro out, and bring in Embree to face Posada. But he stays in the dugout. Pedro remains on the mound, and Jorge dumps a looper into short center, scoring Bernie and Hideki. 5-5. Yet another legendary Sox choke, and The Stadium shakes with fans cheering and jumping.

Bottom of the 11th, and Tim Wakefield, who had beaten the Yanks in Games 1 and 4 of the series, opens the inning by throwing a 69 MPH knuckleball to Aaron Boone. Boom. Yankees 6, Red Sox 5. Boone takes his place alongside Bucky Dent and Bill Buckner.

November 28, 2003, Fenway Park. Having failed to trade Nomar to the Texas Rangers for Alex Rodriguez, the Red Sox instead pull off a "reverse Tom Seaver": They trade 4 nobodies to the Arizona Diamondbacks for one of the top pitchers in the game, Curt Schilling, who had previously driven the Yankees nuts in the 2001 World Series. As a Philadelphia Phillie, Schilling had been described by general manager Lee Thomas as follows: "One day out of five, he's a horse; the other four, he's a horse's ass." Schilling lives up to that reputation at his introductory press conference in Boston, by saying, "I guess I hate the Yankees now."

February 16, 2004, Yankee Stadium. With the Sox having failed to trade for A-Rod, the Yankees succeed, sending Alfonso Soriano to Texas for the biggest name (if not the best player) in baseball. With Jeter still at shortstop, A-Rod moves over to third base.

July 1, 2004, Yankee Stadium. As wild a regular-season game as you'll ever see. The Yankees end up using everyone on their roster. The Sox use everyone on theirs except for two. One is backup catcher Doug Mirabelli. The other is Nomar, apparently injured but not on the Disabled List. Once, Nomar, Jeter and A-Rod were debated as to who was the best shortstop in baseball. Now, Jeter is making a diving play that saves the game, A-Rod is playing third and moving to short after Jeter gets hurt, and Nomar is sitting on the bench, leading to his being traded by the Sox within a few days. Manny homers in the top of the 13th, but Miguel Cairo and John Flaherty double in the bottom of the 13th to win it. Yankees 6, Red Sox 5.

July 24, 2004, Fenway Park. Sox pitcher Bronson Arroyo -- white people should not wear cornrows, except for Bo Derek -- purposely hits A-Rod in the back. A-Rod curses Captain Cornrows out. Sox catcher and Captain Jason Varitek leaves on his mask, like the coward that he is, and pushes his catcher's mitt into A-Rod's pretty face, instigating a full-scale brawl. Refresh my memory: Which of these teams is evil? After the 1976 brawl, Bill Lee said, "The Yankees looked like a bunch of hookers swinging their purses." Well, at least they didn't hide behind protective masks.

Bill Mueller takes Mariano Rivera deep in the bottom of the 9th. Red Sox 9, Yankees 8. Mueller has often been suspected of steroid use, but has thus far been protected from such revelations.

September 19, 2004, Yankee Stadium. Yankees 11, Red Sox 1. Pedro loses again, and in a postgame press conference, says, "I just tip my cap, and call the Yankees my daddy." "Who's Your Daddy" chants will dog Pedro for the rest of his career. One fan made up a T-shirt showing Darth Vader wearing a Yankee jersey, and saying, as if to Luke Skywalker, "Pedro, I am your father!"

October 20, 2004, Yankee Stadium. After a Game 4 comeback led by proven steroid user David Ortiz, and a Game 5 win also led by proven steroid user Ortiz, and a Game 6 win that featured A-Rod's slap play on Arroyo in relief of suspected steroid user Curt Schilling (who had said, "I'm not sure I can think of any scenario more enjoyable than making 55,000 Yankee Fans shut up"), Game 7 is a diaster from the outset, as proven steroid user Ortiz homers again. Red Sox 10, Yankees 3.

The Red Sox become the first Major League Baseball team to come back from a 3-games-to-0 postseason deficit, and win the Pennant, clinching at Yankee Stadium, a house of pain for them for so long. They go on to beat the St. Louis Cardinals in the World Series, killing the Curse of the Bambino after 86 years.

Or so they thought. Now we know the truth.

April 5, 2005, Yankee Stadium.  After he hit the home run that won Game 4 of the 2001 World Series, Jeter said he'd never hit a walkoff homer before, not even in Little League.  He did it again in this game, off Keith Foulke.  Yankees 4, Red Sox 3.  The Yankees could have used one of these 6 months earlier.

April 14, 2005, Fenway Park. Yankee right fielder Gary Sheffield's cap is knocked off by a Red Sox fan while trying to pick up a fair ball in right field. In response, Sheffield pushes the fan. The conflict is quickly stopped by security guards. The fan was ejected from the game for interfering with play and eventually stripped of his season tickets. Red Sox 8, Yankees 5. Still, the Sox fans once again prove that they, not the Yankees or their fans, are the evil ones.

August 18, 19, 20 & 21, 2006, Fenway Park. The Yankees complete a 5-game sweep at the little green pinball machine in Kenmore Square. The scores are 12-4, 14-11, 13-5, 8-5 and 2-1. The Yankees have moved from 1 1/2 games ahead of the Sox to 6 1/2 games ahead, effectively killing the Division race with 6 weeks to go.

I was in Boston on the 20th, for the 4th game, although my chances of getting into Fenway were slim and none, and I had to watch from elsewhere in Scum City. Then again, I'd rather have watched from outside Fenway and won than watched from inside and lost. You should have heard Sox fans, not to mention the WEEI radio hosts, talk: They were in a daze, acting as though what happened in October 2004 had never happened. (And, based on what we now know, it really didn't.)

April 22, 2007, Fenway Park. Manny, J.D. Drew, Mike Lowell and Varitek hit four consecutive home runs off Yankee pitcher Chase Wright, powering a comeback from a three-run deficit and completing a three game sweep of the Yankees at Fenway Park for the first time since 1990. Red Sox 7, Yankees 6. While the Yankees do get the Wild Card, they never recover enough from this beating to take the Division title. The Sox win the World Series again, although this can also been deemed illegitimate. Manny is later proven a steroid user, and the other 3 have also been suspected.

February 29, 2008, Legends Field, Tampa, Florida. At the spring-training complex soon to be renamed for his father, Yankee senior vice president Hank Steinbrenner responds to the popularity of the Sox in The New York Times newspaper's Play magazine:

'Red Sox Nation?' What a bunch of bullshit that is. That was a creation of the Red Sox and ESPN, which is filled with Red Sox fans. Go anywhere in America, and you won't see Red Sox hats and jackets, you'll see Yankee hats and jackets. This is a Yankee country. We're going to put the Yankees back on top and restore the universe to order.

Not "restore order to the universe." "Restore the universe to order." It will take 2 more seasons.

July 30, 2009, Fenway Park.  Ten years to the day after the 13-3 demolition I saw at Fenway, it is revealed that both David Ortiz and Manny Ramirez failed steroid tests in the 2003 season. With Papi and Manny the 2 biggest reasons the Sox won the 2004 and 2007 World Series, those titles are now revealed to be completely illegitimate. The Curse of the Bambino still lives. 1918 * Forever.

August 7, 2009, Yankee Stadium II, Bronx. A-Rod ends a 0-0 standstill after 15 innings with a two-run home run off Junichi Tazawa. Two days later, former Sox hero Johnny Damon and Mark Teixeira hit back-to-back homers to give the Yanks a come-from-behind 3-2 win and a sweep.

September 27, 2009, Yankee Stadium II. Yankees 4, Red Sox 2. The Yankees complete a three-game sweep of the Red Sox with a 4-2 victory, clinching their first AL East title since 2006. The Yankees came back to tie the season series against the Red Sox 9-9, after starting with an 0-8 record against them, and go on to win their 27th World Championship -- slaying their own dragons (real, imagined, or steroid-induced), and in Hank's words, restoring the universe to order.

May 17, 2010, Yankee Stadium II.  Marcus Thames breaks a bottom of the 9th slugfest deadlock with a walkoff homer off Jonathan Papelbon.  Yankees 11, Red Sox 9.

As of July 27, 2012, the Yankees have hit 212 walkoff home runs, counting the postseason.  28 of these, including the postseason walkoffs by Bernie Williams in 1999 and Aaron Boone in 2003, have been against the Red Sox.

September 28, 2011, Oriole Park at Camden Yards, Baltimore, Maryland.  As late as September 1, a date on which they completed a 2-out-of-3 series win over the Yankees, the Sox were in first place in the AL East.  But the Sox go into a tailspin, the Yankees take advantage, and on this date, the Sox lose to the Baltimore Orioles, 4-3, while the Yankees lose to the Rays.  As a result, with the Yankees having already clinched the AL East, the Sox blow the Wild Card to the Rays.  Manager Terry Francona and general manager Theo Epstein will soon be fired.

Once again, it is the Yankees who are regarded as champions, and the Red Sox who are regarded as chokers.  As God intended it.

April 20 & 21, 2012, Fenway Park.  The Sox celebrate the ballpark's 100th Anniversary -- the first Major League Baseball stadium to reach a centennial -- by playing on the exact anniversary and playing the exact same opponent.  But they didn't get the same result, as the Yankees hit 5 home runs: 2 by Nick Swisher, and 1 each by Nick Swisher, Russell Martin, and 1 by Alex Rodriguez, as Sox fans chanted, "Steroids!" while cheering David Ortiz.  Yankees 6, Red Sox 2.

The next day, the Yankees came from 9-0 down to beat the Sox 15-9, including 7 runs in the 7th inning and 7 more in the 8th.  Swisher homered again, and Mark Teixeira hit home runs from each side of the plate. The next day, the series finale was rained out, and postponed until July, but the Yankees ended up winning it then anyway.

July 27, 2012, Yankee Stadium II.  Due to a quirk in the schedule, this is the first series of the season between the teams in New York.  Play ball, and...


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