Friday, July 10, 2015

Yankees vs. Red Sox: The Defining Moments, Part III: 1983-2002


July 4, 1983, Yankee Stadium. Both teams have changed tremendously in 5 years. The rivalry has fallen a bit. Despite the opponent and the 4th of July holiday, only 41,077 fans come out to The Stadium. Why? Well, it is the 4th of July, and it's really hot, so it's a beach day, not a baseball day. And neither team is really in the race.

This game would be totally forgotten by anyone who wasn't there... if it wasn't for Dave Righetti pitching a no-hitter. He even managed to strike out the tough-to-fan Wade Boggs for the final out. Yankees 4, Red Sox 0.

October 5, 1986, Fenway Park. The Yankees beat the Red Sox, 7-0, and complete a 4-game sweep. However, this not-quite Boston Massacre -- this was the only real blowout of the series -- is meaningless, as the Sox had already clinched the American League Eastern Division title a weak earlier.

This was because the Sox had great starting pitching: Roger Clemens, Bruce Hurst, Dennis "Oil Can" Boyd, and even the final, somewhat hard-luck season of Tom Seaver. In contrast, the Yanks' rotation was weak: While Dennis Rasmussen went 18-6, no other Yankee pitcher, starter or reliever, won in double figures. Ron Guidry had an uncharacteristic 9-12 after winning 22 the year before, and Doug Drabek, Bob Tewksbury and 41-year-old knuckleballer Joe Niekro (whose brother Phil had pitched for the Yanks the preceding 2 years) won just 34 between them.

Also, Boggs, who did have the excuse of a sore hamstring, sat this series out, and wins the AL batting title over Don Mattingly, who slumped badly in the last 2 weeks.

October 25, 1986, Shea Stadium, New York. "The Buckner Game" was played in New York City, and it did make the Sox look like morons. But it had nothing to do with the Yankees, and it makes the Mets look heroic, and I don't think either Yankee Fans or Sox fans want to hear about that. So let's just move on.

September 28, 1987, Yankee Stadium. Mike Easler -- not traded from Boston to New York for Don Baylor in the 1985-86 off-season, although it did sort of work out that way -- treats Calvin Schiraldi even more harshly than the Mets did in the previous year's World Series. He hits a pinch-hit home run to win the game, 9-7.

May 27, 1991, Yankee Stadium. The Sox are the defending AL East Champions (and would barely be nipped by the Toronto Blue Jays at the end this time), while the Yankees had finished last the year before. Only 32,369 come out for this Memorial Day matinee between the two old rivals, and the Yanks trail 5-3 in the bottom of the 9th.

But Mel Hall -- who would later leave the Yankees in ignominious fashion -- takes Jeff "the Terminator" Reardon deep. Yankees 6, Red Sox 5. (Maybe Sox fans can blame the 1st base umpire, Larry Barnett, the same ump who they, in their delusions, think screwed them in Game 3 of the '75 World Series.)

A lot of Yankee Fans point to this game as the beginning of the rise from the abyss. It wasn't: 1991 and '92 were both bad years, though not as bad as '89 and '90. But the building blocks were in place: George Steinbrenner had been suspended for 2 years, former good-field-no-hit infielder Gene Michael was running the show as general manager, and the Yankees were making good trades and draft choices, including, the following June, a shortstop from Kalamazoo Central High School in Michigan, a former New Jerseyan named Derek Jeter.

This Mel Hall homer is also cited by some as the beginning of Yankee broadcaster John Sterling's closing call of, "Ballgame over! Yankees win! Theeeeeeee Yankees win!" I'm not so sure. Granted, I was watching this one on WPIX-Channel 11 with Phil Rizzuto, Bobby Murcer and Tom Seaver, rather than listening to Sterling and Joe Angel on 77 WABC.  But even as late as Jim Leyritz's 1995 Playoff walkoff against Seattle, his "Theeeeeeee... " was still just a "The... " without much elongation.

September 14, 1991, Yankee Stadium. This was my first live Yanks-Sox game, included among an attendance of 45,758. This was a 4-game series, and the Sox won 3 of them. Not this one: Yankees 3, Red Sox 1. And, yes, Sox fans were every bit as obnoxious as you might expect, especially since they were still in the race (they'd be caught at the death by those pesky Blue Jays) and the Yanks were awful, having just begun their climb back from the abyss of last place the season before.

December 15, 1992, Yankee Stadium. Having been allowed to leave via free agency by the Sox, Boggs signs with the Yankees. It was weird seeing him in Pinstripes, but I got used to it, because he could still hit for average, began to hit with power (short porch in right field at Yankee Stadium), and his fielding, already good, got better.

October 26, 1996, Yankee Stadium. 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.

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.

As Denis Leary, a native of Worcester, Massachusetts, a big Sox fan, but also with connections to New York through his comedy career and his TV series The Job and Rescue Me (about policemen and firemen, respectively), put it: "If you had told my father in 1986 that, within 10 years, Wade Boggs would be celebrating winning a World Series with the Yankees while riding on the back of a police horse, his head would have blown up."

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 this game the following spring, in which he hit a walkoff homer 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 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, may never be fully proven. What we know for sure is this: One way or another, 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.

In 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. 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 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, strikes out 5 of the 6 National League batters he faces, and ends up as the winning pitcher. The AL wins, 4-1.

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, and 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. Heck, even Rickey Henderson got cheered. (Barry Bonds, not yet known as a steroid cheat, was not in attendance, as he was not named to the NL All-Star Team that year, although he was an All-Century Team nominee.)

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, 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 33,777 paying customers in Fenway, and about 10,000 of them were Yankee Fans. By the 7th inning stretch, there were about 15,000 people there, and about 10,000 of them were chanting, "Let's go, Yankees!" 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. 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.

The part that bothered me in this game was the fans in the bleachers, holding up Dominican flags and banners with Pedro's name on it. I don't care if you're also Dominican: Pedro plays for the enemy. When you come to Yankee Stadium, you are Yankee Fans, and your nationality gets put away. I'm Polish, but I never cheered for the Red Sox just because they had Carl Yastrzemski; and even if I would have, I certainly wouldn't have done it against the Yankees.

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 -- who later says that Yogi Berra told him, "We've been playing these guys for 80 years. They can't beat us" -- leads off the bottom of the 10th inning, 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. And the Sox still trail it, 2 games to 1. The Yankees don't lose again until April 5, 2000.

October 17, 1999, Fenway Park. Game 4. Admittedly, there were a couple of umpiring mistakes that worked in the Yanks' favor. 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.

October 18, 1999, Fenway Park. Jeter and Jorge Posada hit home runs, Orlando "El Duque" Hernandez pitches superbly, and the Yankees beat the Red Sox, 6-1, and clinch the Pennant, and dance on the field at Fenway. They go on to win the World Series.

May 28, 2000, Yankee Stadium. Roger vs. Pedro again. This one remains scoreless into the 9th, before Trot Nixon hits a home run off Roger, and the Sox win, 2-0.

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 the 60th birthday of Bob Dylan -- a man who once wrote a song about Catfish Hunter, and another song titled "Seven Curses" (but it had nothing to do with baseball) -- 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 1st 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 1 strike of pitching a perfect game, but Carl Everett's 9th-inning, 2-out, 2-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 Devil Rays, and win, 7-2. A fan at Fenway holds up a banner of solidarity, which would have been unimaginable 8 days earlier (and on most days since September 2001): "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 20, 2001, Fenway Park. The JRY Trust, named for Jean Yawkey, sells the Sox to New England Sports Ventures, the company now named Fenway Sports Group, run by John W. Henry. This ends 79 years of Yawkey family-connected ownership of the Sox. (Tom and Jean never had any children to take over for them; Jean inherited the team when Tom died in 1976, and John Harrington had run the club through the Trust since Jean's death in 1992.)

The Henry group, including former Florida Marlins owner Henry, former Baltimore Orioles and San Diego Padres president Larry Lucchino, and the youngest general manager in the game at the time, Theo Epstein, change the culture around the club.

The fans, having already changed into the Chowdaheads that they became at the dawn of the Nomar-Pedro era, don't change, but they sure embrace this change.

Part IV, the finale, is ahead.

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