Quarantining for weeks on end to help slow the spread of a global pandemic does not offer too many unique benefits. Especially in a time without the normalcy of the sports world and the much-needed escape it always provides. HOWEVER (Stephen A. Smith voice) you can’t help but discover classic sports games being shown all over your TV right now, ranging from every sport over the past 30 years or so. And re-watching some of these games obviously is not equivalent to enjoying the 2020 Sweet Sixteen/Elite Eight of March Madness or Major League Baseball’s Opening Day, but alas it’s something! Last weekend, for example, I found myself glued to watching the entire classic 1992 regional final game between Kentucky and Duke for the first time. And then Friday afternoon on MLB Network I stumbled across Game 7 of the 2003 ALCS between my beloved New York Yankees and the Boston Red Sox. Being that it was one of my favorite games in 30 years of being a Yankees fan and nearly 17 years since I’d seen all 13 innings in full, needless to say I was locked in on my couch for the next three and a half hours. And for all my fellow Yankees fans who read The 300’s… so can you!
To quickly bring us all back to October 2003, the Yankees-Red Sox rivalry was at a fever pitch (no pun intended) and the ALCS had already included one of the more surreal moments I’ll ever remember as a sports fan (please don’t click the below clip if you have difficulty watching senior citizens being assaulted).
I still remember 13-year-old me being FUMING mad at Pedro Martinez as he pointed to his head while Jorge Posada was screaming at him from the steps of the dugout. Pedro had just drilled Karim Garcia in the back and following a Manny Ramirez over-reaction to a Clemens high pitch the next thing you knew the benches were cleared and a 72 year old Don Zimmer was charging at and taking a swing at none other than Pedro himself. Pedro proceeded to casually toss him to the ground. Just an insane scene all around. God, I miss hating a team as much as I hated that Boston Red Sox team. What a rivalry man. As good as both teams were from 2017-2018, Tyler Austin charging the mound against Joe Kelly just wasn’t quite the same as those ’03-’05 days.
So that brings us to October 16, 2003 and Game 7 of the ALCS. The Red Sox had just won Game 6 in the Bronx to force a decisive Game 7 and to try and continue their run to win their first World Series in 85 years. The starting pitching match up? Some guys named Roger Clemens and Pedro Martinez; not too shabby. The setting? The old Yankee Stadium (RIP). Now obviously 17 years later that game is mainly remembered for its last pitch and how Aaron F. Boone earned his middle name in Boston. But the beauty of re-watching some of these old games is all of the great stuff and critical plays in between that even some of the more die-hard Yankees and Sox fans would be hard pressed to remember. All of that was a long way of saying this game was deemed the sixth greatest game in the history of baseball by MLB Network for a reason…
First observation in re-watching is that unmistakable big-game feeling back in the old Yankee Stadium which was second to none and you could feel it through the screen big time as the game started. The early years of the new Yankee Stadium felt like a morgue in comparison. There was something about the old place on 161st Street and River avenue.
The palpable buzz in the Stadium didn’t last too long as Trot Nixon, a long-time notorious Yankee killer in those days, crushed a two-run homer off Clemens into the right field bleachers in the top of the second inning. A Kevin Millar blast to lead off the fourth gave the Red Sox a 4-0 lead and left a silent Stadium and a bleak outlook for the Yanks World Series chances. That Pedro guy was pretty good and he was absolutely dealing to that point.
I had completely forgotten that Roger Clemens had said that 2003 was going to be his last season pitching. Until it wasn’t and he ended up being Brett Favre before Brett Favre when it came to his retirement. Anyways, in what was thought at the time to very possibly be his last professional start, Clemens was pulled by Joe Torre in the top of the fourth inning with base runners on first and third and nobody out. Enter Mike Mussina. Making his very first relief appearance of his 13-year career. Mussina was already 0-2 in that ALCS and was being asked to keep the deficit right there at 4-0. And that’s exactly what he did, and then some.
The Class of 2019 Hall of Famer kept his team alive and in the game at a time when they needed it the most. But coming back from four runs down against the greatest starting pitcher of his generation remained a pretty daunting task. A couple of solo homeruns by Mike Francesa’s favorite Yankee Jason Giambi brought the Yankees to within two entering the 8th inning. That was until David Ortiz stepped to the plate against David Wells and sent a hanging curveball to the moon. An absolute back-breaking homerun that extended the Red Sox lead to 5-2. Little did Yankees fan know at the time but 2003 was just a preview of the endless seasons that David Ortiz would torture our lives by hitting clutch home run after clutch home run. That season, his first in Boston, Ortiz hit eight home runs against the Yankees (regular season and post) and he didn’t stop doing just that until the day he retired in 2016.
But that brings us to the bottom of the eighth (also known as my favorite half inning in all my years of being a Yankees fan) and thanks to Grady Little, Pedro was still on the mound.
The Fox broadcast showed a sign in the crowd at the beginning of the inning that said “Mystique Don’t Fail me Now’. It’s hard to describe (or remember for younger Yankees fans) but at this point in 2003, coming off the dynasty of winning four championships in five years from ’96-‘00 and even winning all three home games in the epic 2001 World Series, Yankee Stadium mystique was very much a thing and it was the ONLY thing giving me hope down three runs and five outs away from losing to our biggest rival.
To be fair to Grady Little, high pitch counts were not as much of a death sentence for a starter back in 2003 and Pedro’s was right around 100 entering the inning. Especially in a do or die Game 7 in which you’re attempting to break an 85-year drought. Also, from a Yankees fan perspective, I remember wanting Little to take the ball from the future first ballot Hall of Famer and hand it to the likes of Alan Embree or Mike Timlin. But no matter where you stood on whether or not Pedro should’ve started the inning, there’s absolutely no defending leaving him in after he consecutively gave up a one-out double to Jeter and line drive single to Bernie Williams, cutting the lead to 5-3. Thankfully he did just that and Hideki Matsui proceeded to rip a double down the line to set up second and third before Jorge Posada hit a bloop double to tie the game at five and send Yankee Stadium into an absolute euphoric frenzy.
We all know how the game ends but this would be the worst 2003 ALCS Game 7 blog of all time if I didn’t mention or include the first pitch of the top of the 13th inning…
It really couldn’t have been a more unlikely player to hit one of the biggest and most memorable home runs in Yankee history. The Yankees acquired Boone at the trade deadline and he hit a pedestrian .254 for the Yanks in the regular season before going 2-16 in the ALCS prior to that at-bat. Believe it or not he didn’t even start the game! The starting third basemen that night was of course the immortal (and proclaimed ‘Pedro killer’) Enrique Wilson. And then who could forget following the ’03 season Boone famously broke his leg in a pickup basketball game and would never again put on the Yankee pinstripes (as a player anyways).
The epilogue to this classic of a championship series game was the Yankees losing to the Marlins in six games. I’d love to delve further into breaking down that World Series but this blog is solely a Game 7 ALCS recap. Sorry folks!
Final Re-watch thoughts: Looking back 17 years later it was nice to watch a game during a time when the Yankees still dominated the rivalry with the Red Sox. If you were lucky enough to live under a rock during the next 17 years of the rivalry, let’s just say things have changed a bit in who has had the upper hand and let’s leave it at that. But there were definitely worse ways to spend three plus hours in the midst of a Coronavirus quarantine world than to re-watch the last game when the Yankees were on top of the rivalry and “1918” chants were still a thing.