On an ugly August evening in Anaheim 16 years ago, third baseman Wade Boggs provided the Yankees with one highlight in 12-4 rout at the hands of Terry Collins's Angels. The majority of the bullpen was already toast after a taxing few days, and manager Joe Torre didn't want to use more relievers since there was a doubleheader the next day. So after reliever Graeme Lloyd's fourth inning of one-run ball, Torre called on a position player to pitch. Originally, he considered Charlie Hayes, but his players convinced him that Boggs had an excellent knuckleball that he fooled around with in practice that he could use any time. He wasn't sure how Boggs would feel if he asked the future Hall of Famer to tackle this odd assignment, but Boggs was more than ready.
Torre and pitching coach Mel Stottlemyre were a little uneasy as the ninth inning began.
However, Boggs's father Win was a well-regarded softball pitcher, and he taught his son the knuckler when he was young. At Plant High School in Tampa, Boggs utilized this knuckler as a pitcher before his obvious hitting talents took him away from the mound. More than 21 years after throwing his last knuckler in a game that mattered, Boggs was back on the pitching rubber, and to say it was a delight was an understatement. Boggs later said, "It's something I've always wanted to do in my career and I never really had the opportunity. Then I started feeling like Phil Niekro. I was Phil Niekro and Charlie Hough all rolled into one. It was great. I was glad it worked out." He threw 16 knuckleballs and one 74 mph "fastball." How did the Angels fare?
Luis Alicea was the first to face Boggs, and he was immediately fooled by Boggs's knuckleball, which the Angels probably didn't think existed. With his bullpen mates watching in anticipation, Boggs forced Alicea to 0-2 when the second baseman fouled off another knuckler:
Unfortunately, Boggs's knuckler was a little rusty. Five pitches and a few bad knucklers later, Boggs lost Alicea on a walk. To quote Harry Doyle, they were "juuuuuust a little bit outside." C'mon, glove that, Jorge!
Angels hitting coach and 3,000 Hit Club member Rod Carew was mystified by Boggs's knuckler. Seriously, how could a hitting coach possibly make any valid recommendation on how to approach a knuckleball thrown by Wade Boggs?
Boggs then faced all-time Angels home run king Tim Salmon, who had belted a two-run homer and a RBI single earlier in the game against an ineffective David Wells. After two quick (slow?) strikes though, Salmon bounced a knuckler to shortstop Rey Sanchez who flipped to Homer Bush for a forceout.
Bush double clutched and missed a chance for a double play, but Boggs shook it off. The Angels' career hits leader Garret Anderson was up next. Boggs missed with a pitch, then got Anderson to roll one over toward the left side. Even with Salmon on first, it was hit too slowly to turn two, so Bush got the easy out at first.
Backup catcher Todd Greene was now the only thing standing in the way between Boggs and a scoreless inning. Greene slugged a two-run homer off Wells earlier, but Boggs jumped ahead of him 1-2 before uncorking his 17th and final pitch of the evening, the most satisying one of all:
Boggs fanned Greene for his first career strikeout, earning both his manager and pitching coach's amusement while also leading to a standing ovation from the entertained Anaheim crowd. Boggs never pitched again for the Yankees, and no Yankee would pitch for another 12 years until Nick Swisher took the mound in Tampa.
Boggs is 55 now, but I wonder if he can still throw the knuckler at all. The Yankees need bullpen help, after all! Just kidding. Maybe.