Pitchers and catchers will be reporting relatively soon, but it still seems so far away. And with all the major free agents, apart from James Shields, signed for the most part, we are in the bleak mid-winter of the baseball off-season. So to pass the time, I asked the PSA staff to dig out some happy memories for this week's Pinstripe Q&A.
Q: January 23th is National Pie Day. In honor of the Yankees' old walk-off tradition, what was your favorite Yankees' walk-off win?
I mean, the obvious answer is definitely the '03 ALCS Aaron Boone dinger that sent the Yankees to the World Series and crushed the hopes and dreams of Red Sox fans everywhere. That's pretty hard to top. However, I do love me some Brett Gardner walk-off dingers as well.
In retrospect though, the Game 1 ALCS walk-off that Bernie Williams hit will always hold a special place in my heart. Favorite Yankee growing up, and I was just so excited that the Yankees were finally here and they were doing it.
This last season? Derek Jeter, obvs. All-time? Luis. Castillo.
The best Yankees walk-off win of all time is without a doubt Aaron Boone. I know it, you know it, and we all know it. Every walk-off win is fun, but that one was far and away the best.
There are a lot of contenders, but really only one right answer to this question, and it's the night that Aaron went Ka-Boone. I'm guessing I'm not the only one going in this direction, so I'll share my personal experience from 2003 ALCS Game 7.
I was sitting in the very last row of the right field bleachers, which was the only area of the old stadium that wasn't infested with Boston fans. It was the most electric and also strangest crowd I've ever been a part of. We were all psyched for the most important Yankees-Red Sox showdown since '78, but this was a day after the Staten Island ferry crash that killed 11 people, and no one was completely sure yet that it wasn't another terrorism thing, so there was also a sort of muted tone. The night was highlighted by a lot of nail-biting, screaming in the faces of and hugging total strangers, standing and stomping on benches that probably shouldn't have been holding that much weight and a crowd-surfing blow-up doll in an authentic Pedro Martinez jersey that kept making the rounds and re-appearing after being confiscated by the cops. The craziest moment was actually when Posada tied it in the eighth. From that point on, it felt like a question of when, not if the Yankees would win.
I've been at a lot of these classic Yankee games over the past 20 years - the Jeffrey Maier/Bernie goes boom game, the Mr. November game, Tex's '09 walk-off, Jeter's farewell walk-off last year - but I doubt anything will ever top 10/16/03.
In the past year, I really enjoyed the Carlos Beltran walk-off dinger because I was there and the stadium went from "Well, we're totally losing to the Orioles" to "Uhhh okay, I guess we won! Yeah!" in a matter of moments. Similarly, the Chris Young walk-off homer against the Rays was hilarious from an utter shock perspective.
All-time, the easy answers are Aaron Boone, Chris Chambliss, and Derek Jeter's playoff walk-offs. Just to mix it up a bit though, I'll say my personal favorite walk-off has to be Raul Ibanez crushing hearts in Baltimore in 2012. (Sorry to my Oriole fan friends.) That was just so ludicrous. How did that even happen again? He doesn't start but pinch-hits for A-Rod of all people and hits the game-tying homer in the ninth, then crushes his first homer against a lefty all year long in extra innings with a very tough LOOGY in Brian Matusz on the mound? Surreal, yet amazing.
I totally didn't get teary thinking about Jeter's walk-off finale. Or about 2001. Or Raul Ibanez in 2012. Or Bernie Williams in 1996 to win the Jeff Maier Game.
Let's go with a Bernie Williams homer though, since he's by far the most underrated Yankees of my lifetime, and the forgotten member of the Fab Five.
In 1999, the Yankees were defending World Series champs, but the team clearly wasn't the dominant machine it had been in '98. The Red Sox were a team on the rise. There were so many parallels: both teams sported 27-year-old switch hitting catchers, both teams had an All-Star shortstop, both teams had a defense-first third baseman, both teams got good but not great production from first base and right field, both teams had closers who boasted really only one pitch (a knuckleball on one side, a cutter on the other).
But the teams were different on the pitcher's mound and in center field. Of course, Bernie had nearly signed with the Red Sox the previous offseason, with the Yankees ready to sign Albert Belle to slug and play left field. Thankfully, they let the Orioles make the Belle mistake and kept their center fielder. The Red Sox didn't have much of a backup plan, but they made it to the ALCS despite a .240/.311/.309(!) contribution from Darren Lewis.
While the Yankees' rotation was deep, the Red Sox had future Hall of Famer Pedro Martinez at the height of his power. This is before "Who's your daddy," when he was just Pedro freakin' Martinez best pitcher on the planet. If the Red Sox could win Pedro's starts in Game 3 and a potential Game 7, they had a good chance to bounce the Yankees from the playoffs.
So when the Yankees tied the score off Derek Lowe in the bottom of the seventh, it gave the game as much of a "must win" feel of any playoff game I've ever seen. Lowe settled down though, and the eighth and ninth innings came and went. On the Yankee side, Joe Torre managed the game right: El Duque pitched eight innings, and then Torre went straight to Mariano Rivera for the top of the ninth and the top of the tenth. The Red Sox brought in Rod Beck (no relation) to pitch the bottom of the tenth, and Bernie Williams was having none of that.
Just for sheer dumbness, I'm gonna give a tip of the cap to the Yankees beating the Reds this year on a Brian McCann infield bloop single.
Yes, the Luis Castillo one was funnier in retrospect, but this one was forgotten-ly funny.
But, yeah, the Aaron Boone was has to win. Here's my personal story on that one. I was watching that game with my mom. I was up later than any 12-year old with school the next day probably should, but it was Yankees-Red Sox, it was fine. After coming back from commercial, FOX showed Boone warming up at third as every broadcast crew does when a change in the field is made. When he popped up on screen, I said to my mom: "I have a weird feeling he's gonna get the winning hit." (My mom will vouch for the validity of this story.) Unlike many others I've made, that prediction worked out pretty well.
Those are our answers and now it's your turn. What's your favorite walk-off win and why? Maybe you correctly predicted one too?