The past two times that I have done annotated box scores, they focused on a couple of the most ridiculous games in recent memory, both of which were mostly meaningless to the franchise in the grand scheme of things. Since today is the anniversary of Game 7 of the 2003 American League Championship Series though, I thought that it would be fun to remember a truly phenomenal showdown of two great teams.
One could make the case that while this wasn't the World Series, it was the most thrilling Yankees game of all-time simply due to the comebacks and highly competitive nature. It had it all: Hall of Famers like Mariano Rivera and Pedro Martinez, big home runs, stunning moments, and even David Wells f-bombs. (Maybe the last one wasn't that unusual, but that's OK.)
I've written about this game before and Aaron Boone's later career as Yankees skipper does cast at least a bit of a pall over the memories, but to me, there will never be enough words written about it. It was undeniably amazing.
Even after the Yankees' shocking three-run rally in the bottom of the eighth, the Red Sox had a chance to salvage Game 7 and put the Yankees three outs from elimination again. In fact, they had two chances. They blew them both. This was noted in my previous article on this game:
In the ninth, they actually put pinch-runner Damian Jackson in scoring position with two outs against Mariano Rivera. Ortiz also doubled with two outs in the tenth, putting another runner in scoring position in pinch-runner Gabe Kapler. Both times though, Mo was unperturbed, forcing [Todd] Walker to line out to second with Jackson on in the ninth and [Kevin] Millar to pop out with Kapler on in the tenth.
These two dominant teams played mostly flawless baseball with their seasons on the line. That is no easy feat, and a big reason why was the fact that both rosters were stacked with extremely talented players. Well... except for one man: Enrique Wilson.
A 30-year-old infielder, Wilson was a bench player thrust into the Yankees' most important game of the season for one reason only. For whatever reason, he owned Pedro Martinez. Wilson credited his success to his shared roots with Pedro in the Dominican Republic and his apparent confidence that Martinez would never drill him. Chances are that it was probably just small sample size weirdness.
In reality, Wilson was one of the worst players to ever put on pinstripes, with an atrocious triple slash of .216/.261/.332 (54 wRC+) that would make even Jayson Nix blush. Hell, he was not even a very good defensive player. Yet with Trade Deadline acquisition Aaron Boone mired in an awful slump, Joe Torre gave Wilson the nod at third base with Pedro on the mound.
Wilson got his first chance in the field with the Red Sox already up 2-0 in the second and Jason Varitek on second base. With two outs, Johnny Damon hit a grounder to Wilson. It should have been an easy play. He threw it away, and Boston's third run of the inning scored. Without Wilson's crappy defense, maybe Boone's homer isn't even needed.
But you do you, Enrique.
If you can believe it, David Ortiz was not very good in the 2003 playoffs, bearing a .191/.283/.362 triple slash that year. This fact seems almost unbelievable given his long history of playoff wreckage. However, a 2-for-21 skid during Boston's five-game ALDS victory over the Athletics had his numbers down. From that Division Series until the end of his career, Ortiz posted a .307/.432/.595 batting line with 17 bombs in 71 playoff games. That sounds about right.
Seriously, this 2003 Red Sox lineup was ridiculous. They scored 961 runs, batted .289/.360/.491 as a team, and slugged 238 dingers. Varitek is a classic "Hall of Very Good" player who justifiably made Boston's team Hall of Fame in 2016, and he had an All-Star season in 2003, hitting .273/.351/.512 with 25 homers and a 120 OPS+, good for 3.0 WAR. He hit ninth on this day. Gracious.
Trot Nixon delivered the game's first big blow, a two-run homer off Roger Clemens in the second inning. He was a solid player who always seemed to give the Yankees a nightmare, particularly Clemens. For whatever reason, this outfielder just dominated one of the best pitchers of all-time, batting .400/.500/.950 with five homers against him in 38 plate appearances. In another famous Clemens/Pedro matchup in 2000 on Sunday Night Baseball, Nixon broke up a scoreless tie in the ninth with a bomb that eventually gave the Red Sox in the win. Baseball's a weird game.
The Yankees battled back to make it a 4-2 game entering the eighth, and after Jeff Nelson retired Manny Ramirez they put veteran southpaw David Wells in the game to try to keep the Red Sox at bay with the lefty Ortiz due up next. Ortiz greeted Boomer with a long home run to right field to make it a three-run game. Wells was... not happy, to say the least.
"With RISP: 0 for 9."
Grady Little: "It's not what you want."
Despite his 0-for-5, Alfonso Soriano could have been a hero had it not been for the pitcher's mound. After the Yankees' three-run rally, Pedro was gone, Mike Timlin was in the game, and the Yankees had the bases loaded with two outs. Soriano hit a smash up the middle, but fate intervened:
On a 1-1 pitch, Soriano hit one hard that caromed off the back of the pitcher's mound and took a weird hop. Since the pitcher's mound is an oddly curved part of the field, caroms off the mound often go in a completely unpredictable direction, leading to base hits from the confusion. This time though, the carom went right to the second baseman Walker, who made a nice play to snare the ball over his head and touch second base for the forceout. Soriano also could have been the hero of Game 7 of the 2001 World Series. I don't know what Soriano did* to make the Game 7 gods upset, but man. That's rough.
*Maybe it was swinging over approximately 750,000 sliders dipping outside the strike zone. Still love ya, Sori.
Aaron Boone did not start this game. Aaron Boone was the hero.
Jim Leyritz did not start Game 4 of the 1996 World Series. Jim Leyritz was the hero.
Raul Ibanez did not start Game 3 of the 2012 ALDS. Raul Ibanez was the hero.
Kirk Gibson did not start Game 1 of the 1988 World Series. Kirk Gibson was the hero.
Never underestimate the power of the bench in the playoffs.
Also, what made Boone's homer especially cool was that his brother, All-Star Mariners second baseman Bret Boone, was in the FOX booth serving as a guest broadcaster. The cameras caught the elder Boone shortly after his younger brother's homer, and it was quite evident just how proud he was of Aaron. It was an awesome, beautiful moment of television.
Uh... way to bring the room mood down, Joe Buck.
Hideki Matsui's double off a tiring Pedro was one of the most important hits of the Yankees' eighth inning rally. It also foreshadowed some future postseason dominance of Pedro Martinez six years later.
Go go Godzilla.
Never forget Jason Giambi's two solo homers off Pedro! For seven innings, that was the Yankees offense. Demoted to seventh in the lineup due to a playoff slump much like Boone and Soriano's, Giambi responded to the challenge with a huge game. There is no Aaron Boone Moment or eighth-inning rally without Giambi's earlier run support. Never underestimate the Giambino, or his golden thong.
L is for Pedro. Because he lost, even if the decision wasn't technically on him.
Pour one out for Tim Wakefield.
The dude was seemingly destined to be the Red Sox ALCS MVP had they held onto the lead, or if they had managed to score late in Game 7. His knuckleball stymied the Yankees in both of his ALCS starts, winning both with a 2.08 ERA in the series prior to Game 7. Alas, with one bad knuckleball, he ended Boston's season and sobbed in the locker room about it. Although I fully respect his remarkable abilities as a pitcher, I didn't feel sympathy for Pedro losing. I definitely did for Wakefield, who we tragically lost due to cancer in fall 2023.
Yankee pitcher roll call!
Remember when 2003 was supposed to be the Rocket's last season? The FOX booth kept talking about how this could be the final start of his career. If it was, it would have been an ugly one. Well all that hubbub throughout the entire 2003 season turned out to be for naught since Clemens changed his mind, pitched four more seasons, collected his seventh Cy Young Award, and even guided the Houston Astros to the 2005 National League pennant as their ace.
So Joe Buck going on about Clemens's "potential last start" is pretty hilarious in retrospect. Is hilarious the right word? Annoying might be better. Whatever, Rocket.
<3 Moooooooooooooooooose <3
Congrats on somehow making this pitching staff, you random LOOGY!
Nelson's most prominent 2003 ALCS role unfortunately figured into the post-series crime report. Awkward. Game 3 of this series probably deserves its own annotated box score.
Sorry for the repeat. It's too good.
Hall of Famer, ALCS MVP, all-time saves leader, and the greatest closer there ever was or ever will be. Mo the best.
Editor’s note: The original version of this story ran in 2015.