On June 1, 2003, the Yankees were in Detroit playing the Tigers in the finale of a three-game series. Earlier in the series, the Yankees had taken over first place in the AL East and would end the season by playing in the World Series. Meanwhile, the Tigers were already 16.5 games back in the AL Central and would finish with a record of 43-119. But on this Sunday afternoon, they played a very close game, because baseball is weird.
Roger Clemens got the start for the Yankees on the verge of history. This was his second attempt at career win #300, having failed to get it on May 26 against the Red Sox. Things couldn't have gotten off to a better start for Clemens. After the teams traded runs in the second, the Yankees scored three in the third and then three in the fifth.
However, things then went downhill. In the bottom of the fifth, Clemens allowed five runs on five hits, letting the Tigers right back in the game. He gave up a home run to Gene Kingsale (well, Sir Gene Kingsale--he was a knight like Didi Gregorius), who didn't play in the major leagues again after the 2003 season. It wasn't all his fault though, as the Yankees' defense committed three errors in the inning. Despite all that, Clemens eventually got out of the inning with the Yankees in front 7-6.
The Yankees picked up an insurance run in the top of the sixth, and Clemens pitched a scoreless inning in the bottom half. After that, the bullpen took over to try and seal Clemens' historic win. Sterling Hitchcock was the man brought in to pitch the seventh. He allowed two singles either side of a foul out, and was immediately taken out. Antonio Osuna was brought in to clean up the mess and he did not do that. He gave up a single to Carlos Pena, which scored a run. He walked Eric Munson, and gave up another run on a Shane Halter sacrifice fly. The lead was gone, as was Clemens' 300th win.
The craziness was only just beginning, though. The game went into extra innings. In the tenth, the Yankees had a chance to take the lead. Jason Giambi drew a leadoff walk and was replaced for by a bad pinch-runner named Charles Gipson. That was followed by a wild pitch, a walk, and a bunt, putting two runners in scoring position with just one out. The Tigers then intentionally walked Raul Mondesi to get to Juan Rivera. Good decision. Rivera grounded into a double play. More on Juan Rivera in a bit.
That was the best chance either team had at scoring for quite a while. The Yankees deployed Mariano Rivera for two innings, and then used David Wells in relief. Wells made 31 appearances for the Yankees in 2003. He was the starting pitcher in 30. But on this day, he had to throw 5+ innings in relief. The game went 17 innings before home runs by Alfonso Soriano and Jorge Posada finally broke the deadlock in the 17th.
Wells came back out for the 17th and immediately allowed a single to Bobby Higginson. Wells then got two straight ground outs, before Munson doubled. That scored Higginson and put the tying run in scoring position. Joe Torre brought in Juan Acevedo to face Halter. Acevedo finally ended the game by inducing a Halter fly out. After 17 innings and over five hours of baseball, the Yankees won 10-9.
Some fun facts about this game:
Juan Rivera. I talked earlier about his double play in the 10th. That was not the only one he hit into on this day. He also grounded into a double play in the second, and then did it again in the 15th. His Win Percentage Added for the day was -0.820. According to the Play Index on Baseball-Reference, that is the worst game from a hitter in terms of WPA ever. So basically, never in the history of baseball has someone done more to hurt his team in one game than Rivera did in this one. What's even more amazing is that he actually walked once. He reached base and still hurt his team more than anyone else ever.
In the third inning, Posada tried stealing a base. That ended like you imagine it did.
The Yankees ended the 2003 season in the World Series, while the Tigers ended the 2003 season with a .265 winning percentage. Yet on this day, they were even. That's why baseball is the best.