Watching the Yankees and Red Sox Rivalry over the years has been very intense for me. I grew up watching the Yankees from the mid-90's, and I started off a very spoiled fan. I've witnessed many great teams and championships, but in 2003 I was truly introduced to the rivalry with Boston.
From 1995 through 1998 it was Baltimore, Seattle and Cleveland who were more formidable. With players like Griffey, Lofton, Alomar and Ramirez, I hadn't yet seen the Red Sox as a true threat to the great Yankee teams of my youth-Until they got Pedro Martinez.
Game Seven of the 2003 ALCS is hard to bring up for many Yankees fans. Not because of reasons you may think, but because of the comeback always laid upon them in 2004. It doesn't help that the Yankees went on to lose the World Series to the Marlins, but the next years embarrassment trumps a lot of the magic and ended "the Curse of the Bambino."
In 2003 losing was not even a thought heading into the playoffs for the Yankees. Yes the Red Sox were a serious threat, but until they could get over the curse they had no chance. I had high confidence heading into the series. Not only was I a spoiled Yankees fan who grew up on winning, I knew very well the curse. I heard stories of Dent and Buckner. The Red Sox as tough as they were stood no chance.
Then the series happened, and it was the most intense baseball ever played as far as I knew. Game one went to the Red Sox and knuckleballer Tim Wakefield. Then games two and three went to two Texans in pinstripes, Clemens and Pettitte, who would leave for Houston the next year. After another Wakefield win, Wells pitched well in game five for a huge 3-2 lead in the series.
In Game Six the Yankees were 9 outs away from clinching. Then Jose Contreras and other Yankees relievers entered ruining another win for Pettitte and setting the stage for a Game Seven. Would the curse be broken?
On October 14, 2003 baseball's other lovable losers, the Chicago Cubs, endured one of the most unforgettable collapses in game six of the NLCS versus the then Florida Marlins. What has become known as simply the "Steve Bartman Game," was an unforgettable game which added to the anxiety of a Yankees Red Sox game seven.
Two of baseball's greats Pedro Martinez and Roger Clemens faced off in the Bronx for a chance at World Series glory. An expected pitcher's duel left to sort out a pound for pound, punch for punch brawl of a series. After four innings I along with many other Yankees fans were disappointed, and flat out frightened that the Red Sox could win. Deep down though many were also thinking how the Red Sox were going to lose.
Mike Mussina never won a World Series, but will always be respected as one of the best pitchers of his era. Game seven of the 2003 ALCS has a lot to do with the respect he's earned. For the first time in his career he entered in relief for Roger Clemens in the fouth inning. With runners on first and third he got out of the inning with a strikeout and double play, allowing zero runs. It kept the Yankees alive and in the game they had no business being in.
Jason Giambi provided the only offense for the Bombers through the first seven innings, adding two solo homeruns. After the Red Sox scored in the top of the eighth, the Yankees trailed 5-2 heading into the bottom half of the inning. With Pedro still feeling strong, Yankee fans hearts were beginning to sink in the pit of their stomach, as reality of a Red Sox win were only a few outs away.
Nick Johnson led off the inning with a pop out to the shortstop. Derek Jeter followed with an opposite field double that was somewhat misplayed by Trot Nixon. After a Bernie Williams single to score Jeter, Grady Little came trudging out to the mound to talk to Pedro. Convincing his manager to stay in the game, Pedro Martinez than allowed a ground rule double to Hideki Matsui, which put the tying runs on second and third. Still Grady Little fails to bring relief to his ace. Jorge Posada brought in the tying run with another double, unceremoniously ending Pedro's night. It was a rally of all Yankees rallies, against the ace of Boston.
That inning I was restored my faith in the Yankees. Spoiled with winning, but knowing of heartache, I remembered to never give up on the boys in pinstripes. Having Mariano Rivera to keep the game tied was an added relief. The next thing I had to look forward to was a walkoff Yankee win.
After being disappointed in the bottom of the ninth and tenth, I was beginning to fret. I knew arms were few and empty after Rivera and was worried who they would bring on in the twelfth. Before I had much time to think Aaron Boone stepped up to face Wakefield in the bottom of the eleventh.
It only took one pitch, and that pitch soared into the left field seats and into baseball immortality. Aaron Boone is now the manager of the Yankees, but at the time he was a body at third base adding depth, fielding and a light bat. From that moment on though, he will be part of one of the greatest wins in Yankees history. For that we forget 2004, or his role in the Arod trade. We remember the magical Game seven that shaped my view of the Yankees and Red Sox rivalry, and remember the ghosts that Jeter promised him would show up during that game. From there we hope they remain and feel welcome to appear when they please and continue to make being part of the Yankees special.