(Submitted for consideration for a writing position)
When it comes to the Yankees-Red Sox rivalry, there is certainly no shortage of indelible moments for fans to reminisce about. My favorite moment is, however, a largely forgotten game from September 18, 1993. Although the game involved a miraculous two-out, ninth inning rally, it is hardly ever included among the list of great rivalry games, which is because it occurred just prior to the great Yankee run of the mid-to-late 1990s. Despite being unfairly overshadowed, I will always remember this game as being a significant turning point for the franchise.
Heading into the 1993 season, the Yankees were in the midst of arguably the lowest point in team history. While unfathomable to the modern fan, the Yankees had not made the playoffs in eleven years and were coming off four consecutive losing – and particularly uninspiring – seasons. How uninspiring? During the preceding four seasons (1989-1992), the team had a combined record of 288-369; never finished higher than fifth place; and never finished better than 14.5 games out of first place.
To put things in historical context, the 1990 team had the most losses in a season since 1912, which is when the team was still called the Highlanders. Needless to say, it had been quite awhile since Yankee fans had watched meaningful baseball games in July, let alone in September.
Nonetheless, the 1993 season started with cautious optimism. It was Buck Showalter’s second season as manager, and the Yankees had made a number of offseason moves to bolster the roster. Some of the moves were high profile (signing Wade Boggs away from the Red Sox and trading for the young star Jim Abbott); some were under the radar (signing Jimmy Key and Spike Owens); and one would eventually be viewed as franchise altering (trading Roberto Kelly for Paul O’Neill, which also opened up an everyday spot in centerfield for Bernie Williams).
Buoyed by significant contributions from the team’s veterans (Don Mattingly and Danny Tartabull) and career years from a couple of thirty-year-olds who were being given an everyday opportunity (Mike Stanley and Dion James), the Yankees found themselves in a playoff race for the first time since 1985. In fact, with a win on September 5th, the Yankees pulled into a first-place tie with the reigning World Series champions, the Toronto Blue Jays.
First place, however, was short lived as the Yankees hit a cold stretch and found themselves three games behind just as the Red Sox were coming to the Bronx for the teams’ final series of the season. On Saturday, September 18, 1993, the Yankees desperately needed a win just to keep pace with the red-hot Blue Jays, who had rattled off six wins in a row. The oft-overlooked Jimmy Key was his typical stellar self, pitching six innings of three-run ball with ten strikeouts.
Unfortunately, the Yankees offense was stymied by Nate Minchey, a twenty-four-year-old rookie right-hander who was making just his second career start, and the Yankees trailed 3-1 entering the ninth inning. After veteran reliever Greg Harris quickly induced two ground ball outs from Matt Nokes and Williams, the crowd was silenced as any hope for a comeback victory appeared to be dashed. After Mike Gallego was hit by a pitch, pinch-hitter Mike Stanley reached for an 0-1 curveball, resulting in a lazy pop-up to Red Sox left fielder Mike Greenwell, which appeared to unceremoniously end the game.
Unbeknownst to the fans watching on television, and most fans at the Stadium, Stanley’s flyout had not actually counted. Just prior to the pitch, a teenage fan ran onto the field directly in front of third base umpire Tim Welke, who had immediately called timeout. Thus, the fly out was erased from scorecards and the Yankees effectively received a do-over.
After play resumed, and getting a second chance at Harris’s curveball, Stanley kept his hands back this time and hit a line drive single through the left side. Boggs followed with a well-placed infield single to second, scoring Gallego. At this point, both the crowd and the players sensed something unbelievable was happening. After James walked, Don Mattingly found himself at the plate with the tying run on third base and the winning run on second base. With the screaming crowd behind him, Mattingly laced a 1-1 pitch to right field to plate both runs, capping one of the unlikeliest – and luckiest – comebacks in recent memory.
While this moment in the Yankee-Red Sox rivalry is often lost among the more high-profile playoff games, given the circumstances and timing, the significance of this game cannot be understated. The Yankee franchise and its fanbase had suffered through a very bleak stretch, but this improbable 4-3 comeback victory against the team’s oldest rival provided the fanbase with a glimmer of hope not just for the remainder of the 1993 season but for future seasons. This win felt like it had a place in Yankee lore and was perhaps the first step towards restoring that feeling of invincibility which used to be synonymous with the Yankee franchise.
Although the Yankees ultimately finished second in the American League East, this moment in the Red Sox-Yankee rivalry appears to have foretold the team’s success throughout the remainder of the decade.