I would like to be considered for a writing position on Pinstripe Alley.
Hopes were very high in 2006 for Yankee fans. The Bombers were coming off a season in which they had won the division and made the playoffs, only to have their season cut short by the Angels in the DCS. One area of strength this team had coming into opening day was the outfield as they had Hideki Matsui, Gary Sheffield, Johnny Damon, and Bernie Williams. While not a defensive minded outfield, they were expected to mash.
That outfield rotation lasted only until early May with Sheffield hitting the DL early in the month, and Matsui requiring surgery to repair his wrist. That left the Yankees with Melky Cabrera as an everyday outfielder to which he responded by hitting .280 in 130 games. The season went as well as expected for a team missing two of their big bats. At the time of the Matsui injury, the AL East race was close with the Red Sox sitting at 21-13 and the Yankees at 19-13.
Throughout the summer the Yanks grabbed the lead in the division, thanks in part to a trade for Bobby Abreu who hit .330 after coming to the Bronx. Going into what happened to be a 5 game series at Fenway the Yanks were clinging to a game and a half lead over the Red Sox, and the season seemed to be at a tipping point as New York was 5-6 in the 11 games leading up to the series.
Games 1 & 2 were a Day/Night Doubleheader which saw arguably the Yankees best pitcher Chien-Ming Wang start the first game. The game was tight for the first 6 frames, then the Yank’s bats came alive to the tune of 8 runs over the final 3 innings and a 12-4 victory. Game 2 was started by Sidney Ponson who promptly was shelled for 7 runs (6 earned) in 3 plus innings of work. The bats were working for the Evil Empire in the nightcap as well and they found themselves only down 10-7 going into the 7th inning despite poor pitching performances from the starters and bullpen. That 7th inning saw the Yankees bring 11 men to the plate, scoring 7, highlighted by Jeter’s bases-clearing double to right field. When all was said and done the Bombers came away with a 14-11 victory.
The next day saw a pair of aces take the mound as Josh Beckett and Randy Johnson were slated for starts. While neither pitcher had his good stuff that day they both ate innings as Beckett pitched into the 6th despite giving up 9 earned runs on only 7 base hits (he walked 9 batters!!!) Johnson had a little more success pitching 7 solid innings giving up 5 earned runs on only 4 base hits (he walked 6 batters). The Yanks tacked on 4 more late and came away with a 13-5 win.
With the series win wrapped up in the first 3 games, it would have been easy for the Bombers to relax a little considering they widened their lead in the East to 4 ½ games. The 4th game pitted Curt Schilling against Mike Mussina, and the former had the better day as Mussina was knocked out of the contest in the 4th after giving up 3 earned runs. Schilling also gave up 3 earned runs in 7 innings of work and was in line for the win after he turned the ball over to the bullpen in the 8th staking his team to a 5-3 lead. The Yankees fought back tacking on a run in the 8th on a Giambi sacrifice, then tied the game in the 9th off the Sox closer Papelbon on a Jeter single to score Melky. The 10th inning saw Giambi and Posada both hit round-trippers giving the team an 8-5 lead. Mo came in and closed the door for the 4th straight win against division rival Boston.
The final game of the set was the pitcher’s duel that many had expected in the previous games. Surprisingly Cory Lidle turned in arguably his best performance of the year, stifling the Boston bats and pitching 6 solid innings of shutout ball. David Wells was nearly as effective for the Sox pitching 7 1/3 allowing only 2 earned runs. The Red Sox got a run back in the 8th but it wasn’t enough as Kyle Farnsworth closed the door in the 9th for the save and the series-sweeping victory.
When the first pitch was thrown Friday afternoon the Yankees were ahead in the division race by 1.5 games, and by Monday night they had widened their gap to a 6.5 game lead. Effectively this series sealed the fates of both teams as Boston went on to finish the season winning 17 of their last 38 games while the Yanks, on the other hand, won 22 of their last 39 games. The teams did meet again in September with the Red Sox winning 3 out of 4 games but the division was all but wrapped up at that point and the season series ended up 11-8 in favor of the Yankees.
The Yankees went on to make the playoffs in 2006 only to be defeated by the Tigers in the first round, but my fondest memory of that season and perhaps my favorite moment in the rivalry with the Red Sox happened that August when the Evil Empire traveled to Boston and seemed to take the life out of not only a team but a city.
Of note: Matsui’s first game back from the wrist surgery he went notched 4 hits. I miss Godzilla.