During the summer of 2004, I was eight years old. Summer vacation meant only one thing: no more homework to distract from Yankees baseball. I liked to keep score not only when I was at the game, but sometimes from my own living room, too.
That summer I kept score in a battered scorebook intended for Little League coaches. I documented the game as the Yankees fell to the Mets on June 26th before sweeping them in a doubleheader on the 27th. And on July 1, as Brad Halsey was slated to start for the first-place Bronx Bombers against Pedro Martinez and the evil Boston Red Sox, I sat down with my family on the couch, scorebook in hand, ready for the game.
Little did I know that it would arguably be the greatest regular season game I’d ever see.
The Yankees opened the month of July in a good place. Having just taken the first two games of a three-game set against Boston, they held a 7.5 game lead in the division, boasting a record of 49-26. That day’s start, however, did not look promising. Joe Torre sent out Brad Halsey, whose entire career consisted of 286 innings over three seasons. He was tasked with facing a fearsome Boston lineup that was missing Nomar Garciaparra but featured prime Manny Ramirez and David Ortiz. Meanwhile, the Yankees had to contend with future Hall of Famer Pedro Martinez.
The Bombers got off to an early lead, as Tony Clark, replacing the battered and struggling Jason Giambi, launched a two-run home run into the right field bleachers in the bottom of the second. Catcher Jorge Posada followed up in the bottom of the fifth with a home run of his own to give the Yankees a 3-0 lead.
On the other side of the diamond, in what was sure to be the story of the day, Halsey largely held the Sox lineup in check over 5.1 innings. His sole mistake was a 1-1 pitch that Manny Ramirez sent over the center field fence to cut the Yankees’ lead to one. While Paul Quantrill would finish the sixth unscathed, Boston rallied in the top of the seventh, tying the game at 3-3 on a 6-6-3 double play.
And there the score would stay, as Felix Heredia, Tom Gordon, and Mariano Rivera combined for 4.1 scoreless innings, while Keith Foulke, Mike Timlin, and Alan Embree threw up 4 frames of zeroes for Boston. Although both offenses put runners on base throughout the game, clutch pitching performances and defensive wizardry kept any runners from crossing the plate until the top of the 13th, when Manny Ramirez led off the inning with a solo home run off Tanyon Sturtze.
In the bottom of the inning, down to their last out, the Yankees rallied against Curt Leskanic. Ruben Sierra, having reached base on a single, scored to tie the game back up on a Miguel Cairo double that went past Kevin Millar in right field. Then John Flaherty, the backup catcher and last man on the bench, pinch hit for Sturtze and drilled a 3-1 pitch to left field, on a walk-off ground-rule single.
At face value, the above is a perfectly adequate summary of the game, as it tells you who scored, when it happened, and how the Yankees came around to finally win the game in the bottom of the 13th. For those of us who watched the game, this only tells a fraction of the story. To dig deeper, we’re going to rewind to the fifth.
With two outs in the bottom of the fifth and the Yankees up by three, Kenny Lofton popped up into foul territory. Covering an immense amount of ground, Red Sox backup shortstop Pokey Reese — starting in place of Garciaparra — made an over-the-shoulder basket catch before tumbling head-first into the stands to end the inning.
In most cases, this play would be on the ESPN Top 10, somewhere towards the top, and one of the biggest web gems of the week. In this game, it was only par for the course. Six innings later, in the top of the 11th, Boston threatened to blow the game open against Rivera, as they had the bases loaded with nobody out.
Kevin Millar laced a ball down the third base line, but Alex Rodriguez, in his first season manning the hot corner, made a half-dive towards third, touching the bag to get Manny Ramirez out before firing it home to nab Gabe Kapler for the double-play. As Posada then threw the ball back down towards third and A-Rod tagged out Ramirez, everybody in the stadium, including the players and announcers, immediately thought the Yankees had turned a triple play. That was a mistake, as they soon realized, but the play fired up the Yankee Stadium crowd and saved the Yankees from disaster in the top of the 11th.
An inning later, the defense did it once again. With runners on second and third and two out against Sturtze, Trot Nixon popped up down the left field line. Covering an immense amount of territory, Derek Jeter snagged the ball out of the air on the run and, unable to stop himself in time, dove into the stands, busting up his face in the process.
The game remained tied, all thanks to the defensive capabilities and all-out effort of the Captain.
In the bottom of the inning, Jeter was removed from the game to treat his injuries. Giambi — who had been battling chronic fatigue due to parasites and, although it had not yet been discovered, a benign tumor — pinch hit for the shortstop, striking out. The team failed to score, and thus had to shuffle the defense around to field a team. Bernie Williams, who had been the DH that day, moved into center, while Bubba Crosby shifted to left and Ruben Sierra went into right. Gary Sheffield grabbed an infielder’s glove for the first time since 1993, and Rodriguez played shortstop for the first time in pinstripes and one of only five times in a Yankee uniform.
That, more than anything, is what defines this game for me. Time and time again over the years, we have seen players make great defensive plays to save games. We have seen guys play out of position to cover injuries, and we have seen teams empty their bench over the course of a lengthy extra-inning affair. Rarely do we see all three done in one game, however, and rarely do we see it done by both teams.
Both teams tapped into the best arms of their bullpen — and when those arms ran out, the second-tier came up big. Both teams made bold managerial moves that came up big — the Yankees giving up the DH instead of putting Flaherty or Giambi in the field, the Red Sox employing a five-man infield in the twelfth inning. Every position player on both teams was used except for backup catcher Doug Mirabelli and the injury-prone Garciaparra — who would be traded by the Red Sox before the end of the month.
Both teams played like the calendar read October 1, not July 1. Even at just eight years old, I knew that I was watching a unique game, one unlike any I would probably ever see in my lifetime. It is the essence of what makes baseball so great — which is why, fifteen years later, I went and found the scorecard that I produced back then.
There’s a lot I can judge about my second-grade scoring abilities. I did not employ position numbers and so could not record where plays were made, just that they were, I misspelled Jorge Posada, and I completely neglected to score Boston’s at-bats. Even with these errors, there’s a magical story here. The game played on as a young kid tried to figure out how to score the 12th and 13th innings in a book that only goes through the 11th. It’s more than just the story of one game, though. It’s the story of one kid, coming to truly understand and love the game of baseball.
It is the story of what makes baseball...well, baseball.