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The history of win-or-go-home games between the Yankees and Red Sox

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Tomorrow’s game will be the latest in a lengthy history of high-stakes matchups between these two historic rivals.

New York Yankees vs Boston Red Sox - ALCS Game 7 - October 16, 2003 Photo by Allen Kee/WireImage

Tomorrow night, the Yankees and Red Sox will meet in the AL Wild Card Game for the first time in their historic rivalry. Although they are new to this particular do-or-die showdown, however, they nonetheless have matched up with everything on the line five times in their long history. As we spend the next 35 hours stressing out about the matchup between Gerrit Cole and Nathan Eovaldi, let’s take a trip down memory lane and relive the highs and lows that shape the relationship between these two teams.

October 10, 1904: A pre-rivalry double-header

The first epic matchup between the Yankees and Red Sox actually came between the Highlanders and Americans, as Boston would not adopt the Red Sox moniker until 1908 and the Highlanders would not be officially named the Yankees until 1913. Despite the name differences, their story rings familiar to modern fans of both teams.

Boston and New York spent the month of September jockeying for the American League pennant, and as fortune would have it, they ended the season with a five-game set that was split between New York and Boston because of a college football game that had booked the stadium. Although New York was in a good spot heading into the series, needing to take three of five. After winning the first game, however, thanks to a strong start by staff ace Jack Chesbro, the Highlanders blew both games of a doubleheader on Saturday, losing one game because of a half-decent pitcher by the name of Cy Young. The team would need to sweep Sunday’s doubleheader in order to win the pennant.

In the first game of the doubleheader, Chesbro threw six shutout innings, but a pair of errors plated two runners to tie the game at two; in the ninth, with a runner on third, two outs, and two strikes to the batter, Chesbro sailed one over the catcher’s head, and the Highlanders lost, 3-2. New York’s World Series hopes were dashed, though it didn’t matter in the end; the New York Giants refused to play in the Fall Classic, deeming the AL a minor league.

For the complete story of this game, check out this post by Matt Ferenchick from 2019.

October 2, 1949: Down to the final day

In 1949, the Yankees and Red Sox ended the season against each other with a two-game set at Yankee Stadium. Boston was a game ahead and needed just one victory to secure the pennant. Although the Red Sox jumped out to an early 4-0 lead in the first game, the Yankees rallied and won, with Johnny Lindell hitting a crucial eighth-inning home run to give New York their first lead of the day.

First-year manager Casey Stengel turned to staff ace Vic Raschi for the final game, and he threw up zeroes across eight innings, allowing just two hits. He was nearly matched by Boston starter Ellis Kinder, who only gave up one run through seven on a grounder by Tommy Henrich that scored Phil Rizzuto. Looking for a big hit, Boston pinch-hit for Kinder in the eighth, bringing in their own staff ace, Mel Parnell, in relief. However, he had started the day before and had absolutely nothing in the tank; the Yankees combined to score four runs off him and Tex Hughson.

Boston would rally off Raschi and score three runs in the top of the ninth, but it was too little, too late. The Yankees won, 5-3, and punched their ticket to the World Series.

For a complete story of this game, check out this post by Andrew Mearns from 2012.

October 2, 1978: The AL East Playoff

Every Yankees fan knows the story, and every Red Sox fan dreads to hear it. On July 19th, the fourth-place Yankees stood 14 games back in the AL East, as the Red Sox had sprinted out to a 62-28 record and held a comfortable nine-game lead in the division. Despite looking dead in the water, the Bombers made up all that ground, going 52-21 over the last 73 games (Boston went 38-35 over that same span), including a four-game sweep over the Red Sox in Fenway known as the Boston Massacre. As such, the two teams finished with identical 99-63 records; a tiebreaker game was needed.

1978 Cy Young Award winner Ron Guidry got the start for the Yankees, making his third straight outing on three days’ rest. The Red Sox jumped out to an early lead, courtesy of a solo shot off the bat of Carl Yastrzemski, and then tacked on an insurance run in the sixth thanks to an RBI single by 1978 MVP Jim Rice.

For his part, Boston starter Mike Torrez — also on short rest — had stifled the Yankees offense all day long, allowing just two hits over the first six innings. In the seventh, however, everything changed. Chris Chambliss and Roy White led off the inning with back-to-back singles. After Torrez got pinch-hitter Jim Spencer to fly out, up came the No. 9 hitter Bucky Dent. It looked like the Red Sox would escape unscathed.

“The last guy on the ballclub you’d expect to hit a home run” gave the Yankees a 3-2 lead, and they would never look back. Thurman Munson and Reggie Jackson added tack-on runs, Lou Piniella saved the day with timely defense, and Goose Gossage got Yastrzemski to pop up to end it. Dent thus earned himself a middle name in the city of Boston.

October 16, 2003: An epic showdown ends in a walk-off bomb

Just last season, amidst the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, the entire SBN network ran a series on the best teams to not win the championship. Here, we selected the 2003 Yankees, who famously lost the World Series to the Florida Marlins, and while the overall dominance of that ballclub contributed to that decision, the final game of the epic 2003 ALCS — the first time the Yankees and the Red Sox faced each other in the postseason — certainly served as the icing on the cake.

The Yankees and Red Sox split the first six games of the series, setting up a showdown between Roger Clemens and Pedro Martínez at Yankee Stadium for all the marbles. Martínez shut down the Yankees’ bats for seven innings, with the Yanks only scoring thanks to two solo shots by Jason Giambi. Meanwhile, Clemens absolutely fell apart, necessitating Mike Mussina to come on in relief for the first and only time of his career, stemming the bleeding and keeping the Yankees in the ballgame. David Wells, however, then allowed solo shot to David Ortiz to give Boston a 5-2 lead.

Inexplicably, Red Sox manager Grady Little kept a tiring Martínez on the mound in the eighth inning to face Hideki Matsui after allowing three straight hits, despite having LOOGY Alan Embree warmed up in the bullpen. Matsui and Jorge Posada proceeded to knock back-to-back doubles, tying the game and sending it into extras.

Mariano Rivera pitched three scoreless innings for the Yankees — the best performance of his career, in my opinion. The Red Sox countered in extra innings with starting pitcher Tim Wakefield, who pitched a scoreless tenth inning but then threw only one pitch to leadoff hitter Aaron Boone, who hadn’t even started the game and only entered as a pinch-runner for Rubén Sierra in the eighth.

One pitch, however, was all that Aaron Boone would need to etch his name into the history books, earning him a middle name in the city of Boston forever.

October 20, 2004: Let’s just forget this one ever happened

Look, I don’t want to think about this one either, so we’re going to go through this one pretty quickly. The Yankees took a 3-0 lead in the ALCS, a New York Giants fan made a deal with the devil to guarantee two Super Bowl wins over the New England Patriots, and the Yankees proceeded to suffer for it.

Okay, that’s not how it happened — but it sure seemed that way. After the Yankees dominated the first three games, including a 19-8 beatdown of the Red Sox in Fenway in Game 3, the Yankees lost back-to-back extra-inning games at Fenway and the infamous “Bloody Sock” game in the Bronx.

On that day — one which will live in infamy in the Bronx — the beleaguered Kevin Brown got the start and proceeded to surrender 5 runs in 1.1 innings, including a first-inning home run off the bat of David Ortiz. Javier Vázquez relieved him, allowing three runs in two innings of work. In the meantime, David Lowe, starting on just two days’ rest, allowed only one run in six innings of work.

The Yankees would score two runs off Martínez in the seventh, but it didn’t matter. The Red Sox ended the series with a blowout, 10-3 victory, leaving a bad taste in ours months that hopefully will be cleaned out, at least to a degree, tomorrow night.