Walk-offs in the postseason are something special, but walk-offs against the Boston Red Sox have a completely different dynamic. On a late October night in 1999, Bernie Williams provided the latter moment to put the Yanks up 1-0 in that year’s ALCS.
Final Score: Yankees 4, Red Sox 3
Game MVP: Orlando Hernández
Looking back at it now, that 1999 ALCS is the one with the least drama out of the three that the Yanks played with the Red Sox from then to 2004, but despite the 4-1 win, this matchup could have gone very differently. After all, the first two games in Yankee Stadium were decided by a single run, with New York trailing late in both of them.
To provide some background into that specific Game 1, the Red Sox were coming off a very emotionally-draining duel with Cleveland, having returned from a 2-0 deficit to win the final three games and advance on the injured back of Pedro Martinez’s six scoreless innings in relief in Game 5, which helped Boston win that game 12-8.
The Yankees, on the other hand, had unceremoniously swept off the Texas Rangers with a couple of shutout wins, winning that series by a combined score of 14-1. Orlando “El Duque” Hernández, who had overcome six walks to toss eight scoreless in Game 1 of the ALDS, was in line to pitch Game 1 against the Red Sox with extra rest.
Boston’s pitching staff wasn’t nearly as neatly lined up, and it was Kent Mercker taking the ball for them in Game 1. The veteran southpaw had come over via trade in late August, and made only five starts for the team, six if you count his poor Game 4 showing in which he didn’t last two full innings. The good news for Boston pitchers in that game was that basically nothing was required. The offense put up 23 runs, making the 7 runs they allowed somehow look manageable.
The Red Sox wasted no time jumping on El Duque early, as Jose Offerman led off with a single to center-field, and was followed by a fielder’s choice errant throw by Derek Jeter on John Valentin’s grounder in the hole. That drove Offerman in, and carried Valentin to third. It was a tough play for Jeter, but a throw on the spot probably gets Offerman at second. Instead, in the blink of an eye, the BoSox were up 2-0 as Brian Daubach singled to the right and drove in Offerman.
In the second inning, Boston added to the lead with Offerman driving in Darren Lewis on another grounder to Jeter, which ended up as an infield hit. However, El Duque bore down and escaped a first and second with no outs jam by getting the heart of the lineup in order.
Considering the Red Sox were coming in hot after such a thrilling series victory while the Yanks hadn’t played in four days, it’d be easy to assume or expect a little bit of rustiness on New York’s part. A poor start might’ve changed the entire shape of this series, but this team — this whole generation — had a ton of resiliency, and there was plenty more to come, even with the early 3-0 deficit.
In the bottom of the second inning, right after the Red Sox extended their lead, Scott Brosius came to the plate with a runner on and drove a 3-2 changeup to the left field seats, trimming the Yanks’ deficit to 3-2. After that, things quieted down for a while. Both teams didn’t have a problem getting runners on against the two starters, but neither was very prolific in driving them in. Mercker left the game after four innings with a 2.00 WHIP, but the only blemish on his record was Brosius's two-run bomb. The biggest name of this game was yet to come, but El Duque deserves a lot of praise for the job he did — he went eight full frames, and allowed nothing more after that second inning.
Rich Garces came in relief for Mercker and tossed two scoreless innings, but things got a bit more interesting when Derek Lowe came in for the bottom of the seventh. Playing a bit of smallball, Brosius led off with a single and was moved over to second by a Chuck Knoblauch bunt, setting up Jeter for a game-tying RBI single.
The Yankees would get another runner in scoring position in that inning, but Chili Davis struck out with two down. The game proceeded now in a dead heat.
After El Duque was done for the night, Joe Torre turned to his closer Mariano Rivera in a non-save situation, with the game knotted at three in the top of the ninth, and the legendary closer did what he often did by turning the Red Sox away.
On the other side, Lowe kept New York in check through the following two innings with a little help from Rheal Cormier, who came in to get Paul O’Neill with a runner on, and two outs in the ninth.
Jimy Williams could’ve left Cormier in there to begin the tenth, but instead, he opted for the righty Rod Beck with Bernie Williams coming up, and the rest was history. The soft-tossing Beck got away with a two-seamer at 87 on the inside of the plate with his first pitch, and it was almost poetic to hear longtime broadcaster Tim McCarver say he shouldn’t be toying in there against Williams. Right on the next pitch — basically the same one — Williams turned on it and drove it over the center-field wall.
That was the ballgame, and the Yankees won 4-3. It was just another heroic playoff moment for Bernie, and it capped a night that would help lead El Duque to ALCS MVP honors. He dominated at Fenway Park in Game 5, sending the Yankees to yet another Fall Classic.