Long before Aaron Boone was the oft-maligned manager of the New York Yankees, he played the hot corner for the club, albeit only for a hot minute. His tenure happened to coincide with the last gasp of the Yankees’ seemingly eternal dominance over the Boston Red Sox.
The 2003 ALCS was a back an forth affair. Boston won Game 1, but after that the clubs alternated victories to send the series to its decisive Game 7 in the Bronx. The Yankees sent Roger Clemens to the mound to try and clinch the series, a tough task, considering Pedro Martinez had the ball for Boston. While he was not quite Peak Pedro anymore, he still put up an incredible 8.0 bWAR in only 186.2 innings, and was making his fourth start of the postseason. There wasn’t much difference between Peak Pedro and 2003 Pedro.
When this all-time classic finally ended, Clemens was long gone from the game. Pedro left it all on the field in a valiant effort. And while the Yankees received clutch performances from critically important players, Aaron Bleeping Boone was the ultimate hero.
Final Score: Yankees 6, Red Sox 5
Game MVP: Aaron Boone
The Yankees were behind the eight-ball early in this one. After a scoreless first inning, Boston ambushed Clemens in the second inning. With Kevin Millar on first and one out, Trot Nixon drove a 2-0 offering out to right center, giving the Red Sox an early lead. Facing Pedro, it’s not what you want. It got worse from there, as an E5 scored another run to make it 3-0 for the bad guys.
Boston’s bats were not done either. Leading off the fourth, Millar jacked one, giving Boston a four-run lead. After Clemens then gave up a walk and a hit, Joe Torre had seen enough and came out to collect The Rocket. His choice to hold the line? Mike Mussina. Moose had, just three nights prior, thrown 95 pitches in his Game 4 start. Moreover, he had never, not once, pitched in relief. So of course, he threw three innings of scoreless ball. With the Yankees on the ropes, he shored up the pitching so the bats at least had a glimmer of a chance.
Let’s be honest though. A four-run deficit against Pedro seemed insurmountable. I remember watching this game, and the only thing keeping me going was that when it mattered, the Yankees always beat Boston. It didn’t matter that I couldn’t see how it could possibly happen.
The first bit of light in the night appeared in the form of Jason Giambi. Criminally underappreciated in my humble opinion, the Yankee first baseman began to match Mussina’s clutch heroism. Leading off the fifth inning, the Giambino bashed a solo shot. Though the Yankees still trailed 4-1, the veneer of invincibility was off Pedro.
The score stayed 4-1 until the bottom of the seventh, when Giambi stepped to the dish, again facing Pedro. “Same same, but different,” you might say. Another solo home run soared into the New York night, and the Boston lead was down to 4-2.
Boston seemed to regain momentum in the top of the eighth on a David Ortiz dinger that restored the three-run lead. But in the bottom of the frame, all Hell broke loose, in as wild a sequence as you’re ever likely to see.
Pedro had thrown 100 pitches through seven. Considering his place as one of the all-time greats, it’s unsurprising that Boston manager Grady Little sent him back out. But I don’t think anyone expected him to stay in the game as long as he did. First, Nick Johnson popped out to shortstop after a seven pitch at-bat. But Derek Jeter doubled and then Bernie Williams singled him in. 5-3 Red Sox, and Pedro’s pitch count was 115. Surely that was it. Grady Little came out of the dugout and thousands in attendance and millions watching at home figured Pedro was finished. But wait. With a pat on the shoulder, Little made his faith in Martinez apparent and left him out there.
A ground-rule double off the bat of Hideki Matsui put two runners in scoring position. Still only one out. Jorge Posada took the baton for New York, and on Pedro’s 123rd and final pitch of the night, he cathartically drove in the game-tying runs.
Boston managed to escape the frame without further damage, but this was a whole new ballgame, and Yankees fans had a really good reason to be confident in its outcome — enter Mariano Rivera. With the game now tied, Torre summoned the Hall of Famer to hold Boston down. And as he did so many times in his amazing career, Rivera did that. Not just for one inning. And not even for two. He gave the Yankees three innings. The Sandman held Boston in check, allowing New York chance after chance to end it.
And the Yankees needed every one of those outs from Rivera. Mike Timlin kept them off the board in the ninth, and Tim Wakefield did likewise in the 10th. In the bottom of the 11th, Aaron Boone stepped to the plate. Boone entered the contest in the bottom of the eighth as a pinch-runner, and now played third. He hadn’t taken his bat off his shoulder all night, and faced Wakefield, Boston’s knuckleballer, with a trip to the World Series just a heartbeat away. In an instant, he ended it:
Pandemonium. The Red Sox were defeated and New York was off to the World Series against the Florida Marlins. Another world championship seemed inevitable, and regular order was restored to the universe. Unfortunately, that’s not how it worked out. The Yankees fell to the Senior Circuit champs, and Boone’s dramatic home run was the last gasp of the Yankees’ dominance over their rivals from Beantown.
This remains one of the greatest Yankees games of my lifetime, and easily one of my favorites to watch. Perhaps because I was watching with my grandfather, who hates the Yankees with an intensity only surpassed by his loathing of the Montreal Canadiens of the National Hockey League. Perhaps because it featured my two favorite things: the Yankees winning and Boston losing.