Coming off a heartbreaking World Series loss to the Diamondbacks in which the Yankees failed to score more than three runs in any of the seven games, it was clear the offense needed a boost. What better way to upgrade that side of the ball than acquiring the 2000 AL MVP and arguably the second-best offensive threat in the game over the previous three seasons? That’s exactly what the Yankees did, inking Jason Giambi to a seven-year, $120 million deal with the hope that his bat could help extend their window of prime championship contention.
In the early months of his debut season in pinstripes, Giambi came as advertised, if not quite hitting the same stratospheric heights of his previous two campaigns. After an 8-for-38 start, Giambi had recovered to a .286/.385/.506 triple slash with 8 homers by the third in May. Although his strikeout totals were slightly elevated and walk rate slightly depressed, he was still the third-most productive player on the team with a 139 wRC+. His first signature Yankees moment would come on a damp Friday night in the Bronx.
Date of Game: May 17, 2002
Final Score: Yankees 13, Twins 12 (14)
Game MVP: Jason Giambi
Coming off a series win over Tampa Bay that saw them cut their deficit in the division to three games back of Boston, the Yankees returned home just in time to welcome the Twins for a three-game set. With their rivals eventually losing to the Mariners later that night, the Bombers had a chance to reduce their arrears to just two games. Amid a misting drizzle, Mike Mussina took the mound.
The Yankees opened the scoring in the bottom of the first as Bernie Williams lifted a 3-2 pitch to deep right for a solo shot, his seventh of the season. That lead would be short lived, however, as it became clear Moose simply did not have it that night. In the top of the second, Bobby Kielty led off with a ground rule double, followed by a Jay Canizaro single, A.J. Pierzynski RBI single, Denny Hocking RBI groundout, and Jacque Jones RBI single. In the blink of an eye, the Yankees’ lead had been replaced by a 3-1 deficit, with the worst for Mussina yet to come.
Both pitchers temporarily settled down over the next two innings before the Yankees struck for five runs in the bottom of the fourth. Jorge Posada reached on an error and was driven home on a Robin Ventura two-run shot to the black seats in center field:
John Vander Wal and Rondell White then reached on a pair of line drive singles, with Alfonso Soriano cashing the traffic in with a three-run home run that ticked off Jones’ glove on a leaping attempt and over the left-center-field fence. They tacked on two more in the fifth after Giambi led off with a single and Posada clubbed his seventh of the year to deep right.
It appeared the offensive outburst might breathe new life into the struggling Mussina, that he might use the 8-3 lead he had just been gifted to sponge away the early troubles. No such luck for the righty, as he failed to record an out in the sixth inning, giving up a Brian Buchanan double, Kielty RBI single, Canizaro single, and Pierzynski RBI double.
At this point, Joe Torre had seen enough and called upon Mike Stanton to clean up Mussina’s mess. Spoiler alert: he didn’t. Stanton surrendered a further three runs on a pair of run-scoring singles and a sacrifice fly, and was pulled for the Yankees’ second pitching change of the inning having only gotten two outs. His replacement, Ramiro Mendoza, yielded another run on a Buchanan single before the Yankees could finally escape the inning when Torii Hunter was thrown out trying to take an extra base. By the time the dust settled, the Yankees’ 8-3 lead had evaporated as they found themselves losing 9-8.
The respective bullpens did their jobs and all of a sudden the Yankees found themselves facing Twins closer Eddie Guardado in the bottom of the ninth down a run. As he did so many times during his Yankees career, Williams came through in the clutch, crushing a 1-2 fastball that caught a little too much plate deep into the seats in left, sending the game to extra innings with his second long ball of the night.
In extras, Mariano Rivera worked a clean 10th and 11th, striking out three in the process. The Yankees had chances to end the game in the bottom halves of both innings, putting a pair of runners on in each, but Twins reliever Jack Cressend stranded them both times.
They had an even better chance in the 13th, with Giambi reaching on a one-out single before Posada ripped a line drive double to center. However, Giambi was thrown out at home, allowing Cressend to intentionally walk Ventura and Enrique Wilson before getting White to line out.
In the following inning, it appeared the Yankees would finally be punished for their missed opportunities. Sterling Hitchcock, who took the mound for New York in the 13th, walked Casey Blake, who came around to score on a pair of singles from Buchanan and Kielty. It looked like Hitchcock would escape with the lone run of damage, however a pair of two-out RBI singles from Hocking and Jones appeared to put the seal on this one with the Twins carrying a 12-9 lead to the bottom of the 14th.
By this point, the drizzle had turned into a downpour, and many of the 39,470 in attendance had departed thanks to a combination of the weather and the Hitchcock’s 14th inning collapse. The faithful few who remained would be treated to one of the most remarkable spectacles of that early season.
Shane Spencer led off with a walk and after a Soriano flyout, Jeter singled and Posada walked to load the bases for the man who it appeared at one point had cost the Yankees the game being thrown out at home. Up stepped Giambi, who wasted no time transforming from zero to hero. He clobbered the first pitch he saw to deep left-center for a one-out, 14th inning, walk-off grand slam — the exact scenario I’m sure we all played out as kids on our local sandlot.
As if it was fated, just as the heavens opened up, the extra innings dam burst, unleashing a flood of emotion from those lucky enough to witness it. Giambi finished the night 4-for-8, his game-winning grand slam the Yankees’ sixth home run of the contest. Honorable mentions must go out to Williams, Soriano, Posada, and Ventura, all of whom contributed a long ball and multiple RBI.
If you have the time, I recommend watching the game’s extended highlights below.