On June 21, 2005, the Yankees were looking for a win after dropping the first game in a four-game home set against the lowly Tampa Bay Devil Rays. Like a number of seasons in the 2000s, the 2005 Yankees got off to a relatively slow start despite their stacked roster. Coming into this series, the team was a middling 36-33 and still searching for their groove. Tampa Bay, on the other hand, came into the game in last place in the AL East with an abysmal 24-46 record. With Randy Johnson penciled in to take on Hideo Nomo, the stage for a must-win game was set.
What followed, on a relatively unassuming night in the Bronx, is one of the single greatest comebacks in baseball history.
Date of Game: June 21, 2005
Final Score: Yankees 20, Devil Rays 11
Game MVP: Gary Sheffield
After an entirely uneventful first inning, the Devil Rays struck for five runs in the top of the second. After a walk and a pop out to start the inning, Damon Hollins and future Tampa skipper Kevin Cash hit back-to-back home runs off of the Big Unit. Alex Gonzalez followed that up with a single and a stolen base, and Carl Crawford moved the line along with a RBI triple. Julio Lugo knocked Crawford in with a single before the inning mercifully came to an end. The Yankees were able to get one back in the bottom half on the back of a sac fly from Bernie Williams, but the Rays weren’t done there.
Tampa Bay struck for two more runs in the top of the third thanks to a Jonny Gomes two-run home run. After getting out of the inning, Randy Johnson was done for the night after just three innings, tagged for seven runs on eight hits and one walk. The Yankees struck for a run of their own in the bottom half of the inning after Derek Jeter scored thanks to a Gary Sheffield single. The uphill climb for the Yankees got even worse in the top of the fourth, though, when the Devil Rays struck for three more runs after an error brought in a run and a Damon Hollins single scored another two off Scott Proctor. The Yankees went down quietly in the bottom of the fourth.
Facing a 10-2 deficit entering the fifth inning, the Yankees’ chances looked slim, to say the least. After a shutdown inning from Proctor in the top half of the fifth, however, the Yankee bats started to show signs of life. Back-to-back singles from Jeter and Tony Womack led to a three-run home run off the bat of Sheffield. After an Alex Rodriguez groundout, Hideki Matsui and Jason Giambi both singled, and Matsui eventually scored on a Bernie Williams double. This knocked the once-great Nomo out of the game and he was replaced by Chad Orvella, a name I have not thought of in years. He was able to work his way out of the jam without any further damage.
The sixth inning was relatively quiet as well, with the only run coming via a Derek Jeter home run in the bottom half of the inning. The D-Rays got the run back in the top half of the seventh after a Jorge Cantu groundout cashed in a run and the Yankees were unable to respond in the bottom half. Going into the eighth inning, Tampa Bay found themselves with an 11-7 lead.
And then the proverbial dam broke. This is about to get wild, so I’ll do my best to keep it clear. After a clean top of the eighth from Buddy Groom, the Yankees exploded to life in the bottom half as the team put together one of the greatest rallies in team history. Join us on this journey:
- With Franklin Núñez on the mound for the Devil Rays, Robinson Canó and Jeter got the inning started with back-to-back singles
- Ruben Sierra, pinch-hitting for Womack, scored Canó on a groundout that moved Jeter to second base (11-8)
- Sheffield followed this up with a single to put runners on first and third for Alex Rodriguez, who promptly singled home Jeter (11-9)
- Tampa Bay countered by bringing in Travis Harper to face Matsui, who proceeded to double home Sheffield (11-10)
- After intentionally walking Giambi to put runners at first and second, Bernie cleared the bases with a triple (13-11) ...
- ... and Jorge Posada followed that up with a two-run home run to stretch the lead (15-11)
- After Canó recorded the second out of the inning, Jeter and Sierra hit back-to-back singles off Harper, and Sheffield unloaded for the second three-run home run of the inning (18-11)
- A-Rod and Matsui would follow that up with solo shots of their own to go back-to-back-to-back and bring the score to a ridiculous 20-11. Matsui’s even reached the fabled black seats:
Finally, after 13 runs, 12 hits, and a single walk, Harper got Russ Johnson to flyout to put an end to the rally. Tom Gordon would shut the door in the top of the ninth with a three-up, three-down inning.
*Remarkably, this was the second time in the 2005 season alone that the Yankees dropped 13 runs in a single frame on the hapless D-Rays, having previously plated 13 in the second inning of a 19-8 blowout on April 18th.
After looking dead in the water for the majority of the game, this unlikely late-game rally has to rank among the wildest games in baseball history. I mean, just look at this win probability chart!
In terms of game MVP, it was really hard to decide who to choose. Jeter went 5-for-6 with a home run and a double, and proved to be the catalyst that sparked the rally, while Bernie went 2-for-4 with a triple, a double, a sac fly, and five RBI. Ultimately, though, I decided on Sheffield, as he went 4-for-6 with 7 RBI, six of which came on two three-run home runs. Though Bernie gave them the lead, Sheffield’s first home run kept them within striking distance and his second one ultimately put the game on ice. A case could be made for all three to split the honors, though.
Unfortunately for the Yankees, they would follow this wild finish up with four straight losses before catching their stride and riding a powerful offense to a strong second half that secured them yet another division title. Though the season ultimately ended for them in the ALDS, this rally was the stuff of legends, and remains one of the best comebacks of all-time.
If you want to watch the inning for yourself — and it really is a “you have to see it to believe it” moment — check out the video below.