There are a lot of games on PSA’s Top 25 Yankees games of the past 25 years that I fondly remember watching. But this game — heck, this series — holds a special place in my heart. August 2006 was not too far removed from the ALCS-that-never-happened, and I still had not recovered from that travesty. Every loss to the Red Sox hurt more than before, and every win felt like a small piece of vengeance extracted from Boston. So when the Yankees went into Fenway Park on August 18, 2006 for a five-game series, I was both terrified and salivating at the possibility of revenge.
I was unable to watch the doubleheader on Friday. I was finishing off summer employment and Friday was the last day of my contract. By Saturday though, I was ensconced at home and the Yankees had already taken the first two games of the series. An AL East lead that sat at 3.5 games at first pitch on Friday was now 5.5 heading into Saturday after the Bombers put up 26 runs in the twin bill.
Saturday was more of the same: 13 more runs, another win. A 6.5-game lead in the AL East, and a five-game sweep became more realistic. All New York had to do was win two more games. And on Sunday Night Baseball, they got the first one with a thrilling come-from-behind victory.
Date of Game: August 20, 2006
Final Score: Yankees 8, Red Sox 5 (10)
Game MVP: Jason Giambi
Theoretically, the Yankees had the right man on the mound for their Sunday tilt against the Red Sox. Mike Mussina had not thrown fewer than six innings in a start since the end of June, and he had only allowed more than 3 runs once in his previous 10 starts. So of course, the Red Sox jumped all over him at the evening’s outset.
After Mark Loretta and David Ortiz each singled, Manny Ramirez doubled in the first run of the game. Kevin Youkilis then knocked a hit of his own, scoring Ortiz. Mike Lowell grounded into a 5-4-3 double play, but the damage was done. The game had barely started and the Yankees found themselves staring down an early 2-0 deficit in the first.
Everything was quiet from there until the Yankees took their first lead of the night in the top of the fourth inning. After Derek Jeter and Bobby Abreu both singled, Jason Giambi stepped to the plate. On a full count offering from Red Sox starter Curt Schilling, the Giambino launched a towering big fly into the Boston night. Just like that, the Yankees led 3-2.
Unfortunately, that lead was not long for the world. In the bottom half of the fourth, Doug Mirabelli’s RBI single tied the game up. Mussina escaped without any further damage, but his night was done after four. Ron Villone, the first man out of the Yankees’ bullpen in the fifth, fared little better. He surrendered a long solo home run to Ortiz, restoring Boston’s lead. Later, in the bottom of the seventh, Youkilis came through for Beantown again, this time with an RBI single off Scott Proctor. 5-3 Red Sox. It seemed like it was getting late early at Fenway.
But the Yankees refused to go quietly into the New England night. In the top of the eighth, with Schilling out of the game, New York got to Boston’s bullpen. A single, a hit by pitch, and a walk loaded the bases with no one out for the Yankees. And Boston, who had already burned through two pitchers in the inning, went to their closer, Jonathan Papelbon, who was in the midst of a brilliant sophomore season.
To the plate stepped Giambi. He worked the count full and launched another ball deep to right field. This one stayed in the park, but it scored the fourth Yankees run on a sacrifice fly, pulling New York within one. Boston escaped without further damage, but it was now a one-run game, Papelbon had thrown a high-stress frame, and the ninth inning still loomed.
Proctor worked a clean bottom of the eighth and the Yankees’ bats had one more chance to tie or win the game. And after Melky Cabrera doubled and then advanced to third on a wild pitch, New York came through. Jeter fought off an inside 0-1 pitch to bloop a single into shallow right field, scoring Cabrera and breaking the spirits of the 36,000 Fenway faithful:
Tie game; off to the bottom of the ninth.
Now, Joe Torre got to play his trump card. The Yankees had a pretty decent closer of their own, and the skipper decided to bring Mariano Rivera into the tied game to face the heart of the Red Sox order. At first, it did not look good. An Ortiz double and an intentional walk to Ramirez put two on with no one out. Another intentional walk loaded the bases and it looked a bit bleak. But then Mo whiffed Eric Hinske for the second out and induced a groundball from Mirabelli that he fielded and tossed to first for the final out. Extra innings would be needed to settle this tense affair.
The Yankees’ offensive hero of the night, Jason Giambi, stepped to the plate to lead off the tenth. And on a 1-1 pitch from Red Sox reliever Craig Hansen, the Giambino did it again. This time, it was a missile to right center field, clearing the wall and landing in the Red Sox bullpen:
Suddenly, it was 6-5 Yankees and Giambi had earned his keep. His final tally for the night: 3-for-4 with 2 runs and 5 RBI. Not bad at all. Three batters later, Jorge Posada provided insurance with a two-run drive of his own, leaving Rivera a three-run lead for the bottom of the tenth.
Mo did not waste that lead. Mark Loretta managed a two-out single, but that was as close as the Red Sox came. Two stellar innings of relief from Rivera brought a 4-hour, 17-minute game to an end. The Yankees had finished their comeback, extended their lead in the AL East to 7.5 games, and left them one win from an improbable five-game road sweep of their hated rivals.
The Yankees indeed picked up that fifth game, behind a stellar start from the late Cory Lidle. When the dust settled on Monday, New York had a 2-1 victory and had driven a dagger into the heart of Boston’s pennant hopes over the course of the weekend.
The Boston Globe’s disconsolate coverage summed up Monday’s game perfectly, but it also describes the entire series more broadly:
There were actually some bright spots yesterday, but to highlight them would be akin to pulling that gaudy lamp that Aunt Gladys left you in her will from under the scorched remains of the Red Sox’ playoff dreams. The lamp is old, worn, and broken down, but when you plug it in, to your amazement, you discover, “Hey! This thing still works!”
Conversely, the New York Times was much happier with how events unfolded during that glorious weekend in August 2006. The lede to their triumphal recap of Monday’s game:
More than 35,000 sad souls had shuffled out of Fenway Park by 5 p.m. on Monday. There were sea gulls circling the center-field bleachers then, but they might as well have been buzzards. In 75 punishing hours, the Yankees had pounded their rivals into little more than a carcass.
I loved that series in Boston a generation ago. My favorite wins are wins over the Red Sox, and the Yankees had the decency to deliver five in a row — in Boston, and to drive a dagger into the Red Sox’s pennant hopes.
Take a trip down memory lane with me, won’t you?