The Pinstripe Alley Top Moments Tournament continues with the 2000-present bracket. Vote for the moment that deserves to move on in the poll below.
#1: Aaron Boone's Game 7 home run
Game 7. Yankees-Red Sox. If you're a fan of the greatest rivalry in sports, then 2003 was as good as you can hope for. The Yankees had won 101 games under Joe Torre behind one of the best pitching staffs in all of baseball. The starting rotation led by Roger Clemens, Mike Mussina, Andy Pettitte, and David Wells led the major leagues in innings pitched, FIP, and fWAR while their closer, some guy named Mariano Rivera, had a pretty decent season too with 40 saves and a minuscule 1.66 ERA.
The Red Sox, meanwhile, had hired a new General Manager in Theo Epstein, and signed little-known free agent backup DH David Ortiz a few weeks before the start of spring training. Ortiz went from starting the season as a part-time player to hitting 31 home runs and finishing fifth in the MVP voting, much to the delight of Red Sox fans.
The Yankees and Red Sox were neck-and-neck throughout much the 2003 season before the Yankees pulled away with the division title in the final two months. The ALCS was about as heated as this rivalry has been in a long time, from both the fans and the players. This was highlighted during Game 3 in Boston, where tempers flared and the benches cleared. Going into Game 7, the Yankees and Red Sox were dead even in head-to-head matchups throughout the season.
The game itself did not start off well for Yankee fans. Pedro Martinez was lights out early on while Yankees starter Roger Clemens struggled to get into rhythm. The Yankees were already down 4-0 when Mussina relieved Clemens with two on and nobody out in the top of the fourth to get out of the jam. Jason Giambi was able to get to Pedro with a pair of solo home runs in the fifth and seventh innings to cut it to 4-2, but Ortiz responded with a home run in the eighth to extend the lead back to three. After Nick Johnson popped out to lead off the bottom of the eighth, the Red Sox were five outs away from the World Series. That's when the magic began.
Derek Jeter doubled to right and scored on a single by Bernie Williams to cut it to 5-3, prompting Boston manager Grady Little to go out to the mound, presumably to bring in a lefty to face Hideki Matsui. Instead, he left Pedro in the game, and two doubles later from Matsui and Jorge Posada, the game was tied at five. Little's decision to leave Pedro in the game was a big talking point for Red Sox fans in a classic second-guess situation.
The game went into extras, as Rivera came on in relief as the game remained tied through the ninth and tenth innings. The Yankees were running out of time after Rivera pitched his third inning of relief. Nobody knew if Rivera could pitch any more, and Jose Contreras was going to be the next guy out of the bullpen. Thankfully, we never had to see that happen, as with Tim Wakefield on the mound, Aaron Boone came to the plate to lead off the bottom of the 11th.
Boone didn't even start the game for the Yankees. He was sat down for Game 7 in favor of Enrique Wilson, who had a history of success against Pedro. Boone entered earlier as a pinch-runner before taking over at third base, and was getting his first at bat of the game. He connected on Wakefield's first pitch of the inning, homering over the left field wall and sending the Yankees to the World Series, breaking the hearts of plenty of Red Sox fans in the process. In a special moment, his brother Bret Boone was in the booth with Joe Buck and Tim McCarver as he hit one of the biggest home runs in Yankees history.
#8 Derek Jeter dives into the stands
Derek Jeter has been the Yankees' shortstop for a long time. Over that time, he's become the Yankees' captain and face of the franchise to go along with his five championships, which is now the most among all active players. When I think about the first thing that comes to mind about Jeter as a baseball player, it's that he will do whatever it takes to win on any given night. The game against the Red Sox on July 1, 2004 exemplifies that perfectly.
The Red Sox had an edge coming into the game, with Pedro facing rookie Brad Halsey (remember him?). You can't predict baseball though; Halsey matched Pedro inning for inning throughout the early parts of the game, and after a pair of home runs from Tony Clark and Posada the Yankees actually had a 3-0 lead going into the sixth. The Red Sox came back on a two-run homer by Manny Ramirez in the sixth and a bases loaded groundout by Pokey Reese in the seventh to tie the game at three. That was the last anyone scored for a while.
The Yankees had plenty of opportunities to win this game before Jeter's play in the 12th inning. In the bottom of the ninth, a single by Matsui and a double by Posada put runners on second and third with one out. Clark was intentionally walked to load the bases, but pinch-hitter Ruben Sierra struck out and Kenny Lofton grounded out to end the inning. In the bottom of the tenth, Alex Rodriguez doubled to left and then stole third to put the winning run on third with two outs, but Bernie Williams lined out. Meanwhile, Rivera pitched two scoreless innings before handing it off to Tanyon Sturtze in the top of the 12th.
Following a walk, a single and a stolen base, the Red Sox found themselves with runners on second and third and two outs, and an opportunity to score for the first time since the seventh inning. Trot Nixon was sent up to pinch-hit. After a long at bat, Nixon popped one up behind third base into shallow left field.
A-Rod had no shot at it, and it was out of reach for Sierra in left. Derek Jeter, running at a full sprint just ten feet from the stands, came out of nowhere to make a lunging over-the-shoulder catch in fair territory to save two runs. He was unable to stop his momentum, and he flew into the stands. He came out of it bloody, with a swollen cheek and a bruised shoulder. He was given a standing ovation as he slowly walked off the field.
The rest of the game was still eventful, even after Jeter's catch. After blowing another chance to win in the bottom of the 12th, the Red Sox finally scored on Manny's second home run of the night, as he launched one over the left-center field wall to make it 4-3. In the bottom of the 13th, a two-out rally capped off by an RBI double from Miguel Cairo and a pinch-hit walk off single by John Flaherty completed the sweep of the Red Sox.
As a baseball game, this one featured just about everything. Between the two teams, only one relief pitcher wasn't used. The Yankees used every player on their bench, switched positions around on an almost inning-by-inning basis, and even used A-Rod at short and Gary Sheffield at third base after Jeter had to leave the game. After the second comeback and the walk-off by Flaherty of all people, I didn't need Michael Kay to screech at an uncomfortably high volume to know that it was one of the greatest games I've ever seen.
However, the thing that people remember most from it is the play that Derek Jeter made to end the 12th inning. It signifies the player that Jeter's been his whole life. Nobody would have blamed Jeter if he slowed up and the ball dropped in. Maybe some left fielders with a little more range than Sierra could have caught it. But Jeter didn't let that happen, because letting the ball drop would've meant losing the game. So instead, he sacrificed his body to make the catch. To this day, the dive into the stands has been perhaps the signature play of Jeter's career.
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