Hitherto Shalt Thou Come, But No Further: Inside Aaron Boone’s 2003 ALCS Walk-Off HR

 In Hall of Fame, Stories

The year was 2003. The U.S. had ended the bloody regime of Saddam Hussein in Iraq, John Major was the prime minister of Great Britain, Martha Stewart was in prison and Conan the Barbarian was governor of California. (One of these “facts is false.” Can you guess which one?)

In football, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers took advantage of the New England Patriots’ gap year in Tom Bradynasty I to claim Super Bowl XXXVII. In the NBA, the San Antonio Spurs ended the Los Angeles Lakers’ dynasty and began one of their own. And in baseball, the New York Yankees sought to recapture the magic of the ‘90s, a decade in which the Bronx Bombers won three World Series titles (adding another in 2000), and the only thing standing in the way of a return trip to the Fall Classic was the archrival Boston Red Sox.

Led by Hall of Famers Derek Jeter*, Mike Mussina, Roger Clemens** and Andy Pettitte**, the Yankees won the AL East by a comfortable six games; however, Joe Torre’s crew was probably not thrilled to see the Boston Red Sox, their archrivals and divisional foes, hold off the Seattle Mariners to secure the wild card. Upon first glance, the Yankees and Red Sox could not have been more different. With their freshly shorn faces, high-priced talent and 26 World Series titles (at the time), the Yankees were everything you still think of when you think about the Yankees. The Red Sox, meanwhile, couldn’t afford that kind of swagger. Sure, the Sox had plenty of money and no shortage of big names, such as Nomar Garciaparra, Manny Ramirez, David Ortiz and Pedro Martinez, but the franchise hadn’t won the World Series since 1918. Toss in a couple of close calls over the years (cough Buckner), and it’s understandable that Red Sox entered the ALCS as underdogs.

But there’s a but.

This is the best rivalry in sports, and there’s a reason for that: they hate each other. This Red Sox team, like the city itself, didn’t lack for self-confidence, and they made it clear early that they had no intention of backing down. Never was this more clear than in Game 3 when, after Pedro Martinez and Roger Clemens took turns delivering some chin music to Karim Garcia and Manny Ramirez, respectively, the benches emptied. As far as baseball brawls go, it was about a 2/10, but when Yankees bench coach, the 72-year-old Don Zimmer, charged toward Martinez who promptly tossed him to the ground, the series — and the rivalry as a whole — was ratched up another level.

The teams traded wins over the next three games, setting the stage for the decisive Game 7: Clemens v. Martinez II in Yankee Stadium. The Red Sox struck first, hanging up three in the top of the second and adding another in fourth. Through 7 ½ innings, the Sox had opened up a 5-2 lead, and in Boston, the Curse of the Bambino was starting to lift. From Landsdowne to Yawkey Way, fans were pouring out into the streets. The Sawx were six outs away from extinguishing their rivals and returning to the World Series for the first time since 1986.

But there’s another but.

The Yankees stormed back by scoring three in the bottom of the eighth, tying the game at five and eventually forcing the game into extra innings. As you undoubtedly know, in Game 7 of the ALCS it’s all hands on deck. The Red Sox brought in starter Tim Wakefield, who pitched a scoreless tenth. And in the last managerial decision he ever made in Boston, Red Sox manager Grady Little sent the knuckleballing Wakefield out for the eleventh. He threw one pitch.

In the oft-tortured history of the Boston Red Sox, few moments were as heartbreaking. But they would get their revenge the following year, clawing back from a 3-0 deficit to beat the Yankees in the ALCS and capture the 2004 World Series, lifting the Curse of the Bambino forever.

*Will likely be selected as part of the 2020 class
**Technically not HOFers due to links to PED use, but anyone with eyes knows they belong there

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