On Mickey Mantle‘s birthday the Yankees rolled out all the stops. 1978 hero Bucky Dent threw out the first pitch and the crowd was…well let’s face facts they were a bit tense. The intensity of the previous night had given way to a level of tension. For once it was the Yankee Stadium crowd looking tense and just waiting for the other shoe to drop. Illness notwithstanding it never occurred to me to change things up so I went to my friends’ house to watch the game.
Right away it went well. Johnny Damon singled and stole second while Mark Bellhorn struck out. Manny Ramirez singled and Dale Sveum foolishly sent him where he was gunned down. The good cheer in the Bronx lasted one pitch as David Ortiz slammed a line drive over the right field fence for a 2-0 lead. We remember so many of his walk-offs but this was a genuinely clutch homer picking up his club when they needed it.
Derek Lowe immediately answered questions with a 1-2-3 bottom of the inning. After the Red Sox loaded the bases Kevin Brown was hooted off the mound and Javier Vazquez was summoned. A year before Mike Mussina had entered a very similar spot and escaped unscathed with Damon hitting into a double play. Vazquez threw one pitch to Damon and Johnny sent it over the wall in the corner for a grand slam and a 6-0 lead.
OK, that shot is actually after Damon’s two run homer in the fourth but who cares. After four the Sox had an 8-1 lead and things were going swimmingly. When Damon launched his fourth inning shot Joe Buck screamed “and Johnny Damon is going off!” and Fox cut to a shot of a young girl, Red Sox fan, about 15 with braces and popcorn standing and screaming in a sea of Yankee fans. I don’t know why but that girl is always in my mind. Just such a great visual.
Terry Francona made one questionable decision in this game and that was the call to use Pedro Martinez in the seventh. Pedro threw gas that night but the Yankees often sent it out as fast as it came in but Trot Nixon tracked down Miguel Cairo‘s liner that would have made things very interesting indeed and the Sox ended the seventh up 8-3.
My theory on Pedro pitching that inning is this;
The plan was to start Lowe, go to Curt Leskanic or Mike Myers if/when he got into trouble then go to Tim Wakefield. That would set up Pedro around the 6th/7th inning then turn the game over to Alan Embree and/or Mike Timlin to close it out. With Keith Foulke having thrown 100 pitches in three days and looking shaky the night before I think the Sox wanted to stay away from him.
Instead Derek Lowe was BRILLIANT. You cannot say that enough. I think Tito and pitching coach Dave Wallace went into the game with a lot of plans but none of them included 69 pitches, 1 hit and an 8-1 lead after six innings and really you cannot blame them for that (side note: I love that I don’t have to look up the 69 pitches, I just know it). So Tito sort of said “well, Lowe did what he and Wake were supposed to do so this is Pedro’s spot.”
If that seems like a bit of Ned Yost-ism that is fair enough. I am not arguing this was right or wrong, just what I think happened.
The other aspect was that this pushed Pedro back to game three of the World Series. Again I think there was some logic at work. With his ankle there was no way to have Curt Schilling pitch in St. Louis so he was locked into a game two (and subsequent game six if necessary) start. I suspect Francona then decided that Pedro in game three and ready for a game seven was enticing.
Baseball people also are often enthused at the idea of a knuckleballer messing up an opponent’s swing. Starting Wake in game one would, in theory, have the effect of getting the Cards or Astros off their game. I would not say that that particular bit of wisdom worked here but the Cardinals certainly did nothing offensively after game one.
Anyway, so here we were. 8-3, top of the 8th and the Stadium crowd into it. Timlin and Embree were rested thanks to Bronson Arroyo‘s effort the night before but the Sox still had six outs to get.
Up strode Bullhorn and he rattled one off the foul pole for a 9-3 lead. At that moment the life went out of the Stadium. At that moment I sat back for the first time in about four days, confident it was over. Timlin was not sharp atypically going 3-0 on Derek Jeter but came back to get him to ground out thanks to a great scoop by Doug Mientkiewicz with then going 3-1 on Alex Rodriguez before striking him out and A-Rod being hooted off the field.
In the ninth the Sox plated another run and Fox began cutting around to various Yankee fans looking miserable.
I loved it.
The Yankees battled in the ninth. A Hideki Matsui single, a ground out by Bernie Williams, a pop up by Jorge Posada and a walk to Kenny Lofton ended Timlin’s night. Embree came on and threw two pitches, Ruben Sierra hit the second one to Pokey Reese and just after midnight on October 21, 2004 the Red Sox had, in Joe Castiglione’s words, pulled the greatest comeback in sports history.
Bedlam followed, I hugged my friend and his wife, phones rang throughout New England and downtown Boston exploded into joy. In Yankee Stadium the Yanks tastefully played the Sinatra version of “New York, New York” and left the lights on so Red Sox fans could enjoy the moment. Wake stood on the mound and had champagne dumped on his head by Timlin. Trot ran out to the bleachers with the trophy to salute the Sox fans there.
My friend and I then met my parents and his parents at a mutual friend’s home bar for champagne and cigars. Personally I got to sleep about 2:30, the next day may not have been the most productive day I have ever spent in the office.
Elsewhere Jim Edmonds hit a walk off homer to set up a seventh game in the NL for the right to meet the Sox. There would be more baseball to be played at Fenway Park in 2004.
The night was not without sadness. The joy in downtown Boston turned ugly as joyous fans were joined by idiots. Some cars were flipped and things got out of control. Boston police were deployed and while using rubber bullets to try and disperse the crowd tragically struck and killed college student Victoria Snelgrove.
It has been ten years for this family and while nothing we do can ever bring her back and they likely will never read this page it deserves to be said that this young lady is still remembered. Her smile would be on the video board at Fenway a few days later as she was remembered by the Sox and the city of Boston. Having been in downtown Boston for seven World Series games since and in the city when the Sox won it all both the following week and last year things have been well organized. Hopefully her legacy is the safety of millions of others since.