Bronx, N.Y., July 1, 2004 — Well, if you wanted to quibble, I guess you could say that four hours and 21 minutes was too much of a good thing. More than 400 pitches, 21 hits, two errors, with two more possible, four batters hit by pitches, and some questionable umpiring (and more about how those two go hand in hand later).
There was good pitching on both sides, but some terrific at bats, and plays afield that rival some of the best we’ve seen in the Torre years. The best baseball player ever born made a fabulous catch of a pop with two outs in the 12th with total disregard for his own health and safety. Boston right fielder Kevin Millar, paid for his bat (and totally overpaid in that aspect so far this year), made a potential game-saving grab on an Alex Rodriguez liner into the right field corner in the sixth.
And speaking of Yankee third baseman Rodriguez, well, he extended the game on a fabulous triple play that was good for only two outs (they got Manny Ramirez out twice) in a no-outs, bases-loaded jam in the 11th. David Ortiz singled to left off Rivera leading off for his third base knock. When Ramirez followed with a single and Bubba Crosby made an ill-advised throw to third, the Sox had second and third, and the intentional pass to Varitek loaded ‘em up with no outs. But Millar bounced to A-Rod, who dove as he fielded the bounce, tagged third, and threw to Posada from his knees for the tag of Gabe Kapler, running for Ortiz. Manny Ramirez, already forced at third, broke for that bag, and Jorge’s throw to Alex nailed him. The whole place thought they had seen a triple play. (One wonders what Manny thought.) But David McCarty made it all academic on a harmless fly to left on an 0-2 pitch.
Rodriguez actually had a trio of fine plays, as he did a body dive and throw to nail Pokey Reese on a near double down the left field line in the fifth, and nabbed a Varitek liner that popped from his glove only to be caught again to close the top of the eighth. Jeter threw in a leaping catch of third baseman Youkilis’s liner to end the ninth, and Gary Sheffield did a great job of recovering on a severely wind-blown Ortiz high fly in the eighth.
Ages before all this drama, both starters, Pedro Martinez and Brad Halsey, turned in great performances. You could argue that the bombs hit by Tony Clark (for two runs in the second) and Posada (a solo shot in the fifth) were not the sort typically allowed by Martinez, but they were the only hits he allowed until Jeter singled in the sixth. He struck out eight over seven fames, walked two and threw twice as many strikes as balls.
Halsey was even more impressive. And yes, that perspective is based totally on reduced expectations. With a good start against the Dodgers and a bad one against the Mets, fans feared how Brad would fare in the hottest rivalry in all of sports. But his performance was telling. He allowed but four hits in 5.3, walked two, and surprisingly struck out five. But he allowed an opposite-field pop double to Ortiz with one out in the sixth, and Manny Ramirez’s first of two home runs brought the Sox to within 3-2, and ended Halsey’s day. Subway trouble had me unable to count Brad’s first inning, but he threw 75 pitches after that frame with 45 for strikes. I have been enamored of hard throwers like Javier Vazquez and Jose Contreras who can coax batters to swing and miss in bunches (Pedro got 12 in 68 strikes). I was surprised to see that the young Yankee southpaw also got 12, and he compiled that number in just 45 strikes! His change-up mesmerized the Sox.
Paul Quantrill finished the sixth with no harm, but Boston was on him in the seventh, as McCarty’s hard liner to center glanced off Lofton’s gloved try for a double and Youkilis moved him to third with a single to left. Pokey Reese grounded hard up the middle, and the tying run scored as Jeter turned the 6-6-3. The game was back to even 3-3 after seven, and there was plenty of baseball to come.
Going blow by blow, Tom Gordon retired six through regulation, with the aforementioned help on infield liners from A-Rod and Jeter, and Shef’s catch of Ortiz’s high fly. Boston closer Keith Foulke pitched the same frames, 1-2-3 in the eighth, but he needed to whiff the pinch-hitting Sierra with one out to escape the ninth, as pinch runner Bubba Crosby stood at third after a Matsui single and Posada double.
Mariano Rivera whiffed two of three in the top of 10th. Mike Timlin hit Jeter leading off the bottom half, but Sheffield bounced into a 5-4-3. A-Rod doubled and took third during Crosby’s walk (with lefty Embree in to face Bubba), but Williams’s 1-0 soft liner found Youkilis’s glove at third. Then came the 11th-inning bases-loaded, none-out Red Sox crisis off Mo, with A-Rod’s sparkling double play and a fly to left to finish things.
Tanyon Sturtze relieved to start the twelfth, and young third sacker Youkilis worked a walk by fouling off a potential third strike three times. Reese sacrificed him to second and Damon’s soft single advanced him to third. Bellhorn popped to second for the second out, and then Captain Jeter gave up his body on the Trot Nixon (hitting for Kapler) pop to short left. It bears repeating. He is the best ballplayer ever born.
Miguel Cairo, who had come in to play second after Sierra hit for Wilson, tripled to deep left center to start the bottom of the 12th off righty veteran Curtis Leskanic, whom the Sox just picked up. With Jeter receiving medical care and out of the game, the parasite-stricken Giambi pinch hit, and he struck out on four tosses. Forced to defend the plate at all costs, the Red Sox deployed Ramirez and Damon in the outfield, and played a game of musical infield with five players the rest of the inning. Millar swung from third to first and back again, as the Yanks batted lefty, righty, righty, lefty, and Reese moved to each side of second too. Amusingly, they often needed to change gloves for the differing assignments, but who could blame them when a defective first baseman’s glove cost them the game the night before?
What was not even remotely amusing was the first pitch to Sheffield that hit him square in the sore shoulder, his second hbp of the game. A-Rod was walked intentionally, and the throng roared as the count on Crosby went to 3-2, with nowhere to put him. Terry Francona and the Sox had to be thrilled when they escaped on a shortstop-to-home force and a three-pitch strike out of Williams.
And that joy spread to the Sox fans in the crowd as Manny took Sturtze’s fifth offering in the top of the 13th and blasted it over the retired numbers in left. You know that this was a truly momentous baseball game when you realize that the Torre moves to fill the infield for this frame are barely a footnote. Not only did Gary Sheffield come in to play third for the first time since 1993, but the Yanks forfeited their DH as Bernie Williams went to center field (with Crosby to left and Sierra to right). And after all that off-season speculation, yes, A-Rod moved to short.
Sturtze whiffed Varitek and Sheffield made a nice grab on Millar’s bouncer, but pulled Clark off first with his throw. McCarty walked but a 4-6-3 closed the frame with the Sox ahead 4-3, their first lead of the long night. And seven pitches into the bottom of the 13th, the Yanks had but one out left after a Posada swinging strike out and a Clark roller to the box. Sierra singled past second on a 1-1 pitch, and Cairo fouled two pitches at 1-1, then drove a double over Millar to knot the score. Fans of both stripes were stunned in disbelief. With Bret Prinz hurriedly preparing to pitch the 14th, Torre used his last position player, backup catcher John Flaherty, to hit for Sturtze. Prinz needn’t have bothered. Flaherty drilled a 3-1 pitch one hop off the left field wall and Cairo scored in the darnedest game anyone will ever see.
I could write about this 5-4 Yankee victory forever, but try to catch it when they replay it, which is sure to be soon. And it’s a shame that I can’t bring myself to call it the best game ever and leave it at that. But Pedro Martinez drilled Gary Sheffield in the very first inning of this game, a ploy with intention so obvious that home plate umpire Jim Wolf immediately issued a beanball warning to all applicable parties. Now it’s true that Felix Heredia hit Damon with a breaking ball in the seventh, and nobody felt it was intentional. And when Mike Timlin hit Derek Jeter leading off the bottom of the 10th in a tie game, of course he did not do it on purpose.
Miguel Cairo standing on third base in a still-tied game with one out in the 12th is quite a different circumstance, however. After seeing Sheffield foul nine consecutive pitches off before lining the game winner Wednesday night, the Sox wanted no part of him. To me the intention behind the ball that struck his shoulder on Leskanic’s first pitch was painfully obvious. You can argue that I can’t know what was in the right-hander’s head, and you’d be right. But Wolf issued a warning in this game, and then proceeded to make it clear to 50 ballplayers and 50,000-plus fans that his word means nothing, that his “warnings” can be ignored.
This ballgame was played in the Bronx, so it’s only fitting that we acknowledge the birthday of Bronx-born singer Evelyn “Champagne” King on July 1, 1960. She had a big eighties hit. That song’s title and some of its lyrics describe exactly what Mr. Wolf should be feeling after that performance:
You got me so confused
It’s a shame
Sometimes I think I’m going insane.
What did your warning mean, Mr. Wolf?