The last time the Yankees and Red Sox met in the playoffs I was a just-turned 18-year-old college student in Boston. Six weeks after move-in day, it was parents weekend during Game 3 of the ALCS when the Yankees put together a 22-hit performance, including 13 for extra bases in their 19-8 win to take a 3-0 lead in the series. The next morning I laughed to my dad about how the Yankees were going to sweep the Red Sox. His response? “Why would you say that?”
That night the Yankees lost to the Red Sox after Kevin Millar walked, Dave Roberts stole, Bill Mueller singled and David Ortiz went deep in the 12th. But it didn’t faze me. Sure, my dad’s “Why would you say that?” kept coming to my mind, but the Red Sox weren’t going to come back. The Yankees had to go at worst 1-2 over the final three games of the series with two of them being at Yankee Stadium and that seemed like an impossibility. I didn’t even think the series would get back to the Stadium, so I decided to do the most sensible thing I could think of: use essentially all of my first-semester spending money on tickets to Game 5.
Here’s an excerpt from my book, The Next Yankees Era: My Transition from the Core Four to the Baby Bombers, which goes through Game 1 of last year’s ALDS by looking back at my trip to Game 5 of the 2004 ALCS.
ALDS GAME 1
On the morning of Oct. 18, 2004, I woke up in my Beacon Hill dorm in Boston and didn’t really care and certainly wasn’t worried about what had unfolded just a few hours earlier.
The Yankees had come back in Game 4 of the 2004 ALCS, erasing a 3-2 deficit in the sixth inning. Tanyon Sturtze pitched a perfect sixth and seventh to hand the ball to Mariano Rivera for a two-inning save. The Yankees were six outs away from sweeping the Red Sox and returning to the World Series for the seventh times in nine years.
Rivera worked around a Manny Ramirez leadoff single in the eighth, striking out David Ortiz and getting Jason Varitek and Trot Nixon to ground out. Rivera threw 15 pitches in the inning and had moved the Yankees within three outs of the pennant.
In the ninth, holding on to a 4-3 lead, Rivera walked Kevin Millar to begin the inning, and Dave Roberts pinch ran for Millar. After three straight throws to first, Roberts took off on the first pitch to Mueller, successfully stealing second. Two pitches later, Mueller singled to center and Roberts came around to score to tie the game at 4.
Sure, it sucked. To be three outs away from World Series and to have that happen wasn’t ideal. But I wasn’t threatened by it. The Red Sox had extended a game they still might lose, and if they were to win, they would still be trailing 3-1 in the series. At worst, I thought this was just a minor nuisance in what would be an eventual series win.
In the 11th, still tied at 4, the Yankees missed out on their best chance to take the lead. Miguel Cairo singled off Alan Embree to lead off the inning, and Derek Jeter bunted him over to second for the first out. Alex Rodriguez, who had hit a two-run home run in the third, jumped on Embree’s 0-1 pitch and hit a line drive that Orlando Cabrera had to dive to his right to make an incredible catch on. (After his third-inning home run, if Cabrera doesn’t come up with an amazing catch, Rodriguez’s entire career and legacy are different.) The Red Sox intentionally walked Gary Sheffield and Hideki Matsui walked to load the bases for Bernie Williams, but Williams would fly out to end the inning.
At 1:22 a.m. — five hours and two minutes after the game started — Ortiz crushed a 2-1 pitch from Paul Quantrill to give the Yankees their first loss of the series.
When I woke up, I had missed some of my classes and certainly wasn’t going to go to any that day. Game 5 was scheduled for a 5:05 start time, not even 16 hours after Game 4 ended and I had to focus on that. Instead of going to class I went on eBay and found two tickets to Game 5 down the first-base line. I decided I was going to go to Game 5. All it would cost me was nearly an entire summer of working for first-semester spending money. To get the tickets, I would need to meet the owner of the tickets down a side street near Fenway Park and exchange cash for the tickets shortly before the game. Certainly not an ideal situation to put yourself in, but this was Game 5 of the 2004 ALCS and a chance to see the Yankees win the pennant and eliminate the Red Sox at Fenway Park.
I left my dorm and walked to the Fleet Bank ATM outside the Park Street T stop and withdrew a summer’s worth of work and pushed every last bill into the left-chest pocket of my fleece. It was 58 degrees in Boston, but I thought a fleece over a Yankees T-shirt would be enough to feel comfortable for the night.
I got on a jam-packed Green Line train at Park Station headed for Kendall Square. Pushed up against the T door with more and more people trying to pack in at each stop, I folded my arms across my chest to hide the fact that there was a bulging wad of 20s as big as a baseball covering my heart.
When I got off the T, I called the number of the ticket owner and he directed me toward a side street not far off Beacon Street. I slowly walked down the street, which was more like an alley, and came upon a parked Ford Explorer. Best-case scenario, the ticket owner was a nice man, who was going to make a small fortune off me wanting to see the Yankees clinch the pennant on the Red Sox’ home field. Worst-case scenario, I was going to have my bank account taken from me, or the tickets I was given wouldn’t scan at the gate.
A large, Red Sox-hat wearing man, who looked like he was on his way to his job as a bouncer, emerged from the driver’s side of the Explorer.
“Here you go.”
I took the baseball-sized roll of 20s out of my pocket and handed it over. I walked away looking down at the tickets, hoping they were real and imaging what my father, who had strongly disagreed with me paying that much to go the game, would say if they turned out not to be. The tickets were real and I walked into Fenway Park just as Hideki Matsui was flying out to center to end the top of the first.
When Jeter’s sixth-inning, bases-clearing, three-run double landed in front of me down the right-field line and rolled into the corner, I could feel the World Series. Like always, the Yankees had gotten to Pedro Martinez, and Jeter’s two-out double, gave them a 4-3 lead.
Beginning in the bottom of the sixth inning, with Mike Mussina on the mound, I started to count the outs remaining in the game, and in turn, the series.
Nixon lined out to center. Eleven.
Varitek grounded out to third. Ten.
Mueller flew out to left. Nine.
My counting came to an abbreviated halt in the seventh when Mussina allowed a leadoff double to Mark Bellhorn and was taken out of the game for Sturtze, who had pitched those two perfect innings in Game 4.
Sturtze got Johnny Damon to pop up to short. Eight.
Cabrera walked and Joe Torre went to Tom Gordon with Ramirez coming up. Gordon induced a 5-4-3 inning-ending, double play. Six.
Gordon returned for the eighth, and two pitches into the inning, he was greeted by an Ortiz home run to shrink the Yankees’ lead to 4-3. Millar walked, as he had done the night before, and Roberts pinch ran for him, as he had done the night before. Nixon singled to center, allowing Roberts to move to third. Gordon had faced three batters in the eighth and didn’t retire one, so Torre called on Rivera, who he should have called on to begin the inning.
Rivera got Varitek to fly out to center, but Roberts scored on the sacrifice, tying the game and handing Rivera a “blown save” to show how ridiculous and dumb that stat is. Mueller grounded out and Bellhorn struck out swinging. Rivera had retired all three batters he faced in the inning, but would be forever credited with “blowing” it. The Red Sox had scored twice, the two-run lead was gone and my counting the remaining outs had stopped.
The Yankees didn’t score in the ninth, but they should have. Ruben Sierra drew a two-out walk and Tony Clark hammered a 1-2 pitch from Keith Foulke to right field. In nearly any other stadium or park in the league, Sierra scores, the Yankees take a 5-4 lead, and once again, move within three outs of the World Series. But at Fenway Park, where the right-field wall comes up to only the waist of most grown men, the ball bounced into the stands, and Sierra was forced to hold up at third on the ground-rule double. Cairo popped up to first in foul territory and that was that.
Up until a few seasons ago, there was a scoreboard to the right of the Green Monster at Fenway Park that would display both team’s lineups and it would place an asterisk next to the batter that was up in the game and an asterisk next to the batter that would be up next inning for the team currently in the field. Beginning in the bottom of the ninth, I became obsessed with that scoreboard, counting how many names the asterisk had to go before reaching “Manny Ramirez” and “David Ortiz”.
Rivera worked around a Damon infield single in the ninth after Damon was caught stealing second, Cabrera grounded out and Ramirez flew out. If Torre was willing to pitch Rivera two innings — and why wouldn’t he be with the pennant on the line — then why didn’t Rivera start the eighth with a plan for him to pitch the eighth and ninth? He would have entered the game with a clean inning and a two-run lead, and by this time, I would be celebrating an AL championship.
The game was headed to extra innings, and with the Red Sox facing elimination for the second straight night, every arm would be available, including Game 6 starter Curt Schilling. So before the 10th inning began, Schilling along with the other members of the pitching staff that hadn’t been used in the game, walked from the Red Sox’ dugout to the bullpen as “Lose Yourself” blared throughout Fenway Park. I don’t know if I will ever see an ovation like that or hear a stadium as loud as that ever again.
Bronson Arroyo pitched a perfect 10th, getting Jeter to fly out, and striking out Rodriguez and Sheffield swinging. Felix Heredia replaced Rivera and struck out Ortiz swinging, which gave me a a sense of relief, knowing it would be at least a few innings of that asterisk making its way through the rest of the Red Sox’ order. A Doug Mientkiewicz one-out double chased Heredia and Game 4 loser Quantrill came in to get the last two outs of the inning.
The Yankees didn’t score in the 11th and neither did the Red Sox. The 12th went the same way. In the 13th, things got interesting for the Yankees.
Tim Wakefield, on for his second inning of work, struck out Sheffield to begin the 13th, but Sheffield reached first on a passed ball. Then Matsui hit a ground ball to Bellhorn that forced Sheffield out and Williams flew out. A passed ball with Posada at the plate sent Matsui to second and led to Posada being intentionally walked. With Sierra at the plate, a third passed ball in the inning moved Matsui to third and Posada to second. The Yankees had the go-ahead run 90 feet away and a much-needed insurance run in scoring position. This was it. Wakefield would be the losing pitcher in the Yankees’ pennant clinching win for the second straight season.
On the seventh pitch of the at-bat in a full count, Sierra struck out swinging.
The Red Sox went down in order in the bottom of the 13th and the Yankees did the same in the top of the 14th.
In the bottom of the 14th, Bellhorn struck out, Damon walked, Cabrera struck out and Ramirez walked. With two on and two outs, the asterisk had found Ortiz.
Ortiz immediately fell behind 1-2, fouled away the next two pitches, took a ball to even the count at 2, and fouled away three more pitches. On the 10th pitch of the at-bat, he hit a line drive back up the middle, and sometimes when I close my eyes, I can still see it hanging in the air, wondering if Williams is going to get to it in time. He never does get to in time, just like he didn’t that night, and as Damon rounded third and headed for home, my heart sank.
Damon touched home at 11:00 p.m — five hours and 49 minutes after first pitch — in what was the longest postseason game in history at the time. I looked to my right where a fellow Yankees fan wearing a “1918” shirt stared out at the field in disbelief. I walked out of Fenway Park where Red Sox fans kindly let me know the result of the game as my emotional state was given away by my Yankees hat.
I headed back to my dorm, regretting my decision to blow through a semester of spending money on a baseball game, in which the worst possible outcome had occurred. The Yankees didn’t just lose. They had blown a late lead for the second time in 22 hours with some bad managing, poor pitching and an inability to add on to their lead or score in extra innings. Somewhere in Boston, that large bouncer-looking man was enjoying my summer of working or planning a vacation on my dime. Meanwhile, I was in my dorm room trying to fall asleep, while replaying the events of the last two nights over and over.
The Yankees are headed home and they only have to win once before the Red Sox win twice. That was what I told myself as I tossed and turned in bed trying to clear my mind. It was now the early hours of Tuesday morning, I was wide awake, and thanks to a rainout between Games 2 and 3, an off day had been erased from the series, and both teams were on their way to New York with Game 6 later that night.
I watched from a foldable camping chair in my dorm room with the only light in the room being that emitted by the TV as the Yankees never bunted and never made Schilling move or really work on a surgically-repaired ankle in Game 6. I was in the same spot for Game 7 when Ortiz set the tone in the first inning with a two-run home run off of Kevin Brown and Damon essentially ended it with a grand slam in the second off Javier Vazquez.
A few hours after that grand slam, when Sierra grounded out to second to end the game and the series, like that guy wearing the “1918” shirt and staring out onto the field, I stared over my TV and out my 11th-floor window as chaos began in my dorm and the horns and sounds from outside on the street rose like heat into the Boston night.
The Red Sox had become the first team in history to erase a 3-0 series deficit, coming back in Games 5 and 6 at home and winning at Yankee Stadium in Games 6 and 7, all of it happening in four consecutive nights.
FOX kept showing replays of the final out of the game from different camera angles of different players’ reactions. I was still staring out the window with the deafening noise surrounding me when I caught a replay of the Red Sox’ dugout on TV.
All you could see at first was a pair of legs wearing the Red Sox uniform, but as the replay progressed, those legs made their way toward the dugout exit, and all that was left on the screen was the person behind this comeback mouthing “Come on, come” as Bellhorn fielded Sierra’s ground ball and threw to first. Then the left arm belonging to the same person as that mouth, flew into the air in celebration before being hugged by the men around him. That person was Terry Francona.
FOX returned from commercial with Curt Menefee set to interview Torre. Fittingly, the two spoke in front of the Yankees’ logo with “Thirty-Nine American League Championships” written under it. Torre’s last words of the 2004 season were, “We didn’t get it done.”
Joe Buck then threw it down to Kenny Albert, standing with Francona.
“Down 0-3, one inning away from getting swept,” Albert asked, “Did you ever in your wildest dreams, imagine this would be possible?”
“Actually, yeah,” Francona answered.
Terry Francona led the destruction of my 2004 season. Actually, he led the destruction of 2004, the year, as a whole for me. The entire year. What should be remembered as the year I graduated high school and went off to college has been completely erased by that series. Any song or movie or any reference at all to that year, I immediately associate with the ALCS. Thirteen Octobers later, here was Francona, once again, managing against the Yankees in the postseason.
A season after losing a 3-1 lead in the World Series and losing Game 7 of that series at home in extra innings, Francona had managed the Indians to 102 wins, including the historic 22-game winning streak in the second half. I’m a big believer that players and teams have to lose before they can win, and the 2017 Indians were looking like the latest example of this theory, joining teams like the 1995 Braves, 1996 Yankees, 2004 Red Sox and 2016 Cubs.
It had been a year since Francona “revolutionized” the way elite relief pitchers are used in the postseason, opting to bring in former Yankee and left-handed star Andrew Miller for high-leverage situations well before the late innings. Francona had done what I had been wanting Joe Girardi to do for so long, managing for the situation and not the inning. A closer is more valuable to their team facing the heart of the order in the eighth inning or coming in with the bases loaded and one out in the seventh than facing the bottom of the order with a three-run lead in the ninth. But a little bit of Francona must have rubbed off on Girardi in the wild-card game as he called on Chad Green in that ugly first inning to escape further damage before the Yankees’ comeback.
For all of the brilliant decisions Francona had made over the years, he made a puzzling one for the ALDS, choosing to go with Trevor Bauer (17-9, 4.19) over Cy Young-favorite Corey Kluber (18-4, 2.25) in Game 1 of the series. Kluber would go in Game 2, and therefore, be the Indians’ starter for Game 5, if needed. Maybe Francona was taking a page out of Joe Torre’s book, figuring Game 2 to be the most important of a series, which is when Torre would have the winningest pitcher in postseason history start in Andy Pettitte. Or maybe he was trying to be a little too smart. The Yankees couldn’t answer with their ace in Game 1 since Luis Severino was unavailable following Tuesday’s start even though it lasted about as long as Roll Call. So getting the ball in Game 1 was Sonny Gray.
I was ecstatic when the Yankees traded for Sonny Gray. Brian Cashman was able to add a front-end starter, who had pitched to a 3.42 ERA over 705 career innings, and more importantly had pitched to a 2.08 ERA in two career postseason starts. In exchange for the A’s ace, all the Yankees had to part with a 2015 first-round pick, who had pitched just 29 1/3 minor-league innings (James Kaprielian), a top prospect whose status had begun to fade (Jorge Mateo) and an outfielder who had suffered an unfortunate and potentially career-damaging injury (Dustin Fowler). The Yankees had added an All-Star and postseason-proven pitcher for two players that might never make the majors and one player with a long road back to the majors. The trade was a no-brainer with a chance to be an all-time steal.
As a Yankee, Gray wasn’t as good as he had been in 2017 before the trade and he was nowhere near his 2013-2015 self (2.88 ERA in 491 innings), but he was solid, pitching to 3.72 ERA in 11 starts. His offense and defense let him down in most of his starts as he received a loss or no-decision in four starts where he went at least five innings, and allowed two earned runs or less. But after the Yankees won the wild-card game, and Gray was announced as the Game 1 starter of the ALDS, his regular season didn’t matter. This is what the Yankees had gotten him for: the postseason.
Right before first pitch, Tom Verducci handed off the broadcast by saying, “For more on the Indians’ surprising Game 1 starter, here’s Ken Rosenthal.” As Rosenthal talked about Bauer’s 2.42 ERA over his last 14 starts, FOX showed a graphic showing opponent’s batting average against Bauer the first and second time through the order (.244) and the third and fourth time (.321). Bauer wasn’t going to get to face the Yankees a third time, not with Miller waiting to be called upon at the first sign of real trouble. If the Yankees didn’t score early, they weren’t going to score at all.
When Brett Gardner stepped into the box and showed bunt before taking a 92-mph fastball down the middle, I started to get the nervous sick feeling I hadn’t gotten in a long time. Not the nervous sick feeling you get when you’re in attendance for a postseason game, but the one you get when you’re forced to watch it on TV. This was the first Yankees postseason game I would be watching on TV since Game 4 of the 2012 ALCS, which felt like 100 years ago, and I had completely forgotten what it felt like.
Gardner popped out to short, Aaron Judge and Gary Sanchez struck out and the nervous sick feeling began to grow. When Gray walked Francisco Lindor to begin the bottom half of the first, the feeling had turned into heartburn. Three groundouts later and Gray had matched Bauer in the first.
The Yankees couldn’t do anything with a Greg Bird walk in the second, and on Gray’s second pitch of the inning, an 0-1 pitch, Jay Bruce crushed a double high off the tall left-field wall. Bruce had been traded to the Indians by the Mets, after the Yankees failed to land him. The Indians agreed to take on the final $3.7 million owed to Bruce for the season, while the Yankees were only willing to pay $1 million of that total. So for the difference of $2.7 million, the Yankees would be using Chase Headley and Jacoby Ellsbury as their designated hitter in the playoffs instead of Bruce, and that decision was already having an impact. I miss the Yankees not being worried about money.
Gray jumped ahead of Carlos Santana 0-2 and then the Indians’ first baseman hit a line drive to center field. Thankfully, the combination of Bruce’s speed, Aaron Hicks’ arm and there being no outs in the inning prevented a run from scoring. But it was still first and third with no outs and Gray had already thrown 25 pitches. Three pitches later, things got worse when Gray hit Lonnie Chisenhall on the right elbow. Bases loaded and no outs, and John Smoltz chimed in with “This is a huge inning” to state the obvious and to make me feel better.
Roberto Perez worked the count full and just as I started to envision Gray walking in the first run on the game, Perez smashed into a 6-4-3 double play. Sure, a run had scored, but the inning had been momentarily saved.
The game remained 1-0 until the bottom of the fourth when Gray walked Edwin Encarnacion to start the inning and then gave up a two-run home run to none other than Bruce. The $2.7 million difference had scored the first run of the game and now had driven in the next two to give the Indians a 3-0 lead. Bruce would strike again in the fifth, this time with a sacrifice fly against Jaime Garcia, to score Jose Ramirez.
The Indians went on to win the game 4-0, as Bauer, Miller and Allen combined to three-hit the Yankees and rack up 14 strikeouts. The $2.7 million difference had a hand in all four runs, going 2-for-3 with two runs, a double, a home run and two RBIs.
The game had been a complete letdown from two nights prior, and a game in which the Yankees never really threatened, and never really came close to making it a game.
No one had given the Yankees much of a chance to win the series before it had started and after Game 1, it was evident why. Francona’s questionable rotation strategy had paid off as his Indians had taken a 1-0 series lead with their second-best or possibly even third-best starter, and now the eventual AL Cy Young winner was going to get the ball for Game 2.
The Yankees were in trouble and I felt it in my apartment, nearly 500 miles away from Progressive Field.
My book The Next Yankees Era: My Transition from the Core Four to the Baby Bombers is now available as an ebook!
The book details my life as a Yankees fan, growing up watching Derek Jeter, Mariano Rivera, Andy Pettitte, Jorge Posada and Bernie Williams through my childhood and early adulthood and the shift to now watching Gary Sanchez, Luis Severino, Aaron Judge, Greg Bird and others become the latest generation of Yankees baseball. It’s a journey through the 2017 postseason with flashbacks to games and moments from the Brian Cashman era.
Click here to purchase the book through Amazon as an ebook. You can read it on any Apple device by downloading the free Kindle app.