The name Aaron Boone has long been in Boston Red Sox lore along with Bucky Dent, Babe Ruth and Bill Buckner as subjects fans dare not speak about as they bring about a seventh realm of pain. A funny thing happened in the last 15 years, Boone has gone from villain to an unknowing savior. The more I think about it, the better his home run was for Red Sox fans than it was heartbreaking.
For those too young to remember or those who try to forget immense pain, the Boston Red Sox didn’t win a single World Series or defeat the Yankees in any kind of post-season encounter from 1918 to 2002 leading up to the 2003 season. The Yankees defeated the Red Sox to win the 1949 pennant, knocked them out of a one game playoff in 1978 to enter the post-season and beat them 4 games to 1 in the 1999 American League Championship Series. From 2000 to 2002 the Red Sox were far inferior to the Yankees in every facet of the game. The Yankees had a better rotation, lineup, bench and bullpen.
In 2003, it all changed. The Red Sox got a new general manager in Theo Epstein who wanted to use Billy Beane’s Moneyball to find value players while still trying to sign top flight free agents to compete with New York. That “value” netted them second basemen Todd Walker, third baseman Bill Mueller, 1st baseman Kevin Millar and a little known reserve player in Minnesota named David Ortiz. Combined with catcher Jason Varitek, shortstop Nomar Garciaparra, right fielder Trot Nixon, left fielder Manny Ramirez and centerfielder Johnny Damon, the 2003 Red Sox set offensive records that still stand today. While the 2003 Sox had the better offense, they still couldn’t match the Yankees rotation, bullpen or bench going into the season. Late in the year the Sox made a trade to get closer Scott Williamson from the Cincinnati Reds to suddenly have a bullpen to match New York. The downfall of the Sox came with the rotation. Pedro Martinez, Derek Lowe, John Burkett and Tim Wakefield just couldn’t match Roger Clemens, Andy Pettite, David Wells and Mike Mussina. The Yankees bench also was deeper due to the pickup of Aaron Boone.
When the regular season ended the Sox finished with 95 wins, 6 games behind the Yankees for first place but still wild card winners. After a come from behind series victory against the Oakland A’s, the Sox and Yankees were going one on one for the pennant. The teams battled to a 3-3 deadlock heading into a winner take-all game 7 with the strength of the Yankees rotation being the difference in game’s 2, 3 and 5. Tim Wakefield had somehow beaten Mike Mussina twice and Boston’s offense was able to pull out wins in game’s 1, 4 and 6. Game 7 began with a complete beat-down of Roger Clemens with the Sox bolting out to a 4-0 lead with runners at the corners and nobody out in the third inning. One more run and the Yankees could have folded their tents against Pedro Martinez but instead Mike Mussina came on in relief and Houdini’d his way out of trouble. Jason Giambi belted two home runs to keep the Yankees close but they were down 5-2 heading into the bottom of the eighth. This is where another advantage for the Yankees reared its ugly head. The manager, Joe Torre had a habit of overusing his relievers but he was a well respected numbers manager that relied on stats and matchups to aid his decisions. Grady Little on the other hand never bothered to read scouting reports and was a strictly hunch manager. Going into Game 7 the trio of Scott Williamson, right hander Mike Timlin and lefty Alan Embree had allowed just one run combined the entire post-season going back to the Oakland series. Also by 2003 Pedro Martinez, battling shoulder problems, ran out of gas after 100 pitches. Pedro was already over 100 pitches when he struck out Alfonso Soriano to end the bottom of the seventh inning. Anyone who went by the numbers would have said “Gee, Pedro’s done, we got an unhittable bullpen, may as well get Timlin and Embree hot for the eighth.” Not Grady Little, no sirree bob. Little went to Pedro and asked him to go one more inning with the only explanation being he was going to stick with his ace as long as he could.
The move seemed to work when Nick Johnson popped up to put the Sox 5 outs away from the pennant. Even Derek Lowe sitting in the dugout said “He just got Nick Johnson to pop up, he’s 0-2 on Jeter, this game’s over.” It wasn’t over as….who else….Derek Jeter doubled over the head of Nixon before Bernie Williams singled him home to cut the lead. With 110 pitches on his arm and Timlin and Embree ready in the bullpen, Little bounded out of the dug-out. Fans rejoiced as they figured that Alan Embree would come in to face Hideki Matsui and Jorge Posada hitting from the right side. In a shocking move, Little went to Pedro and asked him to finish the inning, patting him on the shoulder before leaving. Right on cue Matsui and Posada hit back to back doubles to tie the game. Yankee Stadium exploded as Little finally removed Pedro from the game as Red Sox Nation steamed. Naturally once Timlin and Embree were brought in, the Yankees didn’t score in the 8th or 9th inning after. Tim Wakefield was brought in for extra innings work as he and Yankees closer Mariano Rivera went one on one not only to decide the pennant but ALCS MVP as well. Wakefield carried the Sox on his back in Game’s 1 and 4 while Rivera closed out all 3 Yankee wins. Rivera pitched 3 scoreless innings while Wakefield got out out of the 10th inning. In fact, Rivera was finished after the top of the 11th and Jeff Weaver was scheduled to come in for the top of the 12th if it went that far. The Sox batted Weaver around during the regular season so if Wakefield could survive the bottom of the 11th, the Sox most likely would have gotten a run off Weaver and had Williamson still available for the bottom of the 12th. That’s where Aaron Boone showed up. Boone had been nothing more than a role player during his Yankees tenure but this was his night. The first pitch Wakefield threw in the bottom of the 12th ended up in the stands and the Yankees were going to the World Series. The phony “curse” struck again as Clemens and Wells made a mad dash to the Babe Ruth statue in Monument Park to celebrate. After the game the Boston media crucified Grady Little as Yankee fans danced, pranced and rejoyced saying the Red Sox had the best offense ever and still couldn’t beat them. Then it all went to hell for the Yankees.
In the aftermath of the Yankees loss, the Red Sox front office took a hard look at their team and realized what they needed to do to beat the Yankees. They needed one more guy in the bullpen, another starter to go with Pedro, better bench strength and for the love of Pete a new manager. The last one was easy as Little was canned days after the loss and replaced by respected Oakland A’s bench coach Terry Francona. Francona was a baseball lifer who’s father Tito was a major leaguer but at least paid attention to scouting reports. The Sox then had to match the Yankees and they pulled off a shocking trade on Thanksgiving, sending four guys to the Arizona Diamondbacks for ace pitcher Curt Schilling, the same guy that was Co-World Series MVP in 2001 against the Yankees. The Sox then signed Francona’s closer from 2003, Keith Foulke. Unlike Scott Williamson who had a history of shoulder issues, Foulke was a rubber arm that could go multiple days in a row. The bench was also bolstered by picking up defensive wizard Pokey Reese.
Then came the A-Rod saga. In 2001 the Texas Rangers signed Alex Rodriguez for a then unheard of $252 million dollar contract and was seriously regretting it by the end of 2003. The Red Sox became very interested and the Rangers were open to a trade. The Red Sox were going to send Manny Ramirez and a 19 year old single A prospect named Jon Lester to the Rangers for A-Rod. Then they were going to turn around and trade Nomar Garciaparra to the White Sox for Magglio Ordonez. The Rangers said it was a done deal and A-Rod was on his way to the Sox…..not so fast! The MLB Players Association stepped in because the Red Sox demanded that A-Rod’s salary be reworked to fit their budget. The Sox had no intention of paying A-Rod $252 million and the PA got the trade nixed. Here’s where Aaron Boone comes into play again. Boone was playing basketball one day and blew out his knee, wiping out his 2004 season. Now the Yankees needed a third basemen and realized that if A-Rod was available, why not get him? They had already signed slugger Gary Sheffield to bolster their offense and getting A-Rod would be the cherry on top. Out of nowhere the Yankees sent Alfonso Soriano to the Rangers for A-Rod and once again the Yankee fans rejoiced and pranced around. The one advantage the Sox had over the Yankees was now nullified and on top of that, Nomar got pissed off the Sox were remotely interested in trading him. The Yankees had a bigger problem on their hands that nobody paid much attention to. Following the 2003 season Roger Clemens, Andy Pettite and David Wells all left in free agency. The Yankees replaced the trio with a washed up Kevin Brown, average starter Jon Lieber and an overmatched Javier Vazquez. Bolstered by the Schilling trade an emergence of scrap heap pickup Bronson Arroyo, the Red Sox rotation was now better than the Yankees. Also, the Yankees lost Jeff Nelson and Mike Stanton out of their bullpen and replaced them with two former Sox pitchers Tom Gordon and Paul Quantrill.
The 2004 Red Sox season got off to a promising start despite Nomar being lost for the first 3 months due to an injury. Then they fell apart as their defense was atrocious considering Millar and Mueller were declining physically and Ramirez was a well known lousy fielder. The Yankees held a 10.5 game lead in the standings in mid-July when Theo had a tough decision to make. Nomar had to go and off he went to the Chicago Cubs in a 3 way trade that brought over first basemen Doug Mientkiwicz and jokester Orlando Cabrera. Cabrera was much better defensively at short and Doug was much better defensively than Millar at first. It should be noted one of the unsung heroes of the 2003 Sox was second basemen Todd Walker who clubbed 5 home runs in the post-season. He left after the year and was replaced my Mark Bellhorn, a streak hitter who struck out more often than not. Bellhorn clubbed 17 regular season home runs but could he replicate Walker’s playoff production was the question. After a lackluster first week of August, the Sox steamrolled everyone the rest of the season to win 98 games and win the wild card falling 3 games short of the Yankees in the division standings. The warts on the Yankees were showing as Torre used Quantrill and Gordon so much because the starting pitching was so lackluster that they got tired. At one point the Yankees brought back former ace Orlando Hernandez to be the fifth starter and rode him half to death as well. After the Yankees beat the Twins and the Sox swept the Anaheim Angels, the stage was set for an ALCS rematch of the previous year.
Things went wrong from the start as Schilling tore a tendon in his ankle during his Game 1 win over the Angels and tried to shake it off in Game 1 of the ALCS. It didn’t work as the Yankees pounded him for 6 runs in just 3 innings. The Sox fought back but the formerly indomitable bullpen surrendered 4 more runs to drop the game 10-7. Not only were the Sox down, the Yankees finally figured out Pedro Martinez after seeing him constantly the previous 6 years. Pedro himself said he should call the Yankees his “daddies” which led to Yankee stadium patrons bellowing “Who’s Your Daddy?” throughout his starts. In Game 2 Pedro was vintage Pedro but Jon Lieber was better. Pedro’s one mistake was a 2 run home run to John Olerud as the Yankees took the game 2-0. Game 3 was an out and out massacre as the Yankees pounded the Red Sox 19-8 to take a 3-0 series lead. Anyone who thought the Sox were dead had every reason to but there were signs a comeback could be made. The Sox did manage to score 8 runs in Game 3 against Brown and Vazquez so they weren’t fooling the Sox. Game 4 was scheduled to be Derek Lowe against Hernandez so if they could keep it close, who knows? The Yankees still held a 4-3 going into the bottom of the ninth as Yankee fans pranced around AOL Chatrooms claiming a sweep and celebrating despite there were 3 outs to go. Somehow the gods were on the Sox side as hall of fame closer Rivera walked Millar to open the inning. During the season the Sox picked up speedster Dave Roberts and he was brought in to steal second. The whole world knew he was going and go he did….safe! With Roberts at second, Mueller slammed a single up the middle to tie the game. 3 gut-wrenching innings followed as the bullpen kept the Yankees off the board, setting up a walkoff two run homer by Ortiz to keep the Sox alive. The sad part was the day of Game 5, cynical Sox fans were mad they won Game 4 just to prolong the agony but as it was, Pedro was going to face Mussina that evening. Once again the Yankees bolted to a 4-2 lead but Ortiz’ bat, Roberts’ legs and Varitek’s keen intelect tied the game in the bottom of the eighth. It should be noted after Roberts scored the tying run in Game 5, the Yankees never led again in the series. This time the game took 14 innings and once again it was Ortiz with the walkoff single. Yankee fans barely even took notice as they were doing the boogie woogie at the idea of clinching at home. Curt Schilling was scheduled to pitch knowing full well he was injured and Lieber blinded the Sox in Game 2 in the same building. Two things happened, the first was Dr. James Andrews was able to temporarily suture the tendons in Schilling’s ankle to allow him to push off despite incredible pain and the second was Mark Bellhorn was ready to deliver. Schilling’s velocity returned and he held the Yankees to 1 run in 7 innings and the Sox got some karma back in their favor. Back in the 99 series the Yankees benefitted from two horrible umpiring calls that were not reviewed, this time it would be different. Bellhorn hit a 3 run home run off a girl in the stands who dropped the ball back onto the field, which the umpires ruled a double. Francona asked the umps to talk about it and in an unexpected state of affairs, the umps changed the call correctly to home run, 4-1 Red Sox. In the bottom of the eighth the Yankees rallied off Arroyo for a run with one out, Jeter on first and A-Rod up. A-Rod hit a little dribber off the end of the bat and when Arroyo went to tag him, A-Rod slapped the ball out of Arroyo’s hand. Jeter came all the way around to score and A-Rod stood at second with Yankee Stadium going wild. Know who else went wild? The Red Sox dugout who saw A-Rod swat the ball and angrily demanded the umpires to talk about it. Even Al Leiter up in the Fox broadcast booth saw what A-Rod did and knew that was interference. MLB rules state that if something like that happens, not only is the batter out but runners return to their original base. Sure enough the umps huddled together and called A-Rod out, bringing Jeter back to first. Yankee fans proved how classy they were by heaving baseballs on the field as A-Rod pleaded his case. The irony was if A-Rod just let himself be tagged, Jeter would have been at second and would have scored on the ensuing base hit. As it was, the Yankees were down 4-2 in the ninth and Foulke punched out Tony Clark to end the game and send the series to a second consecutive winner take all Game 7. This time it was Red Sox fans that were confident as New York’s starter was Kevin Brown who Sox batters had no trouble figuring out. The Yankees thought they were cute when they had Bucky Dent throw out the first pitch but it was the Red Sox who struck when David Ortiz took a Kevin Brown pitch out of the yard for a quick 2-0 lead. A Johnny Damon grand slam and two run shot later, it was 8-1 Red Sox in the 4th with Brown and Vazquez both pounded. The Sox tacked on some runs and won the American League pennant completing a never done before in baseball comeback down 3-0. The world series was anticlamatic in comparison but the Sox broke the “curse” and were 2004 World Series champions.
The fallout of the 2004 post-season continues to this day. Even though the Yankees rebounded to win the division in 2005 and 2006, their aura of invincibility was over. Any time Yankee fans wanted to run their mouths, Red Sox fans could bring up 2004. In 2007 the Yankees tried to get the gang back together when they brought back Clemens and Pettite but the Sox beat them at their own game. Opening up the checkbook the Red Sox signed outfielder JD Drew to a 20 million dollar a year deal to replace Nixon and paid a total of 150 million for Japanese pitcher Daisuke Matsuzaka. The Yankees responded by signing Kei Igawa. If you just went “who?” that’s the point. During the 2005 off-season interim GM Ben Cherrington (a story for another day) traded super prospects Hanley Ramirez and Annibal Sanchez to Florida for 2003 World Series MVP starter Josh Beckett. Beckett turned into the ace of the Sox from 2007-09 and the 07 Sox also featured a pair of rookies, AL ROY Dustin Pedroia and outfielder Jacoby Ellsbury. Kevin Youkilis was a role player on the 04 Sox but claimed the starting 1st basemen job in 2006. Not only did the Sox sign Dice K from Japan, they signed reliever Hideki Okajima who became a fan favorite that year. Foulke was gone by 07 but Jon Papelbon stepped in to fill the role. The 07 Sox started out in first place and never looked back. The Yankees were good enough to win the wild card but lost a memorable ALDS to the Cleveland Indians when a swarm of bugs harrassed rookie pitcher Joba Chamberlain, yes of course I’m serious. The Sox defeated the Indians and then the Colorado Rockies to win their second world title in four years. The Yankees switched managers as Joe Torre rode off into the sunset and was replaced by Joe Girardi in 2008 who had led the undermanned Florida Marlins to respectability in 07.
Injuries derailed the Red Sox in 2008 most notably to third basemen Mike Lowell and Beckett as the Tampa Bay Rays came out of nowhere to win the division and pennant against the Red Sox in another tough 7 game series. The Yankees crumbled to miss the playoffs for the first time since the cancellation of the 1994 season but they had the answer. The Yankees opened their checkbook to sign ace pitcher CC Sabbathia, starter AJ Burnett and slugger Mark Teixeria to turn the Yankees back into a super power. The 2009 Red Sox chugged along but injuries to Dice K and Wakefield along with the evaporation of Lowell had them win the wild card and swept out of the ALDS. It should be noted that after A-Rod slapped the ball out of Arroyo’s hand, he was a complete post-season bust from 05-07. In 2009 the gods were on the Yankees side as they blitzed through the post-season with A-Rod finally having a good showing to win the world series and restore them to their former power…..for about 5 minutes.
As the Red Sox stumbled, bumbled and fell from 2010-12 the Yankees made it to the ALCS twice but got knocked out in both 2010 and 2012. In 2013 a rag tag bunch of Red Sox along with a new manager in John Farrell shocked the baseball world by winning 97 games and the American League East title. The 13 Red Sox were made up of Mike Napoli, Johnny Gomes, Daniel Nava, David Ross, Jared Saltalamacchia, Will Middlebrooks and a host of anothers forged by alchemy more than chemistry. The 13 Sox relied on wearing starters out with foul balls and having timely pitching. A new crop of pitchers such as Clay Buchholz, Lester, John Lackey, Felix Doubront, Koji Uehara, Craig Breslow and Junichi Tazawa led the charge as the Sox beat the Rays and Detroit Tigers to head to the World Series, defeating the Cardinals for their third world title in less than 10 years. At this point the Red Sox had bypassed the Yankees for dominant team in the American League as no other team won more than 2 pennants in the AL from 2004 to the present day. No matter how good the Yankees were, Red Sox fans werent afraid of them anymore You mention a bullpen of Nelson, Stanton, Ramiro Mendoza and Rivera or a rotation of Clemens, Pettite, Wells, Hernandez and David Cone and Sox fans run away screaming. Now you mention Michael Pineda, Aaron Hicks, Dellin Betances and David Robertson and Sox fans would laugh at you.
The Sox spent two miserable years in 2014 and 2015 trying rediscover themselves but the Yankees didn’t fare much better. The Yankees bid goodbye to Jeter, Pettite and Rivera in those years and didnt make the playoffs in 2014. They were knocked out of the wild card play-in game in 15 which set up 2016. The Red Sox primary adversaries in 2016 were the Baltimore Orioles and Toronto Blue Jays. With Rick Porcello and David Price the top two aces, the Sox now marched toward the AL East title with young talent such as Mookie Betts, Xander Bogaerts, Andrew Benintendi, Jackie Bradley Jr, Travis Shaw and Brock Holt. Hanley Ramirez was brought back to join Ortiz in his farewell year as the Sox won 93 games and the AL East with the Yankees out of the playoffs again. The Sox got swept out of the ALDS by the Cleveland Indians but they still had a better year than New York. The following year the Sox traded a boatload of prospects for Chicago ace Chris Sale although the warts on the team were too much to overcome. John Farrell was the perfect choice to manage the 2013 Red Sox because he worked with Lester and Buchholz as pitching coach of the 07 team and had familiarity with Ortiz, Pedroia and Ellsbury from that team. By 2017 the only one remaining from 07 was Pedroia and even though Holt, Bradley Jr and Bogaerts were on the 2013 team, it had a much different look compared to four years earlier. For whatever reason the offense evaportated as Betts, Ramirez, Bogaerts, Bradley Jr and free agent pickup Mitch Moreland all flopped in the wake of Ortiz retiring. Porcello had a down year and injuries knocked Price out of the rotation. Eduardo Rodriguez was developing into an ace but he too got hurt in 2017. The only consistent starters were Sale and lefty Drew Pomeranz in 2017 but Sale wore down as the season progressed. The Yankees also needed to do some unloading and they did, trading Aroldis Chapman and Andrew Miller for prospects that ended up helping them contend in 2017. The Sox held off a late season surge by the Yankees to win their second consecutive division title but once again were out in round 1 this time at the hands of the Houston Astros. The Yankees got a layup when they had to play the Minnesota Twins in the play-in game before stunning the Indians to get to the ALCS where they lost a Game 7 showdown to Houston.
The 2018 off-season should have belonged to the Yankees. Derek Jeter was named the new owner of the Miami (formerly Florida) Marlins and the first thing he did was hand National League MVP Giancarlo Stanton to the Yankes for 4 low level prospects. They also re-signed closer Aroldis Chapman the previous year after he closed out the 2016 World Series for the Chicago Cubs. Star prospects Aaron Judge and Gary Sanchez were looking to form a trio of terror and more prospects such as Ronald Torreyes, Miguel Andujar and Gleybar Torres were on their way. The Red Sox were scrambling for a new manager after Farrell was let go and there was talk the Sox should trade Betts and Bogaerts while they could for Bryce Harper. Suddenly, things went the other way. For whatever reason, Yankees brass decided Girardi had to go after damn near leading the Yankees to the pennant and replaced him with Aaron Boone, who had been doing Sunday Night Baseball on ESPN previously. Ironically it was A-Rod who replaced Boone in the booth after Boone was hired by the Yankees. The Sox turned to an old friend, Alex Cora, a reserve second basemen on the 2007 team to be the new manager after winning a ring as Houston’s bench coach in 2017. The knock on Farrell was he couldn’t get through to younger players but here was a guy who could. The Sox also benefited from signing slugger JD Martinez to have their first legitimate 4 man since Ortiz retired. Pundits predicted the Yankees would run away with the AL East and easily win the world series….well they could still win it but it sure as hell wasn’t easy. The Red Sox blitzed to a 17-2 start and are currently 88-36 on the season, 10.5 games ahead of the Yankees.
The problem with the Yankees has been their rotation. CC Sabbathia has looked old, Masahiro Tanaka is the modern day Jon Lieber and ace Luis Severino has hit a wall like Chris Sale did in 2017. Their fourth and fifth starters are JA Happ and Lance Lynn, neither of them are going to scare anyone come October. Injuries to Judge and Sanchez didn’t help but the Red Sox stomped a mud-hole in the Yankees in a key series from August 2-5 to give them this huge lead. Over in New York everyone is hysterically bleating that Boone doesn’t know what he’s doing and they never should have fired Girardi. Alex Cora has made some rookie mistakes as well but nobody is calling for his head. The fall from grace by the Yankees is astounding and if the Sox manage to win it all this year, Yankee fans have no ammo left apart from the tired “27 rings!” motif. The Yankees havent won a division since 2012 and a pennant/world series since 2009. It would take a miracle for them to win the division now. More so, the addition of the second wild card negated most of the routine moves the Yankees made. In 2006 the Philadelphia Phillies handed slugger Bobby Abreu to the Yankees for four no name prospects because they had no chance to make the playoffs. Nowadays teams on the bubble have a chance to make the wild card so they’re keeping what they got. The Seattle Mariners are on the outside looking in right now but rather than trade Felix Hernandez or Mike Paxton to the Yankees, they’re holding on for a potential wild card run against them. The Yankees did make trades to get Zach Britton, Happ and Lynn but missed out on Manny Machado, who went to the Dodgers and Harper who stayed in Washington. Its been 15 years since Boone hit that home run but since then the Yankees have won one pennant and world title while the Red Sox have won 3. Boone looks overmatched as a manager this year and A-Rod was a playoff bust every year but 2009. If the Sox win the world series for the fourth time you may never see Yankee fans again. We can all hope.