Aaron Boone swung at the first pitch thrown to him in the 11th inning, 16 minutes past midnight this morning, and as soon as he hit the ball, his teammates launched themselves out of the Yankees' dugout, certain of where the ball would land — the first moment in this game anybody had any right to be certain of anything.
Mariano Rivera raced to the mound and lay near the pitching rubber and thanked God, at the same spot where, three innings before, Boston manager Grady Little had asked Pedro Martinez if he could continue pitching.
That was when the Red Sox led, 5-3, when they were five outs from slaying the Yankees and moving on to the World Series, five outs from escaping 85 years of imprisonment in their own fated history. Five more outs, and the Red Sox could leave Babe Ruth and Bucky Dent and maybe even Bill Buckner behind them. But now the 2003 Red Sox are condemned to join those ghosts.
Little left Martinez in and the Yankees tied the game with three runs in the eighth, and in the 11th, Boone's long drive off Tim Wakefield landed in the left field stands to beat the Red Sox, 6-5, and decided the seven-game American League Championship Series.
The Yankees and Red Sox had played 19 times during the regular season, seven more times in the postseason, and they still needed extra innings to determine the league champion.
‘The Sweetest Taste of All’
"This is the best," said Yankees manager Joe Torre. "To come here and play against the Red Sox, and play them 26 times and beat our rival like we did, it couldn't be more satisfying. This has to be the sweetest taste of all for me."
The Yankees of Torre, typically understated in their pennant celebrations, went crazy. Boone rounded third and threw himself into teammates waiting at home plate. First base coach Lee Mazzilli hoisted a moist-eyed Rivera from the mound, and Rivera — who pitched three innings of relief, all scoreless, for the first time since 1996 — was then lifted on the shoulders of teammates, the Most Valuable Player of the series. Pedro Martinez, hooded in a gray sweatshirt, retreated to the Boston clubhouse, and after trying to relieve Little of some of the criticism that will follow him for the rest of his life, the Boston ace sat alone in front of his locker, the ends of his thin moustache mournfully aimed at the floor.
He had been so good, pitching in a hostile Yankee Stadium and under enormous pressure which had been building since Martinez instigated the nasty Game 3 incidents with a pitch behind the head of Karim Garcia.
Roger Clemens started for the Yankees, in the last season of his career, and gave up four runs in three-plus innings, and when he walked off in the midst of the fourth, the fans stood and cheered for Clemens, unsure of whether they would ever see him pitch again.
Mike Mussin would follow Clemens, and so would Felix Heredia, Jeff Nelson and David Wells, each trying to keep the Yankees in the game and give the offense a chance to come back against Martinez.
Martinez Was Money ...
But Martinez was extraordinary, his velocity increasing from inning to inning, his fastball starting at 88 mph and eventually reaching 94 mph. Martinez had appeared to be struggling with his arm in recent weeks, but he changed speeds on the Yankees in Game 7, changed locations, moved the ball around.
"He's the best," said Jason Giambi, the Yankees' slugger.