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In this case, it is tough to distinguish what was more exciting; the build up leading to the home run or the actual home run itself.
The tense build up between both teams emerged close to a hundred years ago but that’s another story. In the 2003 American League Championship Series, the tension had built up from the get-go. Not only did the winner of this series advance to the World Series, the winner would have bragging rights over their nemesis. The playoffs are the time to shine and if you can’t beat a division rival during October baseball, whatever you have done in the past means nothing.
Even before the first pitch was thrown in Game 1, hearts were beating, adrenaline was running, and the pressure was most certainly on. Let’s win it for New York! No. Let’s win it for Boston! It was not your ordinary Championship Series. Not by a long shot. And the series lived up to all the surrounding hype.
After back-and-forth battles in the first six games of the series and after both teams had thrown numerous jabs at each other, literally and methaphorically, the series was taken into a seventh game to determine who would earn those very desired bragging rights.
Boston took an early 5-2 lead and with Pedro Martinez wheeling and dealing, it appeared that Boston was well on their way to a World Series appearance. The only thing that kept the Yankees in the game were Jason Giambi’s two home runs and Mike Mussina’s first relief appearance ever, in which he threw three innings of shut out ball. In the 8th inning, Grady Little decided to stick with a tired Martinez despite his high pitch count. When Little said that “We’ve upgraded from a battle to a war” after Game 3’s shenanigans, his statement proved to be right. When he decided to stick with his ace, his decision proved to be wrong.
Derek Jeter started the rally with a double, followed by a Bernie Williams single, a double by Hideki Matsui, and a Jorge Posada bloop double; all off of Pedro to tie the game at five. Mariano Rivera shut down Boston for the next three innings leading up to the 11th inning; an inning the state of Massachusetts would soon long to forget.
A guy like Aaron Boone, who comes from a baseball family of all-stars, gold glovers, and former managers, would not normally have his name appear in headlines or highlighted in the box score of a game. He was selected to play in the all-star game only once and had been bounced around from team to team for the majority of his career. Boone struggled for the first six games of the series, picking up just two hits in sixteen atbats. It wasn’t until he picked up his third hit of the series that his name had not only appeared in the headlines and highlighted in the box score; it had become iconic and relevant in history.
Facing the difficult knuckleballer, Tim Wakefield, who had been nearly untouchable throughout the series, Aaron Boone was left in the game to lead off the 11th inning despite his struggles.
“When I joined the Yankees, this is the kind of thing I wanted to be part of. The perfect ending.”
The perfect ending he wanted consisted of driving the first knuckleball he saw in the left field stands; a walk-off, game-winning home run in a deciding game seven. He was a part of history at the swing of his own bat. And by joining the Yankees he helped them advance to another World Series. More importantly, he became an historic part of the greatest sports rivalry on this planet.