By Will Weiss
Lasting Yankee Stadium Memories (Part One of Two): The Games
It is safe to say that most, if not all, of us who enter professions in sports media do so because at the very core, we’re fans. For those of us who grew up Yankee fans, covering the team and seeing games from the Yankee Stadium Press Area was the fulfillment of a lifelong dream.
In Part I of my portion of the Lasting Yankee Stadium Memory series here at Bronx Banter, I’d like to focus on the games that I was a part of during my five years at YES, both as an on-site reporter and an editor.
There are some honorable mention games, like July 7, 2003, when Pedro and Moose dueled and Curtis Pride won the game in the ninth. There was a September day-night doubleheader in which Mike Mussina pitched the first game in front of what seemed like 17 people. But after being asked to make a list of my favorite Yankee Stadium games in my tenure at YES, the games described below were the most memorable.
April 5, 2002: Yankees 4, Devil Rays 0
It was the Yankees’ 2002 home opener, complete with all the usual pageantry, pomp and circumstance. There was an air of anticipation and a sense of purpose among the fans, given the way the team had lost the World Series to the Diamondbacks a few short months before. But this was a different Yankee team. Jason Giambi had been signed in the offseason, as had Robin Ventura and David Wells. Gone was Paul O’Neill; Shane Spencer and John Vander Wal were platooning in right field, while Rondell White was patrolling left.
I was having my own issues. I didn’t have a seat or a phone line in the press box, but somehow finagled my way into the YES booth and sat right behind Michael Kay and Jim Kaat. Suzyn Waldman sat to my immediate left, fidgeting with everything from the phone to her makeup bag. Ten minutes of observing her nerves on display went a long way towards calming my own.
I’ll never forget the view, the relief of having a seat, and the feeling of being able to walk on the field at Yankee Stadium before the game. From that point on, YESNetwork.com writers sat in the booth.
As for the game, it was about 50 degrees and windy. The Yankees made two errors and left 11 men on base. The star was Andy Pettitte, who threw six shutout innings to pave the way for the first of 52 home wins that season.
May 17: 2002: Yankees 13, Twins 12 (14 innings)
After six weeks of struggling in front of the Stadium crowd, this was the game in which Jason Giambi "earned his pinstripes."
The Yankees and Twins combined for 25 runs, 40 hits, 3 errors, 10 walks, 27 strikeouts, and the Yankees hit 6 home runs. Bernie Williams’ shot into the upper deck in left off Eddie Guardado tied the game at 9-9 and sent the game into extras. Both teams had chances but no one converted until the 14th, when the Twins posted three against Sterling Hitchcock.
In the middle of the 14th, as the Twins summoned Mike Trombley to the mound, Jim Kaat looked at the Yankees’ upcoming lineup – Shane Spencer, Alfonso Soriano, and Derek Jeter — and said to broadcast partner Ken Singleton, "Trombley’s on the mound. I wouldn’t be surprised to see the first three guys get on base and Bernie end it with a grand slam." Spencer singled, Soriano flied out, Jeter singled and Bernie walked. The grand slam came one spot in the order behind Bernie. It was a classic finish, with his towering fly ball landing in the right-center field bleachers, and the rain pouring down as Giambi’s teammates mauled him at home plate.
This game would not have made my list had Kaat not predicted the ending. Before I headed down to the clubhouse, I asked him if he was clairvoyant. He just smiled at me and said, "I knew they’d get to Trombley – I was just one batter off."
May 26, 2003: Red Sox 8, Yankees 4
This was the first of Roger Clemens’ attempts for Career Win No. 300. As if the prospect of Clemens winning the 300th against his former team wasn’t enough to get everyone in the stadium amped up, the start of the game was delayed two hours by rain.
The biggest question we asked Joe Torre in his pre-game powwow was, "Do you have Roger on a pitch count?" Torre’s reply: "Not really. We’ll see what happens. I think we’ll look at 125 pitches or seven innings, whichever comes first."
Clemens threw 133 pitches in 5 2/3 innings. The Sox hit him hard, but he fanned nine and left to a standing ovation from the Stadium crowd.
June 11, 2003: Astros 8, Yankees 0
This game was the first time the Yankees had been no-hit since September 20, 1958, when Hoyt Wilhelm of the Baltimore Orioles knuckleballed his way to a no-no at Memorial Stadium. Of the games on this list, this Astros-Yankees tilt is one of two I didn’t attend in person; I was the site manager for the nights.
Like many, I thought that once Roy Oswalt left the game after 1 1/3 innings due to a groin injury the Yankees would put on their hitting shoes. But Astros manager Jimy Williams pushed all the right buttons. When all was said and done, six Houston hurlers stifled the most prolific offense in the American League.
I instructed our writer on-site to head to the Astros locker room. The Astros weren’t even a franchise the last time the Yankees were no-hit, so I made the editorial call to focus our recap on their impressions of the historic event. I knew I could rely on YES’s television coverage to give an accurate depiction of the shock and embarrassment from the Yankee side.
June 13, 2003: Yankees 5, Cardinals 2
Roger Clemens’ fourth shot at 300 (he was 0-2 in his previous three chances). On one hand, the capacity crowd was antsy. On another hand, the Cardinals’ arrival marked the Yankee Stadium return of Tino Martinez and Joe Girardi. Tino, wearing No. 21 to honor his friend and former teammate Paul O’Neill, received a three-minute standing ovation before his first at-bat.
Clemens recorded his first four outs by strikeout. The fourth, Edgar Renteria, was the 4,000th K of Clemens’ career. Once Ruben Sierra homered in the fourth inning to break a 2-2 tie, Clemens shifted into another gear. He was throwing harder. The split had more bite. He was determined not to let go of the lead he lost earlier. After retiring the first two batters of the seventh inning, Joe Torre pulled Clemens from the game in favor of lefty junkballer Chris Hammond, to face J.D. Drew. I can still hear the boos that enveloped the stadium as Torre strode to the mound to remove Clemens. When Hammond allowed hits to Drew and Albert Pujols, the boos grew louder. Even after Hammond got Jim Edmonds to ground out, while there was a sense of relief in the Stadium, a win was not guaranteed by any stretch. The fans in attendance and the media members who covered Clemens’ previous start at Wrigley Field – myself included – remembered Juan Acevedo’s gopher ball to Eric Karros that turned a potential victory into a loss.
Raul Mondesi’s two run shot in the bottom of the seventh provided the necessary insurance runs for Antonio Osuna and Mariano Rivera to secure the milestone.
I still have the scoresheet from this game. It’s the only one I ever saved in five years of game coverage.
July 1, 2004: Yankees 5, Red Sox 4 (13 innings)
To this day, I consider July 1, 2004 the greatest regular-season game I’ve ever seen. This game is primarily remembered for Derek Jeter’s face-first tumble into the stands while catching Trot Nixon’s pop-up in the 12th inning, but there was so much more: great pitching, clutch hitting and defense, baffling roster moves, including Joe Torre getting rid of the DH and A-Rod moving to short to replace Jeter, and the last man off the bench emerging as the game’s hero. Nomar Garciaparra was in the midst of his sulking mode and never left the bench. He’d be traded a few weeks later.
The Yankees had won four straight heading into this game, including the first two games versus Boston. Based on the pitching matchup for the finale, however – Pedro Martinez vs. Brad Halsey – this result was unexpected. Halsey outdueled Pedro. His only blip came in the sixth inning, when David Ortiz ripped a one-out double, followed by a Manny Ramirez home run to center that hit the facing of the black bleachers to cut the Yankees’ lead to 3-2. The Sox scratched out another run in the seventh to tie the game, and that’s when tension started to permeate the Stadium.
Stress levels in the Stadium bubbled in the ninth inning. Hideki Matsui led off with a single, and two batters later, Jorge Posada, who had homered earlier in the game, doubled, but Matsui was unable to score on the play. An intentional walk to Tony Clark loaded the bases, and the Yankees could not end it.
With each extra inning, the mood in the booth got more and more tense. We all felt like we were watching something special, but didn’t know the level yet. The Yankees again left the potential winning run on third base in the 10th. In the top of the 11th, the Red Sox stranded the go-ahead runner in scoring position. The top of the 11th featured the first "WTF?" managerial moment of the night, when Terry Francona pinch-ran for Big Papi, who led off the inning with a single and, on Ramirez’s single, advanced to third on Bubba Crosby’s error. Kevin Millar followed with a shot down the third base line. Joe Torre brought the infield in, and diving to his right, A-Rod made an incredible stab from his knees and threw to home, where Posada tagged out Gabe Kapler. Posada quickly threw back to third and A-Rod tagged Manny. We all thought A-Rod picked Millar’s shot out of the air and thought, "Triple Play!" Multiple relays confirmed he trapped Millar’s liner, and that the umpires had the call correct: double play. After the insanity, Dave McCarty flied out to end the madness.
Top 12: Tanyon Sturtze took the mound. I looked at Suzyn Waldman and said, "It’ll be 7-3 before too long." The Sox did put two men on base, but didn’t score.
Bottom 12: The Yankees couldn’t push a run across after Miguel Cairo’s leadoff triple, but Francona moved Millar in from right field after a couple of walks loaded the bases to create a five-man infield. Bernie Williams struck out to end the inning.
Top 13: I thought the game was over when Manny Ramirez hit the leadoff home run.
Bottom 13: Curtis Leskanic retired the first two batters easily. I already had the angle of my story: missed opportunities. I planned to focus on the eight men left on base from the ninth inning on. But Ruben Sierra singled. The diehards who stayed started to believe something big was about to happen. Then Cairo, that year’s version of Luis Sojo circa 2000, doubled to center to tie the game. Finally, John Flaherty, the last man sent in by Torre, pinch-hit for Sturtze and drove a hanging slider into the left-field corner. Mayhem. Even in the booth, we were caught up in the frenzy.
Game 7, ALCS, 2003: Yankees 6, Red Sox 5 (11 innings)
I saved the best for last. I was the lead editor on YESNetwork.com. Throughout the game, my writer on-site and I went back and forth over story ideas, and when Jorge Posada doubled in the eighth inning, well, most everything we had planned was shot to hell except for Grady Little’s puzzling decision to keep Pedro Martinez in the game.
When Aaron Boone hit the home run in the 11th, I walked into the bedroom shortly before calling Ken Singleton for his postgame column, and my wife asked, "Did they win?"
I said, "Yep."
"Dammit," she said. (Author’s note: The real quote was more expletive-laden.)
I said, "Hey, at this point, what’s another week? And how many more opportunities will I get to cover a World Series?"
As it turned out, none. But in five straight seasons of regular season and playoffs, I was fortunate to witness enough history and magic to fill many scrapbooks and scoresheets.
Will Weiss, author of the weekly Yankee Panky column here at Bronx Banter, covered the Yankees from 2002-2007 as Senior Editor of YESNetwork.com.