ESPN continues MLB Encore Tuesdays, a series of classic game broadcasts, this week at 7 p.m. ET with Game 7 of the 2003 American League Championship Series between the Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees at Yankee Stadium.
• What you need to know: The stakes and tension couldn’t have been higher. The Yankees-Red Sox rivalry — and the Curse of the Bambino — were at full steam. The Red Sox hadn’t been to the World Series since 1986 and repeatedly came up short to New York. Emotions in this series got cranked up to 11 in Game 3, when the benches cleared multiple times, with 72-year-old Yankees coach Don Zimmer getting shoved to the ground after charging at Pedro Martinez.
The Red Sox forced Game 7 with a comeback win the previous night at the Stadium. But the win took a toll on the Boston bullpen, which wasn’t a strength to begin with. Byung-Hyun Kim had led the team in saves but wasn’t even on the playoff roster. Mike Timlin was the only reliever with an ERA under 4.00. Scott Williamson, who had an ERA over 6.00 in 24 games with Boston during the regular season, somehow ended up as the team’s closer with three saves in the series. Timlin, Williamson and bullpen mate Alan Embree all pitched at least one inning in Game 6.
The winner-take-all pitching matchup was a rematch of Game 3, with Martinez facing Roger Clemens, who had announced he would retire at the end of the season, making this potentially the final start of his stellar career.
• Did you know? Entering the bottom of the 11th inning in Game 7, each team had scored exactly 29 runs in the series.
• The view from the press box: Charley Steiner, who did Yankees radio in 2003, told of his pregame conversation with Red Sox manager Grady Little in a 2018 story in Bleacher Report. “He said, in that old, slow drawl — and I had no idea how prescient and clairvoyant he would be — ‘I got nothing in the bullpen. Nothing. I even called Derek Lowe in his hotel room this morning and said, “Can you give me an inning?” and he said, “I can’t even brush my teeth.” One of his pitchers, I don’t even remember which one, Grady said, ‘He’s so nervous, he’s got canker sores in his mouth.’ I hadn’t heard the term ‘canker sore’ in I don’t know how long. I got nothing.“
• The view from the field: “I remember Mo [Mariano Rivera] getting out of the 11th inning, pitching his third scoreless inning, I knew running off the field that inning, I had a feeling like I was gonna do something.
“As I’m walking up to the plate, initially I was thinking about taking a pitch. And on my way up there, I kind of changed my thought and said ‘Forget that.’ You know, ‘You’ve been thinking too much this series. Just go up there and get a good pitch to hit.’ The first pitch was a good pitch to hit … and I got a good piece of one.” — Yankees infielder Aaron Boone
• You probably forgot he was in this game: Enrique Wilson, not Aaron Boone, started at third base for the Yankees. In 10 playoff games entering Game 7, Boone had a slash line of .161/.212/.194, and Wilson had some success against Martinez (a 1.167 OPS in 23 career plate appearances entering the playoffs, including 7-for-8 with four doubles in the 2003 regular season). Wilson made a second-inning error that led to a Boston run, and left for pinch-hitter Ruben Sierra after Martinez was pulled in the eighth, with Boone taking over at third in the top of the ninth.
• One thing you might miss: The Yankees had a chance to take the lead in the eighth and spare some of the dramatics. Watch for the funky hop off the pitcher’s mound on Alfonso Soriano’s hard grounder up the middle and quick reaction by Red Sox second baseman Todd Walker.
• The aftermath: The Yankees lost the World Series to the Marlins, dropping the final three games and getting shut out by Josh Beckett, 2-0, in Game 6. New York, which had won four of five World Series from 1996 to 2000, didn’t make it back to the Series until 2009. … Roger Clemens ended his brief retirement in January, signing with the Houston Astros, and would play four more seasons in total. … New Englanders who had cursed Bucky “Bleeping” Dent could add Aaron “Bleeping” Boone to their most hated list. But no one felt the wrath of frustrated Red Sox fans more than Little, who earned a spot in the Second Guess Hall of Fame. Little was fired as Red Sox manager 11 days later. At the time, Red Sox GM Theo Epstein said the decision not to renew Little’s contract was made “on a body of work after careful contemplation of the big picture” and that it “did not depend on any one decision in any one postseason game.” Terry Francona replaced Little, and the Red Sox and Yankees met again in the 2004 ALCS for another memorable series. That one went a little better for Boston.