One of my best friends in High School was the son of a local weatherman. He often had access to decent seats at a few sporting events, including some New York Yankee games. This worked out well for us since we were both huge Yankee fans, and his father took us to games on more than one occasion. It’s been about 25 years, so the memories are a bit fuzzy. But one game stands out above the others, if only because of the shear ridiculousness that precipitated in the upheaval that was the 9th inning.
It was September 18, 1993, and Buck Showalter’s Yankees were just wrapping up their first winning season since 1988. It was also the first of 25 straight winning seasons (so far) and thus the beginning of the next Yankee dynasty. The ’93 Yanks featured some names that give the nostalgic fan goosebumps to this day. Players like Mike Stanley – one of the most unsung catchers to wear pinstripes, and Jim Leyritz – the powerful clutch hitting utility guy graced the field in those days. Then there was Tartabull… Velarde… Stankiewicz…
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Wade Boggs had just joined the Yankees from free agency that year. Paul O’Neill was new to the franchise as well, having been acquired from the Reds in exchange for Roberto Kelly that offseason. Bernie Williams was a full timer for the first time, his third season in the majors. Don Mattingly was still two seasons away from calling it a career.
I loved that rotation too. Melido Perez’s best days were behind him, but he was still my dude. Melido was actually my name in Spanish class that year. The amazing Jim Abbot was the #2 guy, and that day was exactly 2 weeks after he no-hit Cleveland… WITH ONE HAND. I’ll say it again, a guy named Jim, with no right hand, threw a no-hitter against a Major League Baseball Team. Whoa…
It was Jimmy Key’s first season in New York as well. He was the bona-fide ace of the staff, and he was on the mound that day. Mo Vaughn got things started early, smashing a flyball to deep right for a 2-run homerun. Tim Naehring, now the Yankees VP of Baseball Operations, scored the other run on that shot. Key battled all game long, lasting 6 innings while throwing 125 pitches and earning 3 runs on 9 hits and 2 walks.
Here’s the video of that insane 9th inning comeback:
Nate Minchey was the starter for Boston that day. It was the second start of his career, and he would only have 10 more starts afterward. He somehow managed to hold New York to only 1 run on 6 hits and a walk in 6 innings though, not bad. The one run surrendered was on an O’Neill line drive down the right field line for a solo homer, and that is how he ended his day.
Not much happened after that until the bottom of the 9th, where the Yankees found themselves down 3-1 with the bottom of the order on deck. Matt Nokes started things off, and promptly grounded out an 0-1 pitch to the shortstop John Valentin for the first out. Bernie was next, and he hit a 1-1 pitch for the same result. Now here’s where it gets weird…
The 9 hitter, Mike Gallego, comes to the plate and takes a 2-1 meatball from veteran reliever Greg Harris off his right fore-arm. Now the Yanks have the tying run at the plate, so Showalter opts to pinch hit Stanley for Velarde. And hey, it’s a solid move. Stanley > Velarde, all day every day.
Unfortunately, Stanley pops up the 0-1 pitch to Mike Greenwell in shallow left for out number 3. Ballgame ov… Nope. Ballgame not over! A millisecond before the pitch was thrown, some kid runs out from foul territory behind third and third base umpire Tim Welke calls time. You can actually lip-read Greenwell cursing the kid out in the video replay.
After the kid gets dragged off, the Red Sox manager Butch Hobson is incredulous, yet despite his protests the play will be done over since time was called before the ball left Harris’ hand. Everyone goes back to their stations, and the Yankees have a second life.
Harris once again sets up to throw 0-1 and hangs a curve ball that Stanley smacks through the hole between Valentin and third for a base hit, and now there’s runners at 1st and 2nd with two outs. At this point I remember we moved down to the front row and were beating the wall senseless, since clapping didn’t feel sufficient. My friend’s father, the weatherman, was also there with us along with the anchorman from the station he worked at. You could smoke in the stadium in those days, and Don (the anchorman) had been chain-smoking the entire game.
The stadium was beginning to erupt. 10 years of frustration had been slowly alleviated all season long, but it was still there, and this felt GOOD.
Showalter points an authoritative finger toward first, indicating that he wants Gerald Williams to pinch run for Stanley. Stanley could hit, but Gerald could run. Next up, THE Wade Boggs, who bounces a 2-2 curve perfectly between Vaughn and second baseman Scott Fletcher for yet another groundball base hit. Scott did get to the ball but by then it was too late, and Boggs was safe. Gallego scores. 3-2 Boston with men on first and second, 2 outs.
Dion James walks to load the bases, and now it’s Mattingly’s turn to bat. Stankiewicz pinch runs for Boggs at second. Yankee Stadium is a burning cauldron of excitement and venom as Donnie “The Hitman” Mattingly, aka Donnie Baseball steps to the plate with bases loaded and a .571 batting average in such situations that year, against the hated Red Sox of Boston.
And just like that, I remember it in slow motion, Harris throws just about the flattest curve you’ll ever see, and Donnie effortlessly lines it to shallow right. It was pretty much the same exact spot that Boggs hit his, just a little harder, so it made it all the way to right fielder Bob Zupcic.
Williams scores easily. Zupcic fields and throws a nice looking one-hopper to the plate but catcher Tony Peña is unable to field it cleanly. It doesn’t matter because Stankiewicz was already crossing the plate for the winning run. Ballgame over, for real this time. Bedlam ensues.
I don’t remember much after that. I know the halls were filled with fans who were over the moon. This was 11 years before the Red Sox finally ended their curse, so their fans were still few and far between, however one Boston fan would turn out to be the hero that faithful day. The following morning, I looked at the recap of that game in the sports section of the Hartford Courant. I read it over and over, and I’ll never know if this is true or not, but it seems plausible… my favorite part of the article was where they had indicated that the fan on the field was, in fact, a Red Sox fan. The Hardball Times claims it was “some jaggoff Yankee fan” but I remember.