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2003: A Tale of Pain

The tale of how Aaron Boone almost made me quit watching sports.

16 Oct 2003: Aaron Boone of the New York Yankees celebrates his game winning home run during the Yanks 6-5 victory over the Boston Red Sox in game 7 of the ALCS at Yankee Stadium in New York, NY. Photo by John Dunn/Sporting News via Getty Images via Getty Images

If you’ve been reading the site for the last few weeks, first of all thank you, and second of all you’ve likely noticed we’ve been running through some themes week after week. These have been throughout SB Nation as we try to get through this sports-less period. This week, the theme is all about moments in sports that made us cry. This is an entry along the lines of that theme.

My seminal moment of sports pain was the Aaron Boone home run in Game Seven of the 2003 ALCS. I’m sure I share this with a lot of New Englanders who weren’t alive to see the heartbreak of 1946, ‘67, ‘75, ‘78, or ‘86. Let me give some background. Heading into the spring of my freshman year of high school, my dad had bought a partial Red Sox ticket package. That summer I was able to go to a bunch of Red Sox-Yankees games at Fenway and I became even more passionate about the team than I already was.

Those 2002 Red Sox were really special to me and particularly one game, May 24 2002, stands out. Roger Clemens pitched for the Yankees, John Burkett pitched for the Red Sox, and I was there with my two uncles, my grandfather, and my dad. We never all got together like this so the day was special from the very beginning. It was a back and forth affair with the Red Sox jumping out to a 6-0 lead by the third inning. As great as it was to see Clemens get pounded at Fenway I never felt comfortable with the lead. Sure enough the Yankees battled back and after a huge 7th inning the Red Sox were ahead by just one, 8-7. The Yankees tied it in the 8th and we headed into extras.

In the bottom of the 11th inning facing Steve Karsay, Ricky Henderson started it off with a single, I thought, “Okay maybe they have something here”. Shea Hillenbrand then singled to left and I was getting hyped. Trot Nixon followed that by moving over the runners with a sacrifice bunt and runners were now at second and third. Jason Varitek stepped to the plate and drew a walk to load the bases for Carlos Baerga. Baerga connected and lifted a fly ball to deep center allowing Henderson, who still had wheels, to score. The Red Sox walked it off 9-8 to give the team a four-game lead over the Yankees in the AL East.

After this day I was a fanatic. Fast-forward to 2003, and my dad and I continued to go to a bunch of games. Ticket prices had been raised so we didn’t go to as many, but we were at Fenway Park for Game Five of the ALCS when the Red Sox and Yankees were tied 2-2 in the series. That night it was David Wells against Derek Lowe. While the latter didn’t have his best stuff, he battled. The Yankees, however, took this one 4-2. My dad and I were sitting in the bleachers and following that loss I’d never seen that section so quiet. I felt a sense of doom for the series. They were now headed to Yankee Stadium for Game Six and it felt like it could be over

Sure enough those Red Sox continued to fight and overcame Andy Pettitte and Jose Contreras to win in a 9-6 slugfest. I began to convince myself that these Red Sox were different. Game Seven was at Yankee Stadium, but I didn’t feel that familiar sense of doom because my sports hero, Pedro Martínez, was on the mound. Through Martínez I believed the impossible was possible. He was the most dominant athlete I’ve ever seen and I already knew he could outduel his opponent, Clemens.

In this one Clemens lasted just three innings giving up four runs, three earned, before being pulled for Mike Mussina. It was the fourth inning and the Red Sox were up 4-0 in enemy territory and my hero was in a groove. Pedro continued to cruise until the bottom of the seventh inning when Jason Giambi hit a home run to cut the Red Sox lead to two. In the bottom of the eighth Martinez was still in the game. I was screaming at my TV because this version of Martinez doesn’t do well after 100 pitches. I wanted Grady Little to trust his pen. Martinez had done enough. The wheels were coming off and I was seeing my worst nightmare unfold. I started to die inside.

By the end of the eighth,the carnage had left us at 5-5. Hope remained, but it’s buried under a mountain of despair. How could we let this happen against this team? Sure enough, in the bottom of the 11th with Tim Wakefield on the mound, after holding the Yankees scoreless in the 10th, Aaron Boone happened. I’m crushed. Destroyed. Devastated. I am alone. I turn off my TV. I’m a junior in high school now. This is a memory I will never forget. I went up to my room, turned off the lights, got into bed, and thought long and hard about my fandom. Was it the right decision for me to continue to care so much about something that could make me feel like this? I felt dead inside. I went to bed.

When I awoke from this nightmare it was Game Seven in 2004 and Johnny Damon and David Ortiz were leading the way for the exorcising of 86 years worth of demons. The long nightmare was over in Yankee Stadium, the house of nightmares. After that ALCS I knew that the World Series was a lock. I had to only pinch myself to remind me this wasn’t a dream.