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October 17, 2003

Miracle in The Bronx: New York 6, Boston 5
by Larry Mahnken

Several hours ago, I was questioning the wisdom of remaining a baseball fan. I place far too much importance on the outcome of a game played by other men, and give that game for too much power over my emotional well being. I take the losses far too hard to be healthy for me, and the joy that I once got out of a mid-summer victory is no longer there.

In 1996, when the ball landed in Charlie Hayes's glove, I wept, joyful that I had finally gotten to see my favorite team win the championship. In '98, my reaction was bland, as it was not new, and was somewhat anticlimactic after a 114-win season. '99 was another anticlimactic victory, the ALCS was the real pleasure of that season. 2000 was nice, because it was the Mets, but it wasn't the same.

The childlike joy that I felt when Mel Hall made me an eternal baseball fan with a line-drive home run off of Jeff Reardon on Memorial Day was no more. Sure, I was happy when they won, always happy, but the defeats weighed more heavily on me than they did in that 91-loss season of 1991.

And facing elimination at the hands of the Red Sox, the hated rival, and facing the taunts of the many Red Sox fans at my workplace, I began to wonder if it was worth it anymore. I love baseball, but I love it too much, and I ask for too much out of it. More than it could every possibly give me ever again.

Or so I thought.

I didn't see the eighth inning, but I heard it. I was...occupied in another room at the time. But that fabulous inning didn't give me the joy that you thought it might, because I was still nervous about losing, and all the miseries that would entail. The next three innings were torture on my nerves, because I now knew that I couldn't just turn the TV off and not see the Red Sox celebrate their AL title, because it would be close, and the Yankees would have a chance.

Rivera came in. I felt...less nervous, but still on edge. Rivera pitched three effective innings, but the Yankees were unable to end the game in the ninth or the tenth. Meanwhile, the Red Sox brought in knuckleballer Tim Wakefield, who needed only for the Red Sox to score another run to be named MVP. Facing a pitcher they hadn't touched all series, I began to despair. He wasn't going to tire, he'd be in there until the sun came up.

And after the 11th, the Yankees would have to lift Rivera, and put a less appealing reliever in his place: Jose Contreras, Gabe White, or if worse came to worst, Jeff Weaver. It seemed that the Yankees' last chance to win had come, and it would be up to Aaron Boone, Karim Garcia and Alfonso Soriano.

Garcia had a decent series, coming up with big hits in Games 3 and 5, and taking a pitch off the "back" to start the hubub in Boston last Saturday. But I couldn't see him doing anything with the knuckleball. Nor could I see Alfonso Soriano doing anything with anything, he had lost all discipline, and was now swinging at anything that came out of the pitcher's hand, be it the ball or the resin bag. And Aaron Boone...

Well, Aaron Boone sucks. In August, the Yankees had traded their last good prospect, Brandon Claussen, for Boone and, technically, Gabe White. The move further inspired them to trade third baseman Robin Ventura to the Dodgers, where he proceeded to put up what were, for Dodger Stadium, decent numbers. Meanwhile, Boone did nothing. He hit a big home run in Baltimore, but that was, well, against Baltimore. Against quality competition, he was incompetent, and the rage we felt at his accquistion was being justified almost nightly by weak plate appearances.

And his play in the postseason was even worse--almost as bad as his play in the first weeks after the trade. Benching him in Game 3 and Game 7 to play Enrique Wilson against Pedro Martinez was wholly excusable. If you've got a hunch that someone can get a couple of hits against the greatest pitcher of his generation, it's all right to bench an offensive zero like Boone. Of course, it appeared early on that the Yankees were going to pay for benching Boone, as Enrique Wilson threw a ball into the stands on a routine play, giving the Red Sox a run.

Still, going into the postseason I thought he could do something of some value. I wrote:
He is what he is, an average player, and as long as he stays what he is, he won't hurt the Yankees in the postseason, and could help if he hits a homer in a key spot.
I also told sjohnny that I could see him having a "Tino Martinez" moment in the postseason (a huge hit that forgives horrible play the rest of the series).

But when Boone came up in the 11th, I had no hope of him doing anything. I don't know if it was a bad knuckleball by Wakefield (other than being right over the middle of the plate), or Admiral Ackbar's fortuitous appearance in a commercial (he appeared before the 8th inning in Game 6 of the NLCS, too), but a miracle happened.

Aaron Boone hit a home run. Aaron Fucking Boone, as he will forever be known in Boston.

I immediately started crying. "I can't believe it, I can't believe that happened," I said to myself. I still start crying with joy when I think of it. I can't believe it. It was, perhaps, the greatest moment I have ever experienced as a sports fan. Pure joy.

And that's why we come back, because sometimes, when you think it's over, it's not, and sometimes, something you never thought could happen, but fondly hoped would happen, does. The worst player on the field can be the biggest hero, and all your dreams can come true.

But I can't help but feel for the Red Sox fans, who had to feel they had this one in the bag, and could see the end of 85 years of frustration not very far away. Okay, not too bad, but I do feel somewhat sorry that they had to lose this way, again. I tip my cap to the 2003 Boston Red Sox, who I still believe had the best team in baseball, but came up short. And I will not indulge in any vainglory before them, I will treat them as I wanted them to treat me had they won--although I know they wouldn't have--and I know that my fellow Yankees fans probably won't, either.

That's okay, I suppose, it's every fan's right to brag about their team. And I've done my share, but not this time. Besides, half my readers are Red Sox fans. Don't piss off your audience.

And I still don't believe in curses. Boston will win a title before decade is out.

But not this one.

* * *

Oh, I know this is what you all came here for:

The trade was worth it. If Brandon Claussen wins ten Cy Young Awards, pitches five perfect games, cures cancer, finds Osama bin Laden and opens communications with the Brenlyite civilization in the Baker galaxy, it was worth it. If Aaron Boone never gets another hit as a Yankee, even if he costs them the World Series, it was worth it. Because this was the greatest moment I have ever had a baseball fan.

You don't suck, Boone. And I will never again say that you do.