Move over Bobby Thomson, you’ve got company. Meet Evan Longoria.
Go crazy folks! Go crazy!
Those were the words late announcer Jack Buck used to describe an implausible game-winning home run by shortstop Ozzie Smith in the 1985 National League playoffs.
Crazy sums up the final night of the baseball season, when the Tampa Bay Rays and St. Louis Cardinals overcame improbably long odds and huge September deficits to waltz into the post-season as wild cards.
You can’t make this stuff up.
Colossal Collapse I
The Boston Red Sox became the first team in history to lose a nine-game September lead and fail to make the playoffs. Boston led Tampa Bay by nine games on September 3, but won just seven of 27 in September and allowed the Rays to win the wild card on the final day of the season.
Colossal Collapse II
While the Red Sox were melting down in the American League, the Braves were doing virtually the same in the National League wild-card race. The Braves were 9-18 in September. St. Louis trailed the Braves by 10 1/2 in late August, 8 1/2 on September 6, and by three with five games to play.
Until now, the Phillies were the poster boys for September ineptitude. In 1964, Philadelphia lost a 8 1/2 game lead in September. That year the foldin’ Phils led the Cards and Reds by 6 1/2 games with just 12 to go, then lost 10 in a row and ended up one game back in a tie for second with the Reds, despite winning their last two games. St. Louis went on to win the World Series.
Oh So Close
The Red Sox were one strike away from beating the Orioles and at least earning a tie and forcing a one-game playoff for the wild card before falling to the Orioles. Boston had been 77-0 this year when leading after eight innings.
The Rays, who overcame a seven-run deficit, were one strike away from falling to the Yankees before Dan Johnson’s home run tied the game in the ninth. Tampa won in the 12th inning on Evan Longoria’s second home run of the game. The Yankees had not blown a seven-run lead in the eighth inning or later since 1953.
And the Braves lost a one-run lead to the Phillies with two outs in the ninth before eventually losing in 13 innings.
The Shot Heard Round the World
According to the Elias Sports Bureau, Longoria’s homer marked only the second time in history a walk-off home run in the final regular season game propelled a team into the playoffs. The other was Bobby Thomson’s famous home run that gave the New York Giants a win over the Brooklyn Dodgers in a playoff for the 1951 National League pennant.
Boston, You’re My Home
The Braves once called Boston home before moving to Milwaukee in 1953. Imagine that.
Trolling around a sports memorabilia shop during the Christmas rush, I stumbled across this photo of Ted Williams, at bat at Fitton Field on the campus of the College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, Mass. Fenwick Hall, the school’s flagship building, can be seen in the distance.
The photo caption was entitled: The Dawning of a Legend. The date is April 14, 1939, and Williams is about to launch that classic swing. His first turn at bat resulted in a grand slam home run that scored three Hall of Famers– Jimmie Foxx, Joe Cronin and Bobby Doerr — ahead of him. The Red Sox that day beat up on Holy Cross — my alma mater — 14-2.
Some historians claim this is the first picture ever taken of Ted Williams in a Boston Red Sox uniform.
Six days later, on April 20, Williams made his major league debut in the opener at Yankee Stadium. Ted batted sixth that day, played rightfield, and went 1-for-4 with a double against Yankees right-hander Red Ruffing. Ruffing pitched a seven-hit shutout and outdueled Lefty Grove, 2-0, to the delight of 30,278 in the Bronx.
And the rest, as they say, is history. As in a .406 season in 1941, two Triple Crowns, two MVPs, six American League batting titles, 521 home runs, a .344 lifetime average and 17 All Star game selections — despite missing nearly five full seasons due to military service.
No wonder they call him Teddy Ballgame.
Boston slugger Ted Williams homers during his final season, 1960.
Yeah, it happened 50 years ago this week, yet somehow I remember June 5, 1960, like it was yesterday. A beautiful, sunny Sunday afternoon in the Bronx, glove in hand, ticket in my pocket. Nine years old. Going to Yankee Stadium for a doubleheader against the Boston Red Sox.
This wasn’t my first major league game, but this kid was hungry for a win after seeing the Yankees lose to the White Sox in 1958 and Tigers in 1959.
The Yankees were a .500 club entering play on June 5, 20-20 and fourth in the American League, coming off a subpar 1959 season where they finished a distant third. The Red Sox were mired in the cellar. Young Ralph Terry got the start for the Yanks in the first game that day, while the Red Sox countered with lefty Tom Brewer.
The Yankees jumped off to a 1-0 lead in the second inning on a long home run by Mickey Mantle, The Yanks added three more runs in the fifth when Hector Lopez and Yogi Berra singled and Roger Maris, right, lined a home run into the right field seats. And when Tony Kubek’s single up the middle in the sixth plated Bobby Richardson, the Yankees had a 5-0 lead.
Williams Homers into The Bullpen
With two outs in the seventh and Terry seemingly cruising, the Red Sox suddenly rallied on hits by Bobby Thomson (yes, that Bobby Thomson who hit the shot heard round the world nearly nine years earlier just across the Harlem River at the Polo Grounds), Marty Keough and Pete Runnels to cut the lead to 5-2.
Up to the plate stepped Ted Williams. Now all through the game my father and relatives kept telling me to watch No. 9 in the Boston uniform. And in the seventh Williams hit a long drive into the Yankee bullpen in right to make it a 5-4 ballgame. It was the 495th home run of Williams’ historic career (he would finish with 521).
Yankee manager Casey Stengel then ambled to the mound and replaced Terry with diminutive left-hander Bobby Shantz. After an uneventful eighth, Boston loaded the bases with one-out in the ninth before Shantz got Vic Wertz to bounce into a double play to end the game.
The Yankees scored four runs in the first inning of the nightcap and cruised to an 8-3 victory, but we were long gone back home by then.
Yankees Win The Pennant
In 1960, the Yankees won the final 15 games of the season to edge out the Orioles and White Sox and win the first of five straight American League pennants, the final leg of a remarkable dynasty.
However, the Pittsburgh Pirates would upset the Yankees in the seventh game of the World Series that October, on a ninth-inning home run by Bill Mazeroski. The pitcher who surrendered that home run — Ralph Terry.
Mickey Mantle, left, would hit 40 home runs that year to win his fourth and final AL home run title. Maris, with 39 homers and a league-leading 112 RBIs. would win the American League MVP in his first year in pinstripes.
The Red Sox would wind up seventh in the American, ahead of the last-place Kansas City Athletics. Ted Williams, in his final year, would hit 29 homers — including one in his last at bat — and hit .316.
But the home run Teddy Ballgame hit on a sunny Sunday in June at Yankee Stadium was the one I will always remember. I saw Maris, Mantle and Williams homer in the same game. And I saw the Yankees win for the first time in my life.
The Yankee-Red rivalry began in 1903 when the soon-to-be World Champion Boston Americans faced the New York Highlanders.
1. The Yankees and the Red Sox weren’t always the Yankees and the Red Sox. When the teams first met in 1903, the New York Highlanders squared off against the Boston Americans. And predictably, in one of their very first meetings at Boston’s Huntingon Avenue Grounds, a base-running incident led to a full-scale brawl. The two teams have been fighting ever since.
2. New York’s 20-11 victory at Fenway Park in August marked the highest scoring game in the history of the rivalry. In the previous highest scoring game, the Yankees (er Highlanders) beat the Red Sox (er Americans) 15-14 on July 29, 1903. Hall of Famers Cy Young and Jack Chesbro were the starting pitchers in that slugfest.
3. In that same 15-14 game, Boston outfielder Patsy Dougherty hit for the cycle. Yankee second baseman Joe Gordon recorded the only other cycle in the rivalry, on September 8, 1940.
4. On June 30, 1908, Boston immortal Cy Young beat the Yankees, 8-0. It was the first of just five no-hitters in the storied rivalry. Rube Foster no-hit the Yankees in 1916, while George Mogridge (1917), Allie Reynolds (1951) (shown right getting the final out against Ted Williams) and Dave Righetti (1983) pitched Yankee no-hitters against the Sox.
5. Five days after the Titanic went down in the North Atlantic, the Red Sox christened Fenway Park with an 11-inning, 7-6 win over the New York Highlanders, soon to be named the Yankees.
6. Babe Ruth was a one heckuva pitcher. His career record against the Yankees was 17-5 with a 2.21 ERA. And he won both games he pitched for the Yankees against Boston, in 1930 and 1933.
7. Ted Williams batted .345 against the Yankees in his career, with 62 home runs and 229 RBIs in 327 games. In 312 games against the Red Sox, Lou Gehrig had 70 homers and 316 RBIs with a .352 average.
8. The longest game in Yankee-Red Sox history occurred August 29, 1967, when New York beat Boston, 4-3, in 20 innings on a base hit by Horace Clarke in the second game of a doubleheader at Yankee Stadium. The two rivals have played 15 or more innings 13 times in their history.
9. When Alex Rodriguez hit a walk-off home run against the Red Sox in the 15th inning last month to win a 2-0 classic, it was just the fifth game-ending homer to break up a scoreless tie in the 15th inning or later in baseball history. Adrian Garrett and Hall of Famers Willie Mays, Earl Averill and Old Hoss Radbourn hit the other walk-off winners.
10. Yankee designated hitter Hideki Matsui had seven RBIs in that 20-11 win, the most by a Yankee against Boston since Gehrig had eight ribbies in a 14-13 Yankee win on July 31, 1930, including one of his major league record 23 grand slams.
Sometime late in the night of October 17, 2004, the world changed. Up became down. Losers became winners. Winners became losers.
From the rocky shores of Maine to the tiny towns of New England to the Hub that is Boston, the change was felt.
Throughout the metropolitan area and the five boroughs of New York, especially in the Bronx, the earth moved.
Red Sox nation felt the change. So did the Yankee empire. And the world hasn’t been the same since.
What a colossal change. From the time they purchased Babe Ruth from the Red Sox before the 1920 season right up until that fateful 2004 ALCS, the Yankees dominated this rivalry. (And many argued that Yankees-Red Sox really wasn’t even a rivalry — it was a nail vs. a hammer, and the Bronx bombers did all the hammering.)
Curse of the Bambino
It was the Curse of the Bambino, a phrase first coined by columnist Dan Shaughnessy of the Boston Globe. A curse that lasted longer than a lifetime.
Oh sure the Red Sox had their moments, American League pennants in 1946, 1967, 1975 and 1986. But they went 86 years without winning a World Series.
Meanwhile, the Yankees built dynasty upon dynasty, 39 pennants and 26 World Championships between 1921 and 2000. And they had their way with the Red Sox in every big game, like 1949 and 1978 and 2003 and so many others.
Then came Game 4, 2004 ALCS, when the Red Sox rallied to beat the Yankees in 12 innings and began the most improbable playoff run in baseball history. One bloody sock and three games later, the Sawx were American League champions and on their way to their first World Series triumph since 1918.
Red Sox Rule the World
Boston won another World Series in 2007.
Meanwhile the Yankees, in a reversal of roles, have failed to win a playoff series since, failed to even make the playoffs last year.
And so far this year, the Red Sox have played the Yankees eight times — and won all eight games. Blowouts and comebacks, shutouts and one-run decisions, Boston has won them all.
The Red Sox grind out at-bats and get the big hits; the Yankees leave runners in scoring position. The Yankee bullpen falters; Boston holds the fort. New York starters sometimes fail to get out of the third inning; Boston gets a good pitching performance almost all the time. And when they don’t, they simply outslug the once-vaunted Bombers.
Yes, it’s a different world now.
The greatest game I ever saw was the Yankees-Red Sox playoff at Fenway Park, October 2, 1978.
And somewhere deep in the copy morgue of the Fitchburg-Leominster Sentinel & Enterprise is my page one story on that incredible game in Boston. The lead went something like this: It was a game within a season, and a season within a game.
In many ways, the game mirrored the season, and the ups and downs each team experienced from April to October. The Red Sox jumped out to a 2-0 lead, the Yankees rallied on Bucky Dent’s home run to go ahead, and a Boston rally fell just short in the ninth as Jim Rice and Carl Yastrzemski made the final two outs.
In a similar vein, the Red Sox jumped out to a 14 1/2 game lead in July before the Yankees rallied to capture the lead following the Boston Massacre, a four-game sweep of the Sox at Fenway in September. But the Red Sox won their final eight games to force a tie, only to lose the playoff. When you think about it, one at bat separated the two clubs over the course of 163 games.
At a graduation party several years ago, I met Mike Torrez, the Red Sox pitcher who surrendered the Dent home run. I smiled and shook his hand and told him I was a Yankee fan, and that I was at Fenway for the 1978 playoff.
Torrez winced, and at first I thought he was going to put out his cigar on my forehead. Instead he paused, then reflected:
“That was a great baseball game, probably the most pressure-filled game I ever played. I had good stuff that day, real good stuff, and I was cruising. until Dent hit that fly ball. Thanks for reminding me.”
In “The Greatest Game” by Richard Bradley conjured up many vivid memories of that unforgettable day. The crisp October weather, the shadows, and that beacon of sunlight that nearly blinded Lou Piniella in right field in the late innings.
The way the wind shifted, knocking down Reggie Jackson’s home run bid in the first inning and aiding Dent’s fly ball over the wall in the seventh.
The unbelievable crowd noise that day, which kept building, hit a few blips in the late innings, and reached a crescendo as the Sox tried to rally in the bottom of the ninth.
And then, as Yaz popped out to Graig Nettles at third, the crowd grew silent instantly, as if someone had pulled the plug on the sound system.
Grown men celebrated that day, on the Fenway turf and throughout New York.
And grown men wept too, in the stands and in the Red Sox clubhouse and all over New England.
It truly was a game within a season, and a season within a game.
Traditions are a good thing. Opening Day, fireworks on the Fourth, that special Super Bowl party.
Records are made to be broken….but traditions are made to be continued.
This past weekend Kamp Quinn, one of life’s greatest traditions was celebrated in Woodford State Park, elevation 2,400 feet, in the backwoods of Vermont.
On a weekend where Hurricane Kyle threatened New England before taking a right turn into Nova Scotia, these hardy Kampers battled heavy rains, high winds and otherwise chaotic weather conditions.
A problem? Are you kidding me? What’s a little drizzle?
A lark in the park, on a weekend when the Mets struggled to to stay alive, USC, Florida and Georgia both went down, and the great Paul Newman passed away, You can almost imagine Newman turning to his sidekick Robert Redford and asking “Who are those guys?” just as he once did in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.
Well, those guys in Vermont were Dads and mountain men and kids and more kids, some coming from as far away as Colorado to join in the tradition that is Kamp Quinn. Ethan Allen and the Green Mountain Boys got nothin’ on this crew.
Red Meat and Junk Food
The hardy Kampers chomped on steak and ribs, cheeseburgers and chili, Lipitor be damned. They ate Funny Bones and Hostess Cupcakes (who knew they still made this cream-filled delight?) and washed it all down with beer and wine and water. And they treated a barely shredded head of lettuce like a rotten vegetable.
The Kamp Quinn tradition began in 1996, when the pioneers survived a full moon and 16-degree night-time temperatures. That same weekend, the Yankees were wresting a divisional series away from Texas on their way to their first World Championship in 18 years.
The Kamp has evolved over the years as most traditions do, as people come and go and the young Kampers grow older. The Red Sox finally ended the Curse of the Bambino. Lean-tos replaced tents. And the stories get better over the years.
And years from now, a bunch of Kampers will recall the weekend when they defied Hurricane Kyle in the wilds of Woodford..