Aaron Boone’s Yankees playing career lasted less than a full season and included just 71 games. It started on Aug. 1 and was officially over the following February.
But it included one at-bat he – and Yankees fans everywhere – will never forget. It was a trip to the plate that made the infielder a part of the franchise’s lengthy postseason lore, an ALCS-clinching, walk-off home run that sent the Yankees to the 2003 World Series and extended the rival Red Sox’s Curse of the Bambino for at least one more year.
“I knew right away I had hit it real good,” Boone said that night, after his 11th-inning homer off Tim Wakefield capped a thrilling 6-5, come-from-behind victory in the seventh game of the series. “Derek [Jeter] told me sometimes the ghosts show up here. When I joined the Yankees, this is the kind of thing I thought I could be a part of. This is the perfect story ending for everyone — extra innings in Game 7 after a comeback. It’s the perfect ending.”
Boone, acquired at the July 31 trade deadline from the Reds, didn’t start that night, benched by manager Joe Torre in favor of Enrique Wilson. He entered in the eighth inning as a pinch-runner for Ruben Sierra, who had pinch-hit for Wilson, and took over at third base in the ninth inning. And Boone smoked the first pitch he saw all evening off of Wakefield, launching the no-doubter deep into the left field seats.
It was a dramatic finish few could see coming earlier in the evening. The Red Sox raced out to a 4-0 lead and had runners on the corners with no outs in the fourth inning. Torre lifted Roger Clemens at that point in favor of Mike Mussina, who was making the first relief outing of a Hall of Fame career. Mussina struck out Jason Varitek and got Johnny Damon to hit into a double play, shifting the evening’s momentum.
The Yankees would rally against Pedro Martinez, scoring three times in the eighth inning to pull even. Martinez had entered the frame over 100 pitches, but manager Grady Little infamously stayed with him until Jorge Posada’s bloop double tied the game at five.
“This is the best,” Torre said. “To come here and play against the Red Sox, and play them 26 times and beat our rival like we did, it couldn’t be more satisfying. This has to be the sweetest taste of all for me.”
After the memorable home run and the raucous celebration that followed, Boone would soon fade away. He went 3-for-21 in a World Series defeat to the Marlins in six games. The following January, he tore his ACL playing a game of pick-up basketball, paving the way for the Yankees to trade for Alex Rodriguez and release Boone. After missing the entire 2004 season, he would play parts of five years with four teams, before launching a broadcast career and eventually becoming the Yankees manager in December of 2017.
“Not a week goes by that I’m not reminded of how big the New York Yankees are or how big their reach are,” Boone said after taking over as the team’s manager. “I’ve had hundreds of stories told to me too about where people were or what side of the ledger they were on.
“I appreciate it now. For a long time, I kind of distanced myself from it because we lost the World Series.”
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