A lot of Yankee fans are guilty of looking back at the most recent dynasty years with pinstriped glasses on which means they tend to forget the bad and only remember the good. And I'll admit, I'm guilty of this as well at times. For instance, the 2000 Yankees, the final championship group of the aforementioned dynasty, actually lost 14 out of the last 18 games of the regular season and that stupor included an ugly seven-game losing streak to end the season. To say that some weren't confident in their ability to snap out of it in time for the playoffs was an understatement. It was actually kind of scary to watch unfold in real time and during one particularly awful three game stretch - two against Tampa Bay and one against Baltimore - the Yankees lost 11-1, 11-3 and 13-2. And who started two of those games? Andy Pettitte and Roger Clemens.
Why do I bring this up? Because our #18 moment is very similar to the 2000 Yankees. You remember the moment itself but you don't remember what happened afterwards and just how scary it was.
Going into Game 6 of the American League Championship Series, Yankee fans were hoping that the boys in pinstripes could put Seattle away and not make them have to sit nervously through a Game 7. I know I was. And early on, it looked like a Game 7 could be well on its way to becoming reality because the Mariners jumped out to a 2-0 lead in the top of the first thanks to back-to-back doubles by Alex Rodriguez and Edgar Martinez and were ahead 4-0 in the fourth after a two-run home run by Carlos Guillen.
All of the runs came off the Yankees' starter, Orlando Hernandez, who managed to stay in the game, thanks to his teammates picking him up in the bottom of the fourth when Jorge Posada hit a two-run double and Paul O'Neill followed with an RBI single to pull the Yankees to within a run.
After that, El Duque settled down and kept the Mariners off the board. The problem was, the Yankees weren't scoring either so going into the bottom of the seventh, the Yankees still found themselves down 4-3.
Jose Paniagua came into the game to replace reliever Brett Tomko for Seattle and Jose Vizcaino came up as a pinch hitter for Scott Brosius. Vizcaino hit the third pitch of the at bat for a single and after a Chuck Knoblauch sac bunt moved him to second, Derek Jeter hit a single, advancing Vizcaino to third.
Seattle manager Lou Piniella went to his bullpen and Arthur Rhodes came jogging out. Rhodes who sported a 1.72 ERA in 68 IP that year in the regular season would have seemed like a good choice to stop the Yankees' rally if not for his previous performance in Game Two of the series in which he gave up four hits and three runs in 1/3 inning.
David Justice stepped in and after looking at three balls and one strike from Rhodes, sat dead red and on the fifth pitch of the at bat, and launched a moon shot that hit the upper deck in right field. The fans went nuts, the DJ started playing "Tubthumping" by Chumbawumba and the Yankees seemed to be on their way to the World Series.
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Rhodes was rattled and promptly gave up a single, a ground rule double and then had to intentionally walk Posada to load the bases. I guess the Mariners were hoping to get O'Neill to ground into a double play but that didn't happen. Instead, he hit a single to right which scored Bernie Williams and Tino Martinez to put the Yankees up 8-4.
Jose Mesa was then brought into the game and the Yankees scored another run in the form of a Vizcaino sac fly. The Yankees scored six runs and were now leading 9-4. Surely that would be enough to win the game? Yes, but not without some drama. And that's what I alluded to in the beginning of the piece. When recalling this game, everyone remembers the big Justice home run but no one seems to remember that Seattle scored three runs in the eighth inning and made it kind of sweaty for all of us.
A-Rod started things off with a home run on an 0-2 pitch from El Duque who then walked Edgar Martinez. Joe Torre went to Mariano Rivera to put a stop to things and he gave up a double to Jon Olerud which advanced Martinez to third. Then after a Raul Ibanez flyout and Carlos Guillen groundout, Rivera gave up a first-pitch, two-run double to Mark McLemore. Piniella pinch hit Jay Buhner for Dan Wilson with the thought that maybe he could do some more damage against Mo but Rivera got the better of Buhner by striking him out looking to mercifully end the inning.
Thankfully, three runs are all that the Mariners could muster, the ninth inning wasn't nearly as dramatic as the eighth and the Yankees would win the game to move onto the Subway Series matchup against the Mets.
As for the moment itself, I was watching the game on TV so I didn't hear Michael Kay's call live but even I can admit that it was pretty cool. As all of us were yelling and carrying on in our houses, in a bar, or even at the Stadium, Kay was our representative. He embodied exactly how we were feeling with his enthusiasm. We wanted that matchup against the Mets to happen and thanks to David Justice's dinger, it did.