“Five games. It’s hard to believe.” Those were the words Yankees principal owner George M. Steinbrenner uttered on Monday Aug. 21, 2006 after his New York Yankees traveled up to Fenway Park and swept the Boston Red Sox in a pivotal series. It was billed as a clash of titans in the days leading up to the showdown. The Yankees were in first by a slim 1 1/2 game margin over the Red Sox and were looking to pull away in the American League East standings. The Red Sox were hoping to spoil the Yankees’ plans and take over first place again—they were in first place throughout July.
The previous Thursday evening, the Yankees found themselves on the losing end of a 12-2 ballgame to the Baltimore Orioles. They had dropped two out of three games to the 53-68 Orioles at home with the big series against the Sox looming. And thanks to a couple of rainouts earlier in the season, the Yankees would be heading to Fenway Park to face the Red Sox in a rare five-game series. Watching the Yankee sputter against lowly Baltimore wasn’t a lot of fun and a series in Fenway Park, no matter how many games in length, seemed like it could turn into a disaster of epic proportions. And it did, but not for the Yankees.
Game One, Friday August 18, 2006:
This game was ugly for the Red Sox pitching staff which would be the recurring theme for most of the series. Chien-Ming Wang started for the Yankees and Jason Johnson started for the Red Sox. Wang pitched six innings and allowed three runs on seven hits. Johnson allowed four runs on seven hits in four and one-third innings. The game was tied at 1-1 until Johnson surrendered a home run to Johnny Damon in the fifth. That made it 3-1 and Johnson was taken out after giving up back-to-back singles to Derek Jeter and Bobby Abreu.
The game was 4-3 Yankees heading into the top of the seventh. New York ended up scoring four runs on five hits and the Red Sox committed an error in that inning alone. The Yankees took an 8-3 lead and didn’t look back. They scored another four runs in the top of the ninth off reliever Rudy Seanez, turned the game into a laugher and went on to win 12-4.
Game Two, Friday August 18, 2006:
In the night cap of the doubleheader, the Yankee bats exploded once again, but so did the Red Sox’. The game was ugly for everyone. Not only that, but this game, combined with the afternoon tilt, made this one of the longest doubleheaders ever played. The first game took nearly four hours to play and the second was played in an untidy four hours and 45 minutes.
Sidney Ponson started for the Yankees and a very young Jon Lester started for the Sox. Both starters gave up seven runs each—Ponson in three innings and Lester in three and two-thirds.
The Red Sox took an early 1-0 lead in the bottom of the first, but the Yankees stormed back and then some, scoring five in the top of the second. The Red Sox actually scored at least a run in the first five innings and took a 10-7 lead into the top of the seventh and just like in the first game, there was seventh inning magic for the boys from the Bronx. And yep, you guessed it, they scored seven runs to take a 14-10 lead.
The Red Sox scored one more run in the ninth on a solo home run by David Ortiz off Mariano Rivera. The final score was 14-11 Yankees and by some sort of miracle, each team only hit one home run apiece in their respective multiple run barrages.
Game Three, Saturday August 19, 2006:
There was no rest for the weary because the next day, the two teams were right back at it in the afternoon. Game three of the series had a 1:29 p.m. ET. start time and the starters on that Saturday were Randy Johnson for the Yanks and Josh Beckett for the Sox.
This was another ugly one for the pitching. More for the Sox than the Yankees, but no gold stars would be given out on this day, especially to the starters. Poor Beckett gave up nine runs in five and 2/3 innings of work. He also walked nine batters and gave up a home run in the second inning to Bernie Williams. Johnson lasted seven innings, but gave up a hefty five runs on four hits and six walks.
The big inning for the Yankees in this game was the sixth. They scored five runs off a combination of Beckett and reliever Manny Delcarmen. Beckett walked three batters in that inning alone and was removed from the game after he granted first base to Alex Rodriguez with the bases loaded. Delcarmen came in and also walked in a run. He then gave up a bases clearing triple to Jorge Posada. Yes, the man who ran like he was wearing a soiled diaper with a piano strapped to his back, hit a triple. It was hit into the triangle and the Yankees went up 10-5.
They’d go on to win the game 13-5 after scoring three more runs in the top of the eighth against reliever Jermaine Van Buren who gave up a three-run home to Robinson Cano.
Game Four, Sunday August 20, 2006:
This was the big Sunday night matchup on ESPN. The starters were Mike Mussina and Curt Schilling. The game was delayed by rain for 57 minutes in the second inning and Mussina ended up leaving after four when he felt tightness in his groin. He had given up three runs on seven hits with two strikeouts and two walks. Schilling lasted seven innings.
My memory of this game is of me sitting in a dark hotel room on the grounds of Disney World with only the light of the television to guide me and trying not to make too much noise because my friend’s mother was sleeping in the bed next to us. She had to wake up early and I needed to watch the game. And I was well behaved until the fourth inning when Jason Giambi launched a three-run home run off Schilling to give the Yankees a 3-2 lead. I wanted more than anything to jump up and down and scream in jubilation because Giambi was my favorite Yankee back then and Schilling, well, he’s Schilling, and any time the Yankees did something good against him, it was a great thing.
Of course, the game wouldn’t end at 3-2. The Yankees won the game when Giambi, once again, launched a home run deep into the Fenway night. This time, it was off reliever Craig Hansen in the top of the 10th inning. Jorge Posada came up three batters later and made it 8-5.
It snapped the Yankees’ mini streak of double digit runs against Red Sox pitching, but eight was definitely enough that night.
Game Five, Monday August 21, 2006:
On this day, I was walking around the Magic Kingdom for nine hours on my own and since it was in the era before smartphones took off, I didn’t know what had happened in the game until I called my dad later that night. After we exchanged our hellos, he said, “So they won again.” And I said, “What??” I couldn’t believe it. He told me what had happened and I started laughing because earlier that evening around 6:15 p.m., a man in a Red Sox jersey gave me a very dirty look while we were waiting in line for Pirates of the Caribbean. I just assumed that the sight of the cap with the interlocking NY on my head made him angry. I didn’t realize that the Yankees had won the afternoon game.
Cory Lidle started for the Yankees and didn’t give up a run in six innings of work. David Wells started for the Red Sox and gave up two runs on six hits in seven and two-thirds.
Unlike the previous four games, this one remained scoreless until the top of the sixth inning. Bobby Abreu hit an RBI double off Wells to put the Yankees up 1-0. The Yankees added their second run in the top of the eighth on a wild pitch by Keith Foulke with Jeter at the plate and Nick Green scoring from third.
The Red Sox’ only run came in the bottom of the eighth when Wily Mo Pena hit a home run off Scott Proctor to cut the score to 2-1 Yankees.
On July 4, 2006, the Red Sox were sitting pretty and leading the American League East standings by four games over the Yankees. On August 1, the teams were tied in the standings. After this five-game sweep, the Yankees found themselves up by 6 1/2 games while poor Boston was reeling from not only being swept at home, but being swept in five games. They were so shaken that they wouldn’t recover and finished the season in third place in the AL East.
Both Cory Lidle and Bobby Abreu, who were acquired at the trade deadline, played pivotal roles in the sweep and they both relished being involved in the Yankees-Red Sox rivalry.
Lidle said after the sweep was finished, “A sweep in Boston? Pretty awesome.”
“This is my first series against Boston and the sweep is great,” Abreu told reporters. “These games have been outstanding for me. I’m just having a good time with the team and enjoying it over here.”
This series ended up being the Yankees’ zenith that year because they would, once again, be eliminated in the first round of the playoffs. But for four days in August, Yankee fans watched as their team dispatched the second place Red Sox with ease in their own ballpark.
Here are some more notes on that crazy weekend up in Fenway Park:
- It was the first five-game sweep for New York over Boston since September 28-30, 1951, at Yankee Stadium.
- They had two previous five-games sweeps against Boston in Boston in 1927 and in 1943—both years ended with championships.
- Boston’s last five-game sweep before this one was at the hands of Cleveland Indians in 1954.
- The Yankees outscored Boston 49-26.
- All of the games combined lasted 19 hours and 55 minutes and included the 57 minute rain delay during the Sunday night contest.
- The Yankees used 14 pitchers, the Red Sox 15.
- Coco Crisp, who was Boston’s lead off man at the time, finished the series 1-19.
- The last five-game sweep in the Majors before this one was in 2002 when Boston swept Toronto in five games in Fenway.
- After the sweep, the Yankees were a season-high 27 games over .500 and would finish the 2006 season 97-65.
Photo credit: Flickr