20th anniversary: Nightmare Red Sox loss

Twenty years ago today, the Boston Red Sox suffered a loss from hell. It wasn’t the most important or meaningful loss in franchise history. It isn’t up there with the Bucky Dent or Aaron Boone games. But of all the painful losses in meaningless regular-season games, it was among the most horrible.

On Sept. 18, 1993, the Boston Red Sox were in the Bronx to face their hated archrival, the Yankees. Of course a horrible loss had to come against the Yankees. Their rivalry was at a low moment at the time. The Yankees hadn’t been to the postseason in over a decade, and Boston was barely .500, but still, they were rivals.

At any rate, heading into the bottom of the ninth, Boston appeared to have this one well in hand, up 3-1. Relief pitcher Greg Harris looked to put the Yankees away easily, retiring the first pair of batters in the inning.

Sure, blowing a two-run lead in the bottom of the ninth when there were two outs and none on would be heartbreaking, but it wouldn’t be anything worth writing about 20 years later. No, this would be an extra-special way to blow a two-run lead in bottom of the ninth with two outs and none on.

It started off badly enough as Harris plunked second baseman Mike Gallego. Eh, it’s no big deal, though. Next up, Yankee manager Buck Showalter called on pinch hitter Mike Stanley to do some damage.

Stanley was a hitter you had to take seriously. He’d end the season batting .305 with 26 homers—nothing to sneeze at it. But Harris wasn’t intimidated. He threw the first pitch past Stanley for strike one.

Next, Harris swung and connected. The ball flew to left, where Mike Greenwell circled under it for an easy, game-ending out. Greenwell kept his eye on it, the ball landed in his glove, and it was over. Out No. 27 to end the game as a Boston victory.

Except for one thing.

Apparently, that last swing—and the entire play coming from it—didn’t count. Just before Harris threw the ball, some jag-off Yankee fan ran onto the field. Third-base umpire Tim Welke had called time, but it was too late for Harris, and Stanley couldn’t take the risk that it was the umpire or someone else yelling time.

But it was the umpire who called for time. The play that ended the game wasn’t a play. It was all nullified.

You can guess what happens next, right? Given new life, Stanley swung at the next pitch and again hit it to Greenwell in left, but it was a clean single. Pinch runner Gerald Williams steamed into second for the Yankees with the potential tying run in Stanley on first.

Up next was former Red Sox great and future Hall of Famer Wade Boggs. Harris had Boggs at a 2-2 count, putting the Yankees down to their last strike. Then Boggs fouled off a pair before doing what he did what he did best, hit a single.

It was actually an infield single to second, a rarity for the speed-challenged Boggs, but it was enough to score Williams. Now the game was 3-2 and the tying run was in scoring position. This was rapidly turning into a nightmare for Boston.

Batter up, left fielder Dion James. And a battle ensued. Harris soon had James down in the count 1-2, again putting the Yankees down to their last strike. James fouled the next pitch off to stay at 1-2. He then took the next pair for balls, giving him a foul count. The seventh pitch he fouled off, keeping his hopes alive. Finally, on the eighth pitch, James won the fight by drawing ball four.

Harris must have felt mentally tested on the mound. He’d thrown 16 pitches since getting the apparent last out of the game. Seven of those pitches came with the Yankees down to their last strike. But three straight batters had reached against him, and now the bases were loaded with the tying run 90 feet from the plate and the winning run for the Yankees in scoring position. A single was all the Yankees needed.

And that’s exactly what the Yankees got. With longtime franchise stalwart Don Mattingly at the plate, Harris threw one more pitch. Mattingly ripped it into right field, and two runs came around to score.

The Yankees had won, 4-3. And they owed it all to everyone’s least favorite creature, a drunken jerk who ran on the field.

Yeah, that was a mighty rough loss for Boston, and it was 20 years ago today.

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Kelly Sutton
8 years ago

(sigh)I remember those days as a life long Red Sox fan. Every play went there way: I especially remember Chick Knoblach’s phantom tag on Jose Offerman in the 1999 ALCS. Stuff like that.

But the universe righted itself, didn’t it? Starting on an October night in 2004 and completed on October 27th.

I look forward to this year’s playoffs while the Sox roll to the Series and the Yanks make tee times.

8 years ago

I was at that game. (I remember getting in line to sign up for a Yankees license plate, until my wife reminded me that we didn’t live in NY.) I thought it might be the moment that turned the Yankees’ season around, but they’d have to wait until the following year to get back to the playoffs.

8 years ago

I was at that game, as well, as part of my annual birthday trip to Yankee Stadium to watch my Red Sox lose.  I have never been more upset leaving the ballpark.

8 years ago

Greg Harris came into the game in the B8th with the score, 3-1 and a runner of first. He promptly gave up a single to Danny Tartabull before striking out Paul O’Neill.

Red Sox Manager Butch Hobson left Harris in to start the B9th. After getting the first two batters to ground out, Greg Harris then hit Mike Gallego with a pitch.

Then after the call for time, Stanley singled to put the winning run at the plate in the name of Wade Boggs. The single by Boggs put the winning run on first. The walk to Dion James loaded the bases.

Due up next is Don Mattingly. Though 0 for 4 so far in the game, he was 3 for 10 in the 3-game series before that at bat, all doubles. On the season he entered the day hitting 294/369/455. This is late 1993 and the guy looked like a potential Hall of Famer before injuries took their toll.

Harris at that point had faced 8 batters and had gotten only 3 of them out.

Manager Hobson should have removed Harris before he faced Boggs. Instead he let the tired right-hander face both Boggs and Mattingly, which helps show why Hobson lasted only one more season as a major league manager.

In the B8th, Hobson had brought in lefty Tony Fossas to face Donnie Baseball and got Mattingly to pop out. But he then pulled Fossas and brought in Harris to face the right-handed hitting Tartabull, even though the next two scheduled hitters, Paul O’Neill and Matt Yokes, were both lefties. After Yokes was switch-hitting Bernie Williams.

Should you really burn your top left-handed reliever after he faces only one batter when 3 of the next 4 guys could also swing the bat from the left side in a ballpark that favors left-handed batters?

Sure, Harris had gotten left-handed batters O’Neill, Yokes and Williams out. But how many times are you going to roll the dice, especially with the top of the lineup, Boggs, James and Mattingly all swinging from the left side, too?

This wasn’t the first time Hobson used Fossas, the Red Sox most effective lefty in the bullpen that season, to face only one left-handed batter.

In fact, he had done the same thing the night before with the game tied at 4-4. Fossas got O’Neill to ground out in the B7th. The Yankees then pushed across the eventually winning run in the B8th.

At the close of play on July 31, the Red Sox stood at 58-46, only one and a half games behind Toronto and New York. From August 1st until season’s end, Fossas appeared in 33 games. In 19 of those he faced but one batter. The Red Sox were 6-13 in those games. Fossas was generally effective. The guys who followed him often weren’t.

8 years ago

But the bullpen shouldn’t take all the blame. The Red Sox did leave 12 men on base that day. Three of those LOB came in the T9th, when the Red Sox, leading 3-1, put the first two runners on base. The number three hitter was due up next, Tim Naehring, whose batting average at that point in the season was .333.

Though Naehring only played 39 games in 1993, he had become a regular when called up in mid-August. He was 2 for 3 on the day and in 10 games since September 10th Naehring was 21 for 41 (that’s .512), with 8 multiple hits games and 12 RBIs.

What did Hobson do of course? Send up a pinch hitter for Naehring.

And what did Hobson have batter Scott Cooper do? Bunt, of course. So that, predictably, with first base open after the SH, the Yankees would intentionally walk slugger Mo Vaughn to load the bases.

So instead of facing a guy who was hitting over .500 the past in 10 games and another guy who was hitting .309 with 26 homeruns on the season at that point (included a crucial 2-run dinger in the first inning of that game that staked the Red Sox to the lead they were now clinging to), the Yankees were able to pitch themselves out of the jam by first facing Rob Deer (who entered the game hitting .182). Deep popped up to third.

Then, rather than at least let a .247 hitter (Carlos Quintana) bat, Hobson instead sent up Ernie Riles to pinch hit. At .199 Riles was barely hitting his weight and, yes, he promptly struck out.

And idiot fan and the umps didn’t cause Boston to lose that game. Crappy managing did.

8 years ago

I was at that game, too. In the late innings, we had moved down to very good seats behind the third base dugout (you could do that sometimes back then). I was sitting on the aisle and the effing clown who went on the field ran down my aisle and hopped the short fence. If I had known he was coming, I could have stuck my foot out and tripped him.