The series between the Boston Red Sox and arch-rival New York Yankees would go to the bleeding edge, with the Yankees winning the pennant on Aaron Boone’s 11th inning home run off knuckleballer Tim Wakefield in the 7th Game. But Game three was almost as entertaining, matching up all-time greats Pedro Martinez and Roger Clemens in a pitching clash at Fenway Park.
The Red Sox got two runs in the first inning off Clemens on a two-run single by Manny Ramirez, but as always, New York crawled back into the game. Karim Garcia got a one-run single in the second inning, then in the third inning, future hall-of-fame shortstop Derek Jeter hit a home run to tie the game.
Boston couldn’t come up with any runs of their own, as the Rocket settled down after a tough first inning. The Yankees would pull ahead in the top of the fourth. Catcher Jorge Posada would lead off with a walk, then first baseman Nick Johnson would single off the green monster to make it first and second with no one out. Hideki Matsui aka Godzilla, in his first season over from Japan, then hit a ground rule double into the right field stands to go up 3-2.
There were runners at second and third with nobody out, with light-hitting utility player Karim Garcia coming up to the plate. Martinez appeared visually upset about giving up the early 2-0 lead, and was in danger of being given an early hook by manager Grady Little. Pedro lost his composure and apparently hit him in the back to load the bases. Martinez and Garcia glared at each other as Karim started his trot to first base.
The next batter, slugging second basemen Alfonso Soriano hit a ground ball to shortstop Nomar Garciaparra. Garcia proceeded to slide hard into second basemen Todd Walker, who was attempting to complete the double play. A run scored on the twin killing, putting the Yankees up 4-2. The fans in the stands, already restless over giving up the lead, were calling for Garcia’s head.
Garcia started yelling at Martinez as he walked back to the bench. Pedro was also jawing at Yankee catcher Jorge Posada, who had come out of the dugout in his catcher gear to defend his teammate. Martinez then pointed at his own head, then at Posada, then back at his own head. This was perceived to be a threat that he would also throw at Posada’s head in his next at-bat. Pedro would later state that it just meant he thought Posada was stupid for thinking he would throw at Garcia on purpose, who was a .241 career hitter.
Leading off the bottom of the 4th for the Red Sox was big bopper Manny Ramirez. On a 2-1 count Clemens threw a pitch high and tight to back Ramirez off home plate. Manny took offense to this, and started towards the mound, hemming and hawing.The dugouts cleared, and Martinez sprinted out towards the field from the dugout with the rest of the players.
Suddenly, 72-year old Yankees Bench Coach and baseball elder Don Zimmer rushed Pedro and tried to swipe at the ace’s head with his left hand. Pedro grabbed Zim by the melon with both hands and tossed him to the ground. Zimmer rolled to a halt, as the spectacle was almost enough to stop the brawl. Zimmer clearly thought Pedro was head hunting.
The coach was taken by stretcher out of Fenway Park to a hospital for precautionary reasons.
Zim had a reason to be upset. Back when he was batting in the minor leagues, he was struck in the head by a pitch. He was knocked unconscious and was taken to the hospital, where he would require two operations to remove blood clots. He would remain in a coma for two weeks, and the severity of his injury was the reason major league baseball made batting helmets mandatory.
When the dust settled, the Yankees were still leading 4-2, despite Pedro’s strange slam dunk. The Red Sox would score a run on a ground ball double play by Trot Nixon in the bottom of the 7th, but ace closer Mariano Rivera would take the cake, coming in the bottom of the 8th inning to get the last six outs. The Yankees won 4-3 to take a 2-1 series lead. The image of Pedro grabbing Zim by the head and tossing him down like a weeble-wobble will live on as an infamous and surreal moment in one of the greatest post season series ever, even though it ended tragically for the Sox and their long suffering fans.