About That Brawl Ten Years Ago Today

by Jason Epstein

Time flies like an Fernando Rodney arrow. Fruit files like a banana.

Did the fisticuffs between Alex Rodriguez and Jason Varitek really happen ten years ago today? Wow.

Craig Calcaterra of NBC Sports’ Hardball Talk provides some useful background:

On July 24, 2004, the Yankees were cruising. They had an eight and a half game lead over the Red Sox, who were tied with the Twins for the wild card. They beat the Red Sox 8-7 the night before. A month before that they swept Boston in the Bronx. On this Saturday, New York was up again, 3–0 in the top of the third when Alex Rodriguez stepped up to the plate to face Bronson Arroyo.

A-Rod wasn’t yet the pariah he would become. Yes, a lot of people hated that he made the money that he made, but he had yet to be implicated in the PED story. He had yet to be caught cheating on his wife and dating pop stars. He had yet to strike narcissistic poses in glossy magazines and be on the outs publicly with his team. He was merely the best player in the game at that point who had maybe-a-bit-too-publicly forced a trade to a contender the previous winter. But heck, the Red Sox were actually the front-runners for him. Even struck a deal with Texas to acquire him, only to see it nixed by the union because A-Rod –selflessly! — had offered to rework his contract to make it happen.

But A-Rod had driven in the go-ahead run in the ninth inning of the Yankees victory the previous night and the Sox were a tad frustrated.

Here’s what I recall from that wild and crazy day:

  • I drove to Boston from Washington via Brooklyn because my first cousins Arlen and Curt had secured three seats for the game — I’m pretty sure it was a birthday present from the former’s father-in-law.
  • Driving through Westchester County that Saturday morning was an adventure. A ginormous storm had struck the Northeast the day before. Since I was listening to music and not the traffic report, I was unaware that the Saw Mill River Parkway north of the Taconic Parkway was flooded. (Oops.) With no exit ramp in sight, I crept filled with dread toward the two to three feet of water. Somehow, the brand new roadster made it through the pond without complaint.
  • I parked the car at Newton Corner, grabbed a jacket from the trunk — according to the Baseball-Reference box score, the gametime temperature was 65 degrees with a 12-mph wind — then rode the Green Line toward the ballpark.
  • It was my first (and still only) time watching a ballgame in Fenway.
  • I was delighted to discover that our seats were located three or four rows behind the Yankees’ on-deck circle.
  • Because we arrived early, several star players were still warming up. As the Democratic National Convention was kicking off nearby in two days, other recognizable faces were walking in front of the dugout, including a certain cable news anchor. While some of us shouted, “Hey, Jeter!” and “Sheff!” and “What do you say, Bernie?” I bellowed, “Wolf! That was a great interview with [Serbian president Boris] Tadic!”
  • This became a typical Bombers–Sawx game, meaning that it took forever to play (3:54). No less than twelve batters reached base via the walk. The Red Sox starter, Bronson Arroyo, left the game in the top of the sixth inning already having thrown over 100 pitches.
  • The Yankees were looking pretty good when Arroyo took aim at A-Rod’s left elbow. They had scored three runs while the Red Sox had been retired in order over the first two frames.
  • I wish I had some sharp insights into the fight but the only thing I remember was hearing A-Rod’s first “#### you” at Arroyo over the crowd noise.
  • The birthday cousin’s memory is a bit more intact:

[I remember] how fast the field filled with players and about three Sox players grabbing [David] Ortiz’ arm as he was trying to hit someone on the Yankees.  Oh, and the home plate umpire running away from the fight and Varitek and Rodriguez rolling around on the ground.

  • I took lots of photos of the brawl and immediate aftermath with a disposable camera but must have lost the darn thing somewhere between Newton Corner and Dupont Circle. (Sigh.)
  • The ballclubs exchanged leads in the fourth and sixth innings and the visitors took a two-run lead into the bottom of the ninth. Because I had to coach and play in a softball playoff game the next morning in D.C. and with Mariano Rivera coming in to shut the door and extend the division lead to nine and a half games, I said good-bye and headed toward the exit.
  • Hey, I wasn’t the only doofus who left early. The train heading west was packed with Boston fans looking despondent . . . until a passenger got up from his seat screaming that Bill Mueller had just cracked a home run off of the normally unhittable closer, resulting in an improbable 11–10 victory. For the remainder of the ride to Newton Square, the scene resembled a raucous celebration usually reserved for World Series–clinching victories.
  • In contrast, the car ride home was uneventful and surprisingly quick. I’m pretty sure I made the trek in no more than six hours and change.

Calcaterra continues:

The Sox won again on Sunday. They’d split the final six regular season games between them. New York, however, would once again win the AL East and then take a commanding 3–0 lead over the Sox in the American League Championship Series. Once again the Yankees looked poised to come out on top in this increasingly one-sided rivalry.

But, of course, Boston had different ideas. And in October 2004, the script to which we had become accustomed was flipped. The Red Sox would win the ALCS and the World Series. They’d win two more after that. And, some time between then and now, the feel of the Yankees-Red Sox rivalry would forever change.

More here.

Right Field

Brief chronicles of our sporting times.