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The 13 Strangest Moments in Yankee History

November 19, 2012

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The Yankees have played 17,448 games in their 109-year history.  Tens of thousands of innings.  Millions of pitches.  There were bound to be a few peculiar moments.

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Honorable Mention | Zipcode Play | vs. Detroit Tigers | 6/16/1922

Carl Mays was on the mound for the Yankees when the Tiger catcher, Johnny Bassler, smoked a grounder off of Mays.  The ball ricocheted to Frank Baker at 3rd base, but he was unable to field it cleanly, as the ball bounced toward the shortstop, Everett Scott.  Scott finally picked it up and threw over to Wally Pipp at 1st to nail Bassler just in time.  The official scoring of the play was 1563.

#13 | “We need a 2nd base coach” | vs. Minnesota Twins | 5/29/1982

In a 6-4 victory at the Metrodome, Bobby Murcer and Graig Nettles were involved in a base running blunder so egregious that it prompted Murcer to say after the game, “We need a second base coach.”  In the top of the 2nd, Murcer and Nettles singled, bringing Roy Smalley to the plate, but the hit-and-run was as the Yankee shortstop struck out.  The Minnesota catcher, Sal Butera, fired the ball to Gary Gaetti at 3rd base, prompting Murcer to immediately retreat to 2nd.  Unfortunately, waiting for him at 2nd was Nettles, who was forced back to 1st and tagged out by Kent Hrbek after a throw from Gaetti.  But, as Gaetti threw across the diamond to nab Nettles, Murcer broke for 3rd.  Hrbek threw back across the diamond, where pitcher Terry Felton was covering 3rd, to cut down Murcer in one of the most bizarre triple plays in baseball history.  The official scoring of the play was K+CS3(25);CS2(31)/TP.

#12 | The Double-Steal | vs. Philadelphia Phillies | 11/1/2009

In game 4 of the World Series the Yankees were clinging to a 4-3 lead in the 8th inning as Joba Chamberlain trotted out from the bullpen.  He promptly struck out Jayson Werth and Raul Ibanez and was 1 strike away from handing the ball to history’s deadliest closer when Pedro Feliz hit a game-tying home run to left.  Having lost the momentum, the Yankees came to bat in their half of the 9th, but after a pop out by Hideki Matsui and a strikeout by Derek Jeter, the Phillies looked poised to walk off with a series-altering win.  That’s when Johnny Damon took over.

The Yankee left fielder singled after a 9-pitch at bat then, on the 1st pitch to Mark Teixeira, broke for 2nd.  Catcher Carlos Ruiz fired the ball to Pedro Feliz at 2nd, but the throw was short and to the 1st base side of the bag, giving Damon an opportunity to exploit the shift that Philadelphia had on for the lefty, pull-hitting Teixeira.  Damon, still speedy at the age of thirty-five, took off for 3rd with no one in front of him but 3rd base coach Rob Thomson.  It was an incredible instinctual play by Damon which loomed large as Alex Rodriguez stepped into the box after Teixeira was hit by Brad Lidge.  A-Rod laced a double to left field that scored Damon and put Tex on 3rd, giving the Yankees a 5-4 edge and bringing Mariano Rivera off the bullpen bench.  The Yanks would go on to win 7-4, and build a 3-1 edge in the series, thanks in large part to Damon’s odd and intelligent play.  Check out the play here.

#11 | Guilty Bystander | vs. Cleveland Indians | 10/7/1998

Game 2 of the ALCS was knotted at 1-1 in the top of the 12th.  Jim Thome led off with a single and was replaced by pinch-runner Enrique Wilson.  Travis Fryman followed with a bunt down the 1st base line that Tino Martinez charged, fielded, and fired to Chuck Knoblauch covering 1st.  The ball hit Fryman in the back and continued to roll down the line while Knoblauch mystifyingly stood still, pointing at Fryman in an attempt to get an interference call from one of the umpires.  As he stood there the ball kept rolling and Wilson and Fryman kept running, but by the time he realized what was happening Wilson was sliding into home with a 2-1 lead and Fryman was safe at 3rd.  The Indians would go on to win the game 4-1 and level the series at 1-1.  Had the Yankees not won the pennant in 6 games that play may be remembered as one of the most sickening in Yankee history instead of a strange footnote to another championship season.

#10 | Beetlemania | vs. Boston Red Sox | 7/8/1939

Before the first game of a twin bill with Boston, a wall of Japanese beetles invaded the home dugout.  Though it was reported that 5,000 insects were captured, the foreign invaders proved to be too much of a nuisance for the Bombers as they fell to the Sox 1-3 and 2-3.

#9 | Well-Timed Timeout | vs. Milwaukee Brewers | 4/10/1976

In a bizarre and controversial 9-7 victory, Billy Martin snatched a victory away from the Brewers on the 2nd day of the season.  In the bottom of the 9th inning with the Yankees leading 9-6, Milwaukee loaded the bases with nobody out.  Reliever Dave Pagan dealt to 3rd baseman Don Money who slugged an apparent game-winning grand slam.  However, before the pitch was thrown Billy Martin signaled to 1st baseman Chris Chambliss to call for a timeout, which was granted by 1st base umpire Jim McKean.  The umpires deliberated for several minutes before bringing the players back onto the field.  The grand slam was voided.  The Brewer fans were irate and began throwing things onto the field in disgust.  Money dug back into the box and flied out to right.  The Brewers cut the lead to 9-7 on a sacrifice fly by George Scott, but the wild game ended when Darrell Porter grounded out.

#8 | 3-for-1 | vs. Milwaukee Brewers | 7/27/1988

In a 16-3 victory Tommy John would improve to 8-3 on the season, but not before enduring one of the most embarrassing moments of his career.  In the top of the 4th Jeffrey Leonard came up with a man on 1st and 1 out.  Leonard sent a dribbler to the left of the mound that was bobbled by John for an error.  When John finally controlled the ball he fired it wide of Don Mattingly at 1st for his 2nd error on the play, prompting Jim Gantner, who had walked, to break for home.  As the throw came in from right field, John corralled it and fired the relay past Don Slaught at home for his incredible 3rd error on the play.

#7 | The Pine Tar Incident | vs. Kansas City Royals | 7/24/83

It was the top of the 9th with 2 outs and Goose Gossage was staring down George Brett, hoping to secure a 4-3 Yankee lead.  It was power vs. power.  Brett prevailed with a 2-run home run that gave the Royals a 5-4 lead.  But the drama was only just beginning.  Billy Martin emerged from the dugout and requested that Brett’s bat be examined, presuming that the amount of pine tar on the bat exceeded the legal amount.  The umpires used the 17-inch home plate as a measuring stick and then deliberated whether Brett had broken the 18 inch rule.  When they broke the huddle the home plate umpire signaled that Brett was out, giving the Yankees the win.  33,944 roared at the Stadium and Brett sprinted out of the dugout like a madman.  It took half a dozen men to keep the fiery 3rd baseman from killing the umpire.

After the game Kansas City filed a complaint with the American League.  AL president Lee MacPhail overturned the ruling, saying that only the bat should have been removed from the game and not the batter.  He ordered that the game be completed with the Royals up 5-4 with 2 outs in the top of the 9th.  The saga finally ended 26 days later on August 18th in front of just 1,200 fans.

#6 | The 10th Manvs. Boston Red Sox | 9/18/1993

The Yankees and Red Sox began the day still in the hunt for the AL East crown.  It looked as though the Yanks would fail to gain ground on 1st place Toronto as they trailed 3-1 entering the 9th and quickly recorded 2 outs, but Mike Gallego drew a walk, bringing the tying run to the plate in Mike Stanley.  On the 2nd pitch of the at bat the catcher sent a fly ball to left field that Mike Greenwell settled under and caught for what would have been the last out, had a fan not run onto the field while the ball was in play.  The 3rd base umpire called time, nullifying the fly out.  Imbued with new life, Stanley singled to left field, igniting an improbable Yankee rally.  Wade Boggs followed with a single that scored Gallego, cutting the deficit to 3-2.  Dion James followed with a walk, loading the bases for Don Mattingly.  On a 1-1 pitch from Greg Harris Mattingly laced a single to right, scoring two to give the Yankees a bizarre 4-3 win.

#5 | Helping Hand | vs. Baltimore Orioles | 10/9/1996

In the 8th inning of game 1 of the ALCS, the Yanks’ rookie shortstop strode to the plate with the Bombers trailing 4-3 and down to their last 5 outs.  On the first pitch Derek Jeter saw from Armando Benitez he poked a pitch to deep right field.  That’s when one of the most memorable and controversial moments in postseason history occurred.

Orioles right fielder Tony Tarasco settled under the ball with his back against the wall, but as he reached up to catch it a black glove appeared out of nowhere and snatched it away.  It was Jeffrey Maier’s glove and the 12-year-old had inadvertently redirected the momentum of the series.  Tarasco pleaded with umpire Richie Garcia, manager Davey Johnson was ejected, and the old Stadium rocked with new life as Jeter’s first magical moment knotted the game.  The Yanks would go on to win the game 5-4 in the 11th on a Bernie Williams home run and the Birds have cried foul ever since.

#4 | Clemens Goes Batty | vs. New York Mets | 10/22/2000

After Roger Clemens hit Mike Piazza in the helmet in July, their World Series rematch had New York abuzz leading up to game 2.  Piazza came to bat in the 1st inning with 2 outs.  On a 1-2 pitch Clemens came inside with a fastball, severing Piazza’s bat at the handle.  The barrel flew right toward Clemens who corralled it with his glove and fired it right in front of the Mets catcher as he trotted towards first.  Piazza walked toward Clemens yelling, “What’s your problem” while the Yankee fireballer simply ignored him.  Clemens would later say he thought the bat was the ball and that he threw it down in frustration once he saw that it wasn’t. It would take Clemens and the rest of the city a few innings to settle down.  The Yanks went on to win 6-5.  It became one of the transcendent moments of a thrilling Subway Series that the Yankees won in 5 games.

#3 | Balancing Act | vs. Boston Red Sox | 7/4/2008

With the Yankees leading their archrivals 3-1 in the top of the 3rd, Kevin Youkilis drilled a shot to left field.  Johnny Damon raced back and appeared to spear it with his glove, but as he slammed into the wall the ball popped out.  As Damon stared up from his back, the ball inexplicably continued to roll along the top of the wall before dropping back down onto the warning track.  Damon would leave the game with a sprained AC joint in his shoulder and as Youkilis stood on 3rd with an extraordinary 2-run triple that helped the Sox prevail 6-4.

#2 | The Midges | vs. Cleveland Indians | 10/5/2007

In game 2 of the ALDS the Yanks led 1-0 at the Jake as Joba Chamberlain came out for the 8th inning along with a swarm of midges, a type of small blood-sucking insects.  Distracted by the bugs crawling all over his neck and face and down his back, he walked Grady Sizemore to start the inning, then threw a wild pitch to advance him to 2nd.  Joba bounced back to retire the next two batters before throwing another wild pitch to Victor Martinez that scored Sizemore who advanced to 3rd on a groundout.  Chamberlain struck out Johnny Peralta to end the inning, but the Indians had tied the game without a hit and would go on to win 2-1 in 11 innings.

#1 | Using Your Head | vs. Washington Senators | 7/26/1935

In the 2nd inning with runners on 1st and 2nd with 1 out, left fielder Jesse Hill came to bat facing Washington’s Ed Linke.  Hill lined a shot off of Linke’s forehead that caromed back to the catcher, Jack Redmond, on a fly for an out.  Redmond then threw to 2nd base to double up the runner and end the inning. Linke was carried off the field unconscious and was admitted to a hospital.  The Senators won the game 9-3.

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