Inspired by Rick Paulas (a.k.a. Zon Dimmer) on McSweeney’s and his Tales of the Heckle, I wanted to chronicle one of the greatest days in the history of my Red Sox fandom. On April 13, 2002, I helped the Red Sox win a game against the Yankees. I can’t take all of the credit, of course. But I was an integral part of that 7-6 come-from-behind victory.
It was early in the season and the first series against the Yankees. I hadn’t been to Fenway a lot, so I had no idea that games in April weren’t usually blessed with mellow blue skies hardly marred by clouds. The day wasn’t so clear for Pedro Martinez. In the first inning, Derek Jeter ripped his first pitch into shallow center field for a leadoff double. After striking out Nick Johnson, Martinez walked Bernie Williams in one of their interminable contests. You know how those two are when they face each other: Williams steps out of the box to attempt to disconcert the pitcher, so Pedro steps off the rubber to unnerve his quarry. Lather, rinse, repeat. This time, Williams succeeded in drawing a walk. Martinez hit Jason Giambi to load the bases with still just one out. Three runs scored on Jorge Posada’s ensuing triple, and the pinstriped catcher eventually scored on a Rey Sanchez error.
Despite the four-run first inning, Martinez settled in to hold the Yankees scoreless for the next four innings. The Red Sox had managed to score three runs in the fourth in a scoring outburst that began with Rickey Henderson’s leadoff base on balls. New York increased their lead to three runs in the sixth inning. Emotions were running hot, even for the normally jovial Tony Cloninger. He was ejected in the bottom of the sixth for mentioning to home plate umpire Fieldin Culbreth that he thought he missed a few calls while Rolando Arrojo was on the mound. Inspired by Cloninger’s example, I vowed that when it came time for me contribute, I would step up.
I wasn’t alone in my commitment to the team. Johnny Damon doubled to center field in the bottom of the eighth, chasing David Wells from the game and prompting the insertion of Ramiro Mendoza. My seat for this game were right near the visitor’s bullpen. While Mendoza warmed, a pair of wits next to me heckled him. “You’re in for it now, Mendoza!” Then, sotto voce, “Yeah, this guy always gets us. Versatile: short relief, long relief, spot starts.” Out loud: “Look at Nomar, he’s ready to jump all over your slop.” Under breath: “Nomar will probably fly out to short.”
The Nostradamii were wrong. The Mendoza that Red Sox fans would come to know well made an appearance. He hit the Red Sox shortstop and then Manny Ramirez singled to score Damon. The gap between the teams slid to two runs and the crowd was deranged with joy. Joe Torre tarried so that his indomitable closer, Mariano Rivera, could warm up sufficiently to take the mound and staunch the bleeding.
Proper heckling requires intimate knowledge of your target. If you think you’re going to get into someone’s head by yelling, "Hey, 42, you suck!" you are sorely mistaken. Your words must deftly penetrate the neocortex of an elite athlete hardened by years of concentration and fortitude. They must there become seeds of doubt and apprehension that will blossom into your prey’s undoing.
In March of 2002, Rivera’s cousin, outfielder Ruben Rivera, was caught stealing Derek Jeter’s equipment and selling it to turn a quick buck. Shameful enough for a major league team, but devestating for the supposedly pristine Yankee clubhouse. Recall then that mystique and aura were aging yet at least had their reputation unstained. How humiliating then, for the paragon of Yankeedom, the Hammer of God, to have a relative leave in such unsavory circumstances.
I was truly curious about how Ruben was doing, so I posed the question to closer as he loosened up. “How’s your cousin doing? You know, Ruben?” I queried. “Does he like Texas?” After being released by the Yankees, he was invited to the Rangers’ spring training camp. “Tell him I think he has a career in memorabilia brokering.” I thought Rivera would appreciate some career advice for his young cousin. Of course he couldn’t thank me for my input as he was about to exit the bullpen, but I think my words may have resonated with him.
Rivera induced Tony Clark to ground out to first, but since Garciaparra was on third, he scored easily and Ramirez advanced to second base. Shea Hillenbrand came to the plate and Mariano pitched him high and inside. One could say he was head-hunting. Undaunted, the Boston third baseman hit the go-ahead two-run home run into the screen on the Green Monster. Ugueth Urbina shut down the first two Yankee batters of the ninth. Posada reached base on a single and Alfonso Soriano pinch ran for him. Soriano was thrown out by Jason Varitek while attempting to steal second, ending the epic game.
Shea and I haven’t always gotten along, but we worked well together that day.