10/17/2003 2:30 AM ET
Aaron Boone: AB of a lifetime
The interesting part: It lasted all of one pitch
By Kevin Czerwinski / MLB.com
NEW YORK -- Willie Randolph had faith in Aaron Boone even if Boone didn't.
Aaron Boone (right) and Willie Randolph share in the glee of the Yankees' locker-room celebration after Boone's homer won the AL pennant. (Al Behrman/AP)
Before the American League Championship Series began, the Yankees third base coach told Boone that he was going to be a "sleeper," that he would wind up doing something big for the Bombers when he least expected it.
Little did Randolph know how big Boone's role would actually be.
Boone capped a hectic week in the early moments Friday morning by sending Tim Wakefield's first offering deep into the left-field bleachers. The 11th-inning shot lifted the Bombers by Boston, giving them a 6-5 victory and their sixth American League championship in eight seasons.
It also evoked memories of Chris Chambliss, the former Yankee first baseman who carved his niche in the team's history by blasting an ALCS winning homer in 1976 against Kansas City. Boone's homer was the 29th walk-off tater in postseason history, the fifth walk-off blast to end a playoff series and only the second to ever end an LCS.
The homer also capped the largest Game 7 comeback in Yankees history. And Randolph had a feeling that it would happen.
"I just get a feeling about a guy sometimes -- sometimes I scare myself," Randolph said. "But I had a feeling, and I told him, 'You're the sleeper in this series.' There was just something about him. He's a gamer, and I liked the way he worked. Good things happen to people like that.
"I thought he was trying a little too hard, but that's natural. He wants to do well. I thought that at times he was trying to do too much. He stuck with it. He kept battling. That's why I was really proud of him. He never complained or got down on himself. Sometimes it takes a while to click, but it sure clicked for him tonight."
Boone entered the game in the bottom of the eighth as a pinch-runner for Ruben Sierra. The Yankees rallied for three runs that inning, tying the score off Pedro Martinez and setting the stage for Boone to be a hero against the knuckleballer who had been New York's nemesis the entire series.
"It's unbelievable," Boone said. "It's just very unbelievable to get that opportunity. What more can I ask for? I actually considered taking a strike to lead off the inning but I got a good pitch to hit and I was pretty relaxed. I was coming around on the ball a little bit and I knew it was probably going to be fair.
"I just happened to run into one. With the knuckleball, it's kind of a crapshoot. I finally got one on the plate because he's been giving me fits for a whole month and a half. I've been coming around on balls left and right for a while and to finally put a good swing on one was, I guess it was my time."
Bret Boone, Aaron's brother, was in the television booth doing color work on the broadcast. He couldn't hold back his emotions.
"I got goosebumps when he did it," Bret Boone said. "I couldn't help but smile. I was about as excited as I could be for somebody else."
The homer capped a madcap ride for Boone, who has been inconsistent since the Yankees acquired him from Cincinnati on July 31. He hit .254 in 54 games for the Bombers with six homers and 31 RBIs.
It didn't get any better for Boone once the playoffs began. He was hitting .161 with one RBI in 10 playoff games and had only three hits in 21 at-bats in this series.
"You know it's been a little bit up and down for me [here]," Boone said. "But it's just been fun to come here each day and try and contribute with the rest of the guys in that room. The one thing I've noticed since I've been here is that there are a lot of good people in there."
Yankees skipper Joe Torre never lost faith in Boone, though. He started Enrique Wilson at third base because of his career numbers against Pedro Martinez. But when he needed Boone late in the game, he tapped him on the shoulder, giving little regard to his anemic numbers.
"You know, it's tough to believe in yourself when you're struggling," Torre said. "This guy over here, Boonie, my defensive replacement. He hit a home run. I love it. For three innings I was waiting for [Boston left-fielder] Manny [Ramirez] to turn his back and see a ball go in the stands. It finally happened."
Randolph was waiting for it all along.
Kevin Czerwinski is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.