Best Yankees Playoff Games of Past 25 Years: Bernie walks off Boston

Postseason walkoffs are special, but walkoffs against the Boston Red Sox have a very different dynamic. On a late October night in 1999, Bernie Williams provided the final moment to give the Yanks a 1-0 lead in that year’s ALCS.

1999 ALCS Game 1 – October 13

end result: Yankees 4, Red Sox 3

Game MVP: Orlando Hernandez

Looking back now, the 1999 ALCS is the least drama of the three the Yanks played with the Red Sox from then until 2004, but despite the 4-1 win, that clash could have gone very differently. After all, the first two games at Yankee Stadium were decided by a single run, with New York trailing late in both.

To give some background on this particular Game 1, the Red Sox were coming off a very emotionally draining duel with Cleveland after coming back from a 2-0 deficit to win their last three games and on the injured back of Pedro Martinez’s six innings progression to a scoreless ease in Game 5, which helped Boston win that game 12-8.

The Yankees, on the other hand, had knocked out the Texas Rangers with a couple of shutout wins and won that series by an aggregate score of 14-1. Orlando “El Duque” Hernández, who lasted six walks to throw eight scoreless in Game 1 of the ALDS, was in line to play Game 1 against the Red Sox with an extra break.

Boston’s pitching staff wasn’t nearly as tidy, and it was Kent Mercker who took the ball for them in Game 1. The veteran southpaw came on in a trade in late August and made just five starts for the team, six if you will count his poor performance in Game 4, in which he didn’t last two full innings. The good news for Boston Pitchers in this game was that basically nothing was required. The offense put on 23 runs, making the 7 runs they allowed look kind of manageable.

The Red Sox wasted no time and jumped on El Duque early when Jose Offerman led into midfield with a single, followed by an errant throw by a fielder from Derek Jeter to John Valentin’s grounder in the hole. That drove Offerman in and promoted Valentin to third place. It was a tough game for Jeter, but a shot on the spot likely puts Offerman in second place. Instead, the BoSox were up 2-0 in the blink of an eye when Brian Daubach singled to the right and brought in Offerman.

In the second inning, Boston extended the lead with Offerman Darren Lewis driving to Jeter on another grounder in what ended up being an infield hit. However, El Duque pushed himself down and escaped a first and second jam with no outs by getting the heart of the lineup in order.

Considering the Red Sox came hot after such an exciting series win while the Yanks were four days without a game, it would be easy to assume or expect New York to be a bit rusty. A bad start might have changed the entire form of this series, but this team – this whole generation – had a lot of resilience and there was a lot more to come, even with the early 0-3 deficit.

At the bottom of the second inning, just after the Red Sox extended their lead, Scott Brosius came on the plate with a runner and drove a 3-2 switch to left field courts, reducing the Yanks’ lead to 3-2. After that it got quieter for a while. Both teams had no problem taking the lead against the two starters, but neither was very successful at putting them into play. Mercker left the game after four innings with a 2.00 WHIP, but the only blemish on his record was Brosius’ two-run bomb. The game’s biggest name was yet to come, but El Duque deserves credit for his work – he went eight full frames and didn’t concede after that second inning.

Rich Garces was relieved for Mercker and threw two scoreless innings, but things got a little more interesting when Derek Lowe came in for the end of the seventh game. Brosius played a bit of smallball, led with a single and was pushed into second place by a Chuck Knoblauch Bunt, setting Jeter up for a game-changing RBI single.

The Yankees would put another runner in goal position that inning, but Chili Davis struck with two errors. The game was now a dead heat.

After El Duque was done for the night, Joe Torre turned to his closer Mariano Rivera in an unsecured situation, with the game tied at three in the top of the ninth, and the legendary closer did what he often did by he Red turned Sox away.

On the other hand, Lowe held New York at bay in the next two innings with a little help from Rheal Cormier, who passed Paul O’Neill with a runner-on and two outs in the ninth game.

Jimy Williams could have left Cormier there to start the tenth but instead opted for right Ron Beck with Bernie Williams showing up and the rest was history. The soft-tossing Beck got away with his first pitch with a two-seamer at 87 on the inside of the plate, and it was almost poetic to hear longtime broadcaster Tim McCarver tell him not to play Williams. Right on the next pitch – basically the same – Williams turned and drove it over the midfield wall.

That was the ball game and the Yankees won 4-3. It was just another heroic playoff moment for Bernie, and it capped a night that would help propel El Duque to ALCS MVP honors. He dominated Game 5 at Fenway Park and sent the Yankees to another fall classic.