Trips to Yankee Stadium were typically not much fun for me in the late 90’s. The Sox continued to trot out a roster that had only two players worth watching – Nomar and Pedro. Nomar was still in the phase of his career in which he was a hitting savant. He could seemingly hit any pitch on a line somewhere. Basically any game could be a 4 hit night for him. He definitely was one of the guys you did not leave the room for when his at bats were on tv.
But Pedro…, well, Pedro was on an other level.
Pedro was dominating hitters in the midst of the steroid era. His ERA+ from 1997-2003 was 215! That is, he had an ERA less than half the league average and was doing it when home runs were flying out of ballparks at crazy rates. So needless to say when Pedro was pitching in the Bronx on a warm September night I told Trish this was an event that could not be missed. That was 15 years ago today.
There was a section of the old Yankee Stadium in the first few rows of the upper deck that was great. You could see the entire field clearly, noting the movements of the defense as they anticipated a particular pitch. It was the best place to watch baseball outside of Fenway. When Trish and I arrived we climbed to the upper deck through the left field section. Arriving at the top level, we were directly over the Sox bullpen with Pedro warming up. I watched as the bullpen coach placed a 2 inch strip over sections of the plate or off the plate. He never missed a spot. It was truly amazing. Here was a guy throwing 96, hitting spots only 2 inches wide while the ball was also moving side to side and up and down. Never thought a bullpen session could be captivating.
Pedro’s second pitch hit Chuck Knoblauch. 2 pitches later Varitek threw him out stealing. Pedey knew what he had that night and was just toying with people. From there out it was a thing of beauty. 2 Strikeouts in the 2nd and 3rd, striking out the side in the 5th. From 7th inning on the Yankees did not hit a fair ball, 8 K’s and a week foul pop to first. At the end of the 8th inning, Ricky Ledee struck out swinging for the 3rd time.
Now I’d been going to Sox games in the Bronx since my freshman year at Fordham. I knew how to avoid the unsavory aspects of the crowd. But I finally let go, standing up and cheering for the Pedro’s 14th K. As I turned back to take a seat, an object was coming toward my head. I ducked but it was too late. Thud. I had been hit in the head with a hot dog. I looked back and saw other fans congratulating the hurler who threw his pitch as accurate as any Pedro threw that night. Hitting a man with a hot dog from 45 feet is hard to do. What’s more, as I looked down I could see that this was a nearly complete dog with relish and mustard. The guy had invested a good $5 on this chuck. I had to give him credit.
The mustard left a stain on my hat. It was a stain I wore with pride until it finally faded 10 years later. I wore that same mustard-stained hat on October 20th 2004 when the Sox completed their comeback in the Bronx and again on October 27th that year.
The hat still sits in my closet; too torn and weathered for me to wear regularly. But I took it out in October 2007 and again last year. I will wear it again next year in Cooperstown I suppose.