Aaron Boone praises Wake, talks '03

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Tim Wakefield and Aaron "Bleeping" Boone will forever be linked for what happened just past midnight on Oct. 17, 2003.

It was Game 7 of the ALCS between the Boston Red Sox and the New York Yankees in the Bronx. The game was knotted at 5-5. Wakefield had already retired the side in order in the bottom of the 10th inning, his first inning of relief, and now he was set to face Boone, the New York Yankees' No. 8 hitter, to lead off the 11th.

Wakefield tossed one pitch. Boone took one swing. The ball landed in the left field seats and the Yankees were heading to the World Series.

It was 12:16 in the morning.

Prior to that at-bat, Boone was 2-for-16 in his career against Wakefield. That walk-off home run was the last time the two faced each other.

"I hadn't had much success against him and if you look at my career numbers, I didn't have success against him, so I wasn't real excited about having to walk up there," Boone said in a phone interview with ESPNBoston.com. "For one of the few times, the pitch stayed up for me and didn't dance a lot.

"There were so many times I faced him I felt like I would walk away scratching my head like I was going to kill a pitch because you would see it so good at times, and then it had such good movement more often than not that you would swing and miss, or completely miss hit a ball that you were positive you were going to destroy.

"That's the beauty of that pitch and for the very few who can master it on a level of Tim Wakefield, the Niekro brothers or whoever, they're able to turn it into a career, and in Tim's case a really good career."

On Friday at JetBlue Park at Fenway South, Red Sox chairman Tom Werner opened the ceremony with a speech to honor Wakefield on his retirement.

Werner spoke glowing about Wakefield's ability to defy all odds earlier in his career.

"Then came 2003, a remarkable but excruciating year because of the way it ended," Werner said during his speech, with Wakefield just off to the side.

Werner then described how Wakefield was the winning pitcher of record in both Games 1 and 4 of the ALCS. The chairman explained how the Yankees erased deficits of 4-0 and 5-2 in Game 7 of that series before Wakefield's relief appearance in the 10th inning.

Then Boone hit the home run in the 11th and in the days following the agonizing defeat, Werner said he remembered talking with Wakefield.

"He was concerned about how Red Sox Nation would treat Tim in the offseason," explained Werner. "But I said to him what everybody in Red Sox Nation said, 'We only have thanks to you for what you have done, not just this year, but all your years as a Red Sox.' I remember that year when we went to the writers' dinner in January, he got a standing ovation because we all admire Tim, not only for his courage, but for the way, year after year, he's done what he has done for the Red Sox on and off the field."

After Boone's career ended, he turned to broadcasting and became an analyst for ESPN. He would occasionally walk into the Red Sox clubhouse, which was always a strange sight, and would also occasionally talk with Wakefield.

"We've bumped into each other a number of times over the years and I have a lot of respect for him," Boone said. "I would like to think the same. We're just two ballplayers that talk about baseball or talk about what's going on, just respecting each other and what we do. But no, that never really comes up about that particular night."

Fortunately, for the Red Sox and their fans, the hated Yankees lost in the World Series to the Florida Marlins in 2003. Boston earned its redemption the following season when the Red Sox erased a 3-0 deficit to the Yankees in the ALCS and won that series. Eventually, Wakefield and the Red Sox swept the St. Louis Cardinals in the World Series and ended an 86-year drought.

During his retirement news conference on Friday, Wakefield was wearing his 2004 World Series ring and called it the proudest moment of his career.

"He had a great career – 19 years and 200 wins," Boone said. "He's a guy who has a special place in such a storied franchise. He personifies a lot of what's right about baseball. It's reflected in a long and really good career."