With the Yankees playing at Wrigley Field this weekend, here’s a flashback to a regular season classic from the first regular season series between the Yankees and Cubs.
For the first five seasons of Interleague play, the Yankees only played NL East teams. After facing the NL West in 2002, it was finally time to take on the Central.
Roger Clemens was attempting to win his 300th game for the third time. The Red Sox had beaten him on Memorial Day, and he received a no-decision in a start against the Tigers after the bullpen blew a two-run lead for him although the Yankees won in 17 innings.
David Wells won the opening game of the series and even doubled off Carlos Zambrano.
Then came a memorable Fox Game of the Week. While the Yankees sent Clemens to the mound, opposing them was a young version of Clemens, fireballer Kerry Wood, looking for his 50th career win.
Wood set the tone early by striking out two in the first inning. Clemens, making his first ever start at Wrigley, gave up a leadoff single to Mark Grudzielanek but then retired the next 15 Cubs.
Grudzielanek was stranded on third when Sammy Sosa grounded out to third to end the inning. Sosa was playing while he appealed his suspension for using a corked bat, which was found after breaking earlier that week. During the telecast, Tim McCarver asked if Sosa’s home runs had been tainted by the cork.
Behind the catchers was an ad for the upcoming All-Star game, which said “This Time It Counts” with the winner getting home field in the World Series.
The top of the fourth began with Wood striking out Derek Jeter. (This was during the time Visa ran it’s funny commercial with Jeter and George Steinbrenner together on a conga line.) Then Jason Giambi’s pop-up was caught by Hee-seop Choi but the first baseman collided with Wood and hit his head on the ground. Choi was taken away by ambulance and replaced by Eric Karros.
Meanwhile, Wood took a no-hitter into the fifth. With two outs, Hideki Matsui broke the scoreless tie with a home run to right several pitches after getting away with a check swing that could’ve been strike three. McCarver and Joe Buck had been talking earlier in the broadcast about Matsui’s struggles in his first season in America and how Joe Torre thought it was because of the two-seam fastball.
Staked to a lead, Clemens struck out Moises Alou, Karros, and Lenny Harris in the bottom of the fifth. Damian Miller led off the sixth with a double, but was thrown out at third when Wood’s bunt was fielded by Clemens who went for the lead runner.
Matsui’s home run was the only Yankee hit off Wood in the first seven innings. After former Yankee and Cub Bobby Murcer sang “Take Me Out To The Ballgame”, Clemens, working on a two-hitter of his own, took the mound in the bottom of the seventh having thrown only 66 pitches.
The Rocket struck out Corey Patterson but then Sosa singled to end an eight-pitch at-bat and Alou walked. Joe Torre made a change, removing Clemens after 84 pitches.
Had Choi not gotten injured, southpaw Chris Hammond may have entered. With Karros at the plate, Juan Acevedo came in to pitch. Karros sent his first pitch into the bleachers for a three-run homer. (Acevedo would be released less than a week later.)
Clemens wouldn’t get his milestone, but there was still a game to win. The Yankees loaded the bases in the eighth but Mike Remlinger relieved Wood and struck out Jason Giambi.
The Cubs seemingly put the game away in the eighth with an Alex Gonzalez RBI double off Jeff Weaver and Sosa RBI single off Hammond.
With Joe Borowski on to pitch the ninth, Jorge Posada led off the inning with a home run. After a Robin Ventura groundout, Raul Mondesi and Hideki Matsui singled to bring the tying run to the plate. But Juan Rivera struck out and Todd Zeile grounded out to Borowski to end the game.
The Cubs would also win behind Mark Prior on Sunday night, jumping out to a 6-0 lead on Andy Pettitte in the first two innings and holding on for the 8-7 win.
The wild week continued with the Yankees getting no-hit by six Houston pitchers at Yankee Stadium. Clemens would get his 300th win against the Cardinals on June 13, also notching his 4,000th career strikeout in the 5-2 win.
The Yankees would go on to win the pennant but there would be no Wrigley return as the Cubs had squandered a 3-1 lead against the Marlins in the NLCS.