09/26/2003 5:01 AM ET
9/23/03 special for Red Sox now
BOSTON -- Fenway Park is the oldest of all the existing Major League ballparks, and there have been plenty of home runs there that are remembered in Red Sox lore. Start with Carlton Fisk's Game 6 shot to beat Cincinnati in the 1975 World Series, and think back to classics struck by Yaz and the Splendid Splinter. Remember Mark McGwire's monster shots during the 1999 All-Star Home Run Derby, and perhaps, even the cursed blast from Bucky Dent in 1978.
Some day, Red Sox fans might very well tell their children about the night on Sept. 23, 2003, when Todd Walker went deep and David Ortiz followed suit.
Together, they provided one of the most memorable moments in a Red Sox season already bursting with highlight-reel plays, fueling an important push into the playoffs in a Major League regular-season finish like no other.
"I think both the home run and the game were by far the biggest thrills of my life to this point," said Walker. "Just the way it happened and the circumstance. I think a win like that can carry us a long way."
For the moment, a long way can be defined as Oakland, as that's where the Red Sox will open their AL Division Series on Wednesday.
But the Red Sox, like all of Boston, are hoping last Tuesday's riveting 6-5, 10-inning victory over the Orioles will take them much farther, and much further.
With Boston fighting to maintain a narrow lead over Seattle in the American League Wild Card race at the time and the Red Sox trailing by three in the bottom of the ninth, Walker blasted a three-run homer to send it into extra innings and then Ortiz won it with a walk-off homer in the 10th. It showed the same kind of rally-prone character that took Anaheim to its first world championship one year earlier, and Red Sox nation had to wonder if what happened on this night might someday be remembered in the same way.
The Red Sox were down to their last strike, with Walker facing closer Jorge Julio and the count full. He turned on a pitch and blasted it into the right-field bullpen, the unforgettable springboard in a contest that was so frustrating for so many innings. Did Walker think it was gone?
"No, I didn't so," he said. "I'm not going to hit the Ted Williams seat out there. The right fielder [Jay Gibbons] really didn't make a move and I thought it was right at him. Even as he trailed back, I still thought he had a bead on it. But it just kept going."
As Walker crossed home plate and ran to the dugout, just about every member of the Red Sox was out on the field giving him an array of handshakes, high-fives and pats on the helmet.
For Walker, who has never been on a playoff team before, not to mention play in a baseball-crazed city like Boston, this was something. That victory reduced Boston's magic number for clinching the Wild Card berth to three over Seattle, and at the time it might have taken wind out of Mariner sails.
"It was awesome," Walker said. "Being here in Boston, and these fans and how much they love baseball and everything you hear about ... and we're fighting for a playoff spot. All things considered, that was just awesome."
It was even more awesome for Red Sox fans who watched Ortiz put the Orioles away an inning later. He pummeled a 2-1 pitch from Kurt Ainsworth for a walk-off solo shot over the Green Monster to lead off the 10th inning.
Naturally, the Red Sox stormed out of the dugout and all but pounded Ortiz to pieces at home plate.
So was it their best win of the season?
"I think by far," said Sox manager Grady Little. "Especially coming at a time when it came. We have had a number of games like that, but this one rises above all of the rest."
And in a season where Ortiz has had too many clutch hits to count, this was his biggest.
"It was pretty exciting," Ortiz said. "We needed that to win the game. To come through like that was a great feeling."
While Ortiz provided the grand finale, it would not have been possible without Walker. His home run will be remembered around Fenway for a long, long time.
This story was not approved by Major League Baseball or its clubs.