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LEEInks list: Best Red Sox interleague games

06.25.10 at 7:04 am ET
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Love it or hate it, interleague play in Major League Baseball is again among us, meaning that at least for another few days American League pitchers will be forced to hit, National League batters will see time as designated hitters and fans will get to see matchups that they would have only previously seen in the World Series. Since its inception by commissioner Bud Selig during the 1997 season, interleague play, a concept that was created to help spread the game and help the fans, has long been a point of contention for players, managers and baseball purists alike.

Despite the nagging that comes up every year, interleague play has led to some great contests that wouldn’€™t have been seen otherwise, and the Red Sox, who were 137-106 all-time in interleague play as of Thursday, have been no exception. Here’€™s a look at some of the greatest Sox interleague games over the past 13 years.

10. Red Sox beat Mets 8-4 in Boston’s first-ever regular-season interleague game (June 13, 1997)

It doesn’€™t hurt to start to this list with the team’s first-ever regular-season game against an NL opponent, and it hurts even less when it was a Sox win. In Boston’s first game in an NL park since it played the very same Mets in the very same Shea Stadium in the 1986 World Series, the Red Sox surprisingly fared well. Every starter, except for pitcher Jeff Suppan, collected at least one hit, and Mo Vaughn, John Valentin and Troy O’€™Leary all hit homers en route to an 8-4 win. The Sox did show a little bit of inexperience though, as a mix-up in the lineup card had the pitcher’€™s spot in the order moved up to fifth after Bill Haselman pinch-hit for Suppan and then replaced Scott Hatteberg, the usual No. 5 hitter, behind the plate.

9. Josh Beckett hits HR in Sox’ 8-4 win in Philly (May 20, 2006)

Sure, an 8-4 win is nice (see above), but unless something spectacular happens, it’€™s usually not something to write home about. Well, in the seventh inning, starting pitcher Josh Beckett gave Boston its spectacular moment. After already having driven in a run in the previous inning, Beckett stepped up to the dish looking for more and got precisely what he wanted. He crushed a 2-2 pitch over the fence in left-center. It was Beckett’€™s third home run of his career, and it led to some comical silent treatment from his teammates when he returned to the dugout. It was the first home run hit by a Sox pitcher since the AL began using the DH in 1973.

8. Sox capitalize on ninth-inning error, walk off with 4-3 win over Mets (July 13, 2000)

Home runs hit by pitchers are always fun, but they don’€™t necessarily win games by themselves. Walk-offs on the other hand, well, speak for themselves. That’€™s exactly what the Sox got in this 2000 contest at home against the Amazins. A strong 7 2/3 innings from Pedro Martinez wasn’€™t enough to give Boston an automatic win heading into the bottom of the ninth. After Mets closer Armando Benitez walked Scott Hatteberg and Jose Offerman reached on an error by Melvin Mora, Brian Daubach stepped to the plate with two outs and a chance to win it. He did just that as he drilled a double that scored both Offerman and pinch-runner Manny Alexander.

7. Troy O’€™Leary saves the day with three late RBI (June 16, 1997)

That wasn’€™t the first walk-off for the Sox in interleague play. That came against a Terry Francona-managed Phillies team three years earlier in Fenway’€™s first regular-season interleague game. After seven innings of back-and-forth play, the Phillies seemed to have the game in hand with two runs in the top of the eighth. However, Troy O’€™Leary had other plans. As a pinch-hitter for Jeff Frye, O’€™Leary hit a two-run double in the ninth to send the game into extra innings. It took just one extra frame for O’€™Leary to again play the role of the hero as he was hit by Ricky Bottalico with the first pitch of his at-bat in the 10th inning with the bases loaded to give the Sox a 5-4 comeback win.

6. Sox annihilate Expos 15-0 (July 2, 1998)

Enough of the walk-offs. How about a solid thrashing? That’€™s certainly what the Sox gave the Expos in their 15-0 win over their NL foes in 1998. Six Boston hitters had at least two RBI, and the team as a whole collected 20 hits on the day. Center fielder Darren Lewis had a good game in particular, going 4-for-6 out of the leadoff spot with three RBI and two runs scored. Pedro Martinez, in his first season since being traded to Boston from Montreal, received his 11th win on the season after giving up just two hits over six innings. He threw just 67 pitches, but the 14-0 score after the sixth didn’€™t justify a return to the mound.

5. Daniel Nava hits grand slam on first pitch (June 12, 2010)

With one crack of the bat, rookie outfielder Daniel Nava turned a game that had promised to be very forgetful for Sox fans ‘€” Daisuke Matsuzaka was put on the DL minutes before he was scheduled to start ‘€” into one of the most memorable games in recent Sox history. After a baseball career that included being a team manager for Santa Clara University and being dropped by the independent league Chico Outlaws, Nava finally realized his dream when he stepped into the Fenway Park batter’€™s box as a member of the Boston Red Sox. With the bases loaded, he swung at the first pitch and drove it into the Sox bullpen for a grand slam in his first at-bat. The Sox went on to beat the Phillies 10-2 that day, and Nava’€™s blast was the stuff of legends and placed the 27-year-old rookie into the baseball history books.

4. Daisuke’€™s near no-no (May 20, 2010)

Daisuke Matsuzaka has been one of the most inconsistent pitchers in recent memory for the Red Sox, but on this day in May, he was very nearly as good as they come. The Japanese pitcher went 7 2/3 innings without allowing a single hit against the Phillies, the closest he had ever come in the majors to throwing a no-hitter. However, it just wasn’€™t meant to be as Juan Castro looped a ball just over the outstretched arm of shortstop Marco Scutaro, who later apologized to the entire nation of Japan, for the Phillies’€™ first hit of the game. Daniel Bard came on in the ninth to seal the 5-0 win, but this game, played in a season that has already included more than its fair share of great pitching performances, will forever be remembered for what could have been.

3. Manny hits walkoff in 14th for 3-2 win over Houston (June 15, 2003)

Now, back to the walk-offs. This one came in an absolute marathon of a game between Boston and Houston at Fenway in 2003. Nothing was decided after nine, 10, 11, 12, even 13 innings until the players in the heart of the Sox lineup took matters into their own hands in the bottom of the 14th. After Todd Walker singled up the middle to start the inning, Houston manager Jimy Williams put in Peter Munro, the 11th pitcher of the game, to face Nomar Garciaparra and Manny Ramirez. Nomar surprisingly bunted Walker over to second, and Manny finally put an end to the game with a single to center to bring this version of the Boston Marathon to a 3-2 close after 14 innings.

2. Back-to-back shots in ninth complete comeback (June 7, 2003)

As good as wins in long, extra-innings games are, epic comebacks are even better, which is why this 2003 win gets the second spot in our list. The Brewers jumped out to leads of 2-0, 6-1 and 9-3, all before the fifth inning thanks to weak outings on the mound from Sox pitchers Casey Fossum (1 IP, 2 R), Robert Person (2 IP, 4 ER) and Byung-Hyun Kim (2 IP, 4 ER). But Kevin Millar‘€™s pinch-hit grand slam in the seventh to pull the team to within a run was just what the doctor ordered for the Sox. Trot Nixon and Jason Varitek completed the comeback with back-to-back jacks in the ninth to give the Sox an improbable 11-10 win.

1. Sox score AL-record 14 runs in first inning against Marlins (June 27, 2003)

That stat alone seems like it justifies the top spot in this countdown, but in case you needed further evidence, here it is. Boston scored its first nine runs without even registering an out, meaning that the entire starting lineup had crossed the plate before any single player had been retired. Florida pitchers Carl Pavano, ironically the same guy who started in the 15-0 win over Montreal five years earlier, and Michael Tejera left without recording an out, giving up 11 runs between them. Johnny Damon was 5-for-7 in the game, with three of those hits and all three of his RBI coming in that first big inning. Bill Mueller added six RBI, going 4-for-5. What adds a little deeper meaning to this game is that it came against the same Marlins squad that the Red Sox would have faced in the World Series had they won the forever-infamous Game 7 of the 2003 ALCS vs. the Yankees.