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10 years later, Aaron Boone no longer feels the hate

Aaron Boone, who was batting .111 when he stepped into the box, ended a classic Game 7 of the ALCS in 2003.

Jim Davis/Globe Staff/File 2003

Aaron Boone, who was batting .111 when he stepped into the box, ended a classic Game 7 of the ALCS in 2003.

DETROIT — The clock had struck midnight. The Red Sox were one run shy of winning the American League Championship Series and seizing a chance to win their first World Series in 85 years — to vanquish the Curse of the Bambino.

Champagne was glistening on ice in the visitors’ clubhouse at Yankee Stadium. It was 10 years ago, the early morning of Oct. 17, 2003, and it was a disaster waiting to happen.

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At 12:17 a.m, with the Sox and Yankees tied at 5 in a game for the ages, a pinstriped second baseman who was batting .111 (2 for 18) in the series stepped into the batter’s box to lead off the bottom of the 11th inning against Boston’s Tim Wakefield.

Wakefield’s vaunted knuckleball, the physics-defying curio that had captured the hearts of Sox fans and had made him a millionaire many times over, went flat en route to the plate. And the batter — known ever after in New England as Aaron (Bleepin’) Boone — swatted the pitch into the Bronx night.

The shot soared over Sox third baseman Bill Mueller and shortstop Nomar Garciaparra. Over umpire Joe West along the left-field line. Beyond the reach of left fielder Manny Ramirez. And into the stands, carrying with it the last best hope of the 2003 Sox.

Yankees 6, Sox 5.

A despondent Wakefield wept afterward, later confiding to the Globe that he “was terrified I would be remembered like [Bill] Buckner,’’ who became a Sox goat after he committed a decisive error in the 10th inning of Boston’s walkoff loss to the Mets in Game 6 of the 1986 World Series.

“I was terrified that I wouldn’t be able to show my face in Boston again,’’ Wakefield said.

The knuckleballer’s fears proved unfounded, as the Sox front office and fans quickly turned the blame on manager Grady Little for failing to pull his tiring starter, Pedro Martinez, with the Sox leading, 5-2, in the bottom of the eighth inning.

Wakefield won back Sox Nation in 2004, when he helped win the World Series that changed the face of the franchise. He won another ring in 2007 and finished his career in 2011 with 200 victories, his revered place in Sox history secure.

Wakefield, of course, needs no reminding about the 10th anniversary of that epic event. But Boone, now an ESPN baseball analyst, spent the day fielding text messages commemorating the moment.

“It never ceases to amaze me how many people I come across all the time who have a story that relates to that moment,’’ Boone said by phone Wednesday. “It’s such a vivid memory for people on both sides of the aisle.

“I’ve literally gotten thousands of those stories over the years from people who say it was the worst day of their life, or the greatest thing they’ve ever seen, or who remember exactly where they were at that moment,’’ he said.

Just as special achievements from the early 1900s in baseball history resonate today, Boone’s home run is enshrined among the sport’s timeless moments.

“That’s one thing that baseball gives you that is so awesome,’’ he said. “It gives you those moments, maybe unlike any other sport.’’

He said the image of David Ortiz’s game-tying grand slam in Game 2 of the ALCS against the Tigers will likely be preserved for generations.

But some baseball customs seem to have changed in the decade since Boone’s shot in the Bronx. For example, the day after Ortiz struck his momentous slam off Detroit closer Joaquin Benoit in Game 2 of the ALCS, Ortiz and Benoit spent a moment before Game 3 enjoying a friendly chat and exchanging a hug.

Boone said he and Wakefield have crossed paths numerous times since their epic encounter, but they have never spoken a word to each other about the home run.

“We don’t talk about it, but I really like him and I think he likes me,’’ Boone said. “We’ve had some really good conversations over the years.’’

Wakefield also is a baseball analyst now, for NESN. When Boone visited Fenway last month, the two chatted for about 15 minutes.

“People see us talking and think it’s weird, but it’s really not,’’ Boone said. “It’s just two players, who spent a long time in the game and respect each other, spending some time together.’’

The aftermath of Boone’s home run changed the course of both franchises. In Boston, Little was replaced by Terry Francona, who guided Wakefield and the Sox to two world championships.

In New York, the Yankees voided the final year of Boone’s contract after he made the mistake of playing a pickup basketball game — in violation of his baseball contract — and tearing his anterior cruciate ligament. The move cost him nearly $6 million, and it prompted the Yankees to fill their infield hole by acquiring Alex Rodriguez and all his baggage.

Boone, largely because of Boston’s success in the years after his heartbreaking blow, has not been as reviled in New England as Bucky [Bleepin’] Dent was long after his shocking, three-run homer helped the Yankees sink the Sox in a one-game playoff for the 1978 division title.

Boone occasionally still hears the expletive inserted in his name, but he rarely feels the hatred.

“For the most part, I feel like there’s some fun-loving behind it, especially because of what happened in 2004 and 2007,’’ he said. “In a way, it makes the Red Sox story a little better.’’

Bob Hohler can be reached at hohler@globe.com.
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