Friday, October 17 marks the 10-year anniversary of the Red Sox beginning their American League Championship Series comeback against the New York Yankees. They came away victorious on this day 10 years ago for the first time in that series, and then won the next three games in a row to earn a World Series berth that would result in their first title in 86 years. Here at Over the Monster, we're going to recap the eight games that brought them there from October 17 onward, so we can all relive that wonderful journey of The 25.
Game 4 of the American League Championship Series did not begin as dramatically as it would end, as dramatically as it is now regarded as being. Almost all of the coverage shown from that game is from the ninth inning onward, as the Red Sox were losing for almost the entire game prior to that, as they had for almost the entire series leading up to that point. The Red Sox were down three games to none, and no one had ever come back from three games to none in a best-of-seven before. The Red Sox, who were fated to lose at all turns -- especially on the big ones -- were not supposed to come back from three games to none, and the Yankees, the game's greatest champions of both past and 2004's present, were certainly not supposed to be on the wrong side of the greatest comeback in the history of sports.
So, you can forgive any Red Sox fans who had already given up or were on the brink of doing so when the Yankees were up 4-3 after six innings in an elimination game, especially coming off of the heels of a 19-8 drubbing in Game 3 that embarrassed anyone on the Boston side of things. After the Yankees scored two in the sixth to take that Game 4 lead, I actually rolled over and briefly fell asleep -- I had been watching this game, and the rest of the series, on a 13-inch standard definition television in my bedroom at my parents' house, as I had just recently become a freshman in college and that's where I lived. My father and I had watched the 2003 ALCS against the Yankees together, but between my new schedule and the silence we sat in after Aaron Boone launched a series-ending home run off of Tim Wakefield the year before, we had decided to sit and watch separately. While I had spent much of the other games sitting on my computer in my bedroom talking on AIM with friends who were also watching -- you know, instead of Twitter, because it hadn't been invented yet -- an elimination game the Sox had quickly fallen behind in merited laying down on my bed, staring at my tiny television.
2003 had left a sour, but familiar, taste in the mouth of Sox fans. (Photo credit: Getty)
I closed my eyes due to disappointment, but upon waking realized I must have been exhausted between a full work schedule, a full class schedule, and staying up late for both friends and (disappointing) baseball -- closing my eyes for any reason while horizontal was going to put me to sleep. I hadn't missed much at all, however, as it was now just the eighth inning, and Mariano Rivera was warming. Yankees' manager Joe Torre was not messing around, not even with a 3-0 series lead: The greatest closer of all-time -- even then -- was aiming to get a two-inning save and send the Red Sox home for the winter.
Predictably, Rivera put the Red Sox away in the eighth easily enough. Manny Ramirez led off with a single, but David Ortiz struck out, Jason Varitek moved Ramirez along to second with a grounder to first, and Trot Nixon used up the last out with his own grounder. The heart of the Boston order was now out of the way, and though the 2004 team featured a ridiculously deep lineup, this was Mariano Rivera: if Ramirez and Ortiz couldn't get it done, it was seemingly all over.
Red Sox manager Terry Francona also wasn't messing around, however, and closer Keith Foulke came out for his second inning of relief in order to keep the Yankees' lead to one and give the Sox their last chance, no matter how small. He walked Derek Jeter to begin the inning, but then, as Rivera had just before this, sat down the next three batters and the heart of the Yankees' order to bring on the bottom of the ninth.
In the bottom of the ninth, with the Red Sox down to their final three outs of the 2004 season, the leadoff man once again made it on against Rivera. Kevin Millar saw five pitches, four of them balls, and walked to first. He was replaced by pinch-runner Dave Roberts, who was on the ALCS roster for precisely this reason. The Sox had acquired Roberts at the trade deadline, in a deal that was overshadowed by the departure of long-time favorite Nomar Garciaparra. While he was a full-time player with the Dodgers, stealing 33 bases in 68 games, he started just 19 games for the Sox over the season's final two months. Here he was now, though, attempting to steal second when everyone in the park and at home knew that was his goal. Rivera threw to first a few times, and with the count still 0-0 to Bill Mueller, Roberts took off.
Everyone knew Roberts was going, but he made it in safely anyway on the first pitch that Rivera threw. Two pitches later, Bill Mueller drove a ball back up the middle, and the game was tied.
In case you didn't keep listening to that video, that was the first postseason save opportunity Mariano Rivera had ever blown against the Red Sox. He had saved six games against them previously and won another two, but for once, things were different, at least for a little bit. All the Red Sox had done was tie this game, and while both Mueller's hit and Joe Buck's understated, appropriate call for the situation still give me chills even now 10 years later, they still had work to do.
Earlier, I brought up my little mid-game nap for a specific reason: I legitimately thought that I was dreaming this sequence at one point. Rivera did not blow saves, and he did not blow them against the Red Sox. Sure, Mueller had been a problem for Rivera previously, but this was the postseason, and it was the Yankees: the thought of the Red Sox legitimately coming back to tie this game and live for another day was so foreign to me at that point in my fandom that my first assumption was that I was still asleep and had dreamed both waking up and this glorious moment.
Red Sox fans have come a long way in 10 years. We're much more expecting of good things now.
Rivera would get out of the rest of the inning unscathed, and the Red Sox would need a new pitcher for extras. Alan Embree would sit down Bernie Williams, Jorge Posada, and Tony Clark to give the Sox a chance in the bottom of the 10th, but their former closer, Tom Gordon, was now a setup man for the Yankees. He still had it, too, as he set Varitek, Nixon, and Pokey Reese down in order to end the 10th.
Embree started the 11th, but Francona didn't sit on his hands, and instead played match-ups with his relievers in this win-or-go-home game. With two outs and a man on second, Embree intentionally walked the ever-dangerous Gary Sheffield in order to bring on the lefty Hideki Matsui and allow Francona to bring in lefty specialist Mike Myers to face him. Myers was always hit-or-miss in his LOOGY role, and here he was a miss, walking the only batter he had been brought in to face. The bases were now loaded for Curtis Leskanic, who coaxed a harmless fly ball out of Williams to end the threat.
Gordon remained a machine: while he walked Johnny Damon in the 11th and then Damon stole in hopes of staging a sequel to Roberts' earlier moment, Orlando Cabrera couldn't nail the role of Mueller and instead grounded out to end the frame. Leskanic remained in the game, allowing a leadoff single to Posada but then retiring the next three batters. By this point, though, the Sox had survived long enough that Gordon was out of the game, and another former Red Sox reliever, Paul Quantrill, took the mound.
Quantrill needed to get through the duo of Manny Ramirez and David Ortiz if the Yankees were going to have another chance to score and end the series, but it was not to be. Ramirez singled to lead off the inning, and David Ortiz did the kind of thing that David Ortiz is now known for.
There would be a Game 5. It wasn't everything, but it was something. This series had given Red Sox fans nothing but disappointment until Dave Roberts swiped second base and Bill Mueller drove him in, and Ortiz's walk-off shot had helped give that moment further meaning. Boston would not be swept by New York in 2004, and while it was something of a hollow victory at this point, it was still glorious to behold. There would be a Game 5, and maybe the Red Sox would win that, too, and make what was likely to be an eventual series loss look a little bit better in the eyes of history.
Sometimes, low expectations can reward you in surprising ways, but that's a story to be told over the next few days.