Please, just win this game. I was only 13-years-old during the 2004 season, but negativity was already pumping through my veins as a sports fan. I grew up around people who had seen little besides failure in their lives, and lived through some of that myself in 2003. Because of this, I had already come to grips with the fact that the Red Sox were going to lose this series. There was no way they could come back from a 3-0 deficit, and I wasn't about to get my hopes up believing otherwise. Still, they needed to win this game and make it a respectable series. They'd already avoided the sweep, and now they had to avoid the gentleman's sweep. Just win this game, send it back to New York and lose there. Losing a series in six games is much more bearable than losing in four or five. I was watching the game with my brother and my parents like every other game, and that was all I could think. Just please don't lose this one.
It's easy to forget now, but at the time there was a good chance we were about the see Pedro Martinez wearing a Red Sox uniform for the final time. He was about to become a free agent, and the odds of the team going far enough to give him another start were slim at best. Luckily, he got off to a vintage start, striking out Derek Jeter on three pitches. It was actually an all-around good first inning for the hometown team, a startling change of pace in the series. After showing no signs of early life in the first four games - they were outscored 6-0 in the first inning in games one through four - they shot off to a 2-0 lead in the first frame, forcing Mike Mussina to throw 34 pitches before getting his first breather.
It served as a nice reminder that happiness for the Red Sox to that point was futile and constantly slipping away. We just weren't allowed to be happy for too long at a time, and Bernie Williams let us know when he hit the first pitch of the second inning into the seats, cutting the lead in half with one swing. Things would stay this way for the next few innings, with each team putting up minor threats, but nothing coming of it. That is, until the sixth.
This was the inning where I truly lost my mind. I'm not sure I was ever so sure the Red Sox would never win a World Series as I was during this inning. Pedro managed to get to this point without too much struggle, but at this stage of his career, he was approaching the time when the team had to be careful with him, especially in an elimination game. The inning started with an infield single from Jorge Posada. Seriously, an infield single from JORGE POSADA. This shit could only happen to the Red Sox. After giving up a base hit to Ruben Sierra and hitting Miguel Cairo, it was clear that Martinez was losing it quickly, and yet Boston's bullpen was less active than god damn sloth. Derek Jeter came up to the plate, and I think we all knew what was about to happen.
Just like that, the Yankees took a 4-2 lead, and the end was coming. Not only was the season about to come to a crashing halt, not only were they going to miss another chance to play in the World Series, but it was because of Derek Jeter, who at that time I refused to respect (re2pect?) even a little. And that wasn't even the end of my frustration. The bullpen was still eerily quiet. It took another hit batsmen and a walk to finally get some real action going there, but Pedro was still allowed to face Hideki Matsui with two runners on and two outs. Luckily for us, and Terry Francona*, Nixon made a diving catch on a falling liner and the inning mercifully ended. Pedro walked off the mound, and to my negativity-filled pea brain, it was probably the last time I'd see my favorite player walk off Fenway's mound as a hometown player. It was as sad as I've been watching a baseball game.
*Seriously, if Matsui hits a double or a home run, the Red Sox would probably lose that game. What does Francona's legacy in Boston look like if that happens? Especially considering we were one year removed from the same situation with Grady Little.
We fast-forward to the eighth with the score still at 4-2 and David Ortiz stepping up to the plate trying to inject some life into the team for the second night in a row. He did just that by blasting a Tom Gordon fastball straight into the Volvo sign in left field, cutting the deficit to one. Then, we relived Game 4 just 24 hours after it happened. Kevin Millar walked, and Dave Roberts came in to pinch run. While he didn't steal second this time, he did get to third on a hit-and-run (after getting in Gordon's head in a way I've never seen), and Mariano Rivera came in trying to avenge the previous night's blown save. Instead, he gave up a sac fly to Jason Varitek, and blew his second straight save.
This is when I started believing in the magic just a little bit. I mean, Rivera didn't blow saves in the playoffs, never mind two in a row. There's no way the Red Sox could do that on their own, without some sort of supernatural assistance. The juju only got stronger in the top half of the ninth. After Sierra drew a two-out walk, Tony Clark smashed a ball towards the Pesky Pole that looked like it was heading out. Instead, it fell just a foot or two short of the seats and bounced over the wall for a ground-rule double. So, not only was it not a home run, but Sierra would be forced to stop at third on a ball that he surely would have scored on had it bounced off the wall instead of over it. For once, things were going the Red Sox's way, and it was freaking me the hell out.
Now, we move all the way to the 14th. The extra innings had some mildly tense moments, most notably when Varitek allowed three passed balls on Tim Wakefield knuckleballs, but the score remained 4-4. Esteban Loaiza was still in the game after already locking down two and two-thirds innings, and started the frame with a pair of walks and a pair of strike outs, setting Ortiz up for yet another dramatic moment. Never able to do something without some flash, Papi put together an epic at bat, facing ten pitches and fouling off five of them with two strikes. In fact, midway through the at bat, the game became the longest in postseason history (using time, not innings). As if he had known the game had just broken the record, he was ready to end it with another walk off.
They did it. All I wanted was for them to get back to New York, and they actually did it. Of course, after that marathon game that took just under six hours, so much had changed. Don't get me wrong, I was still sure they were going to lose. Every rational bone in my body knew that. Still, so many little things went right for them that I had to give in to the magic a little bit. At least they gave themselves a chance. And hey, even if they couldn't pull it off, at least they made it a respectable series.