Game 7 is supposed to be the best that sport has to offer. Two evenly matched teams with their seasons on the line are bound to produce the game's most intense and memorable contests. There is no better way to decide a series.
As a Red Sox fan in 2004, however, it was hard to enjoy the prospect of another Game 7. 86 years had taught us that big moments like this were not opportunities for glory, but setups for even greater disappointment. It was in our blood, passed down from generation to generation. 1946, 1967, 1975, 1986 and, yes, 2003. The Red Sox had won a single Game 7 in their 103-year existence, and that had done nothing but set up another Game 7 loss.
So while the baseball world saw a Yankees team at the end of its rope and a Red Sox team with too much momentum to fall, not even the most confident fan in Boston could ignore those 86 years. Was the storybook setup--the 0-3 deficit, the walk-off hits, the bloody sock--was it all just going to end in misery once more?
Game 7 could have been a miserable experience. Nine innings (or more, if this series had taught us anything) of uncertainty, tension, and terror. Instead, it was a three-and-a-half hour victory parade.
Where the last three games had been exactly the sort of long, grueling battles the series as a whole had turned out to be, the last game saw all of Boston's momentum shine through. Perhaps forcing Game 7 wasn't enough to crush the Yankees' spirits. Johnny Damon's leadoff single and stolen base in the first? Easily brushed off when he was thrown out at the plate. But when David Ortiz took the very next pitch and, in the blink of an eye, put the Red Sox on top 2-0? It was over.
With Derek Lowe (of the 5.24 regular season ERA) starting on short rest for Boston, it still may not have seemed that way to Red Sox fans. But that was the straw that broke the camel's back. The Yankees weren't simply down, they were defeated in that moment, and after Lowe recorded a 1-2-3 first, they showed the truth of it in the second. Kevin Brown surrendered a one-out single to Kevin Millar, then offered up free passes to Bill Mueller and Orlando Cabrera, the eight and nine men in the stacked Red Sox lineup.
Up to the plate stepped Johnny Damon. Though he was one of Boston's best bats, and had just torn through the Division Series, the first six games of the ALCS had seen Damon enter a tailspin. The first-inning single had been just his fourth hit of the series, and while Red Sox fans had hardly given up on him, all anyone wanted was for this inning to get to Manny Ramirez and David Ortiz.
Then this happened:
If forcing games six and seven and David Ortiz' two-run shot had made Red Sox fans hope, this was what made us believe. Johnny Damon had turned the bogeyman that was Game 7 into a six-run laugher in the second inning. And even when the Yankees were able to put together a run in the bottom of the third, Damon was there to answer it with another homer, making it a seven-run advantage. Lowe came through with three more remarkable innings, and the Red Sox...well, they coasted to the finish line. You could call it an anticlimax given the spectacles of the last three games, but game seven was what we needed after spending the past week on the brink of death.
Somehow, the game still ended up with Pedro Martinez giving up late-inning runs in a throwback to 2003. When the rally pulled the Yankees within all of five runs, though, the "Who's your daddy?" chants weren't exactly cutting deep.
Put what stock you will in any Ruth-based curses. Whether because the Babe carried a nasty grudge or because his sale represented the type of mismanagement that would plague the Red Sox so often, for 86 years the Yankees had been a constant reminder of Boston's inferiority. They were the class of the American League, and we were the tough-luck losers who played at being their rivals even though usually that sort of thing is more two-sided.
If the Red Sox were going to end that World Series drought and win it all, this was how it had to happen. They weren't going to end the drought by avoiding the Yankees, leaving them looming over Fenway as the team we just can't beat.
When Allen Embree got Ruben Sierra to ground into the final out of the night, the Red Sox were still in the midst of an 86 year drought. That wouldn't change for four more games, and at that moment, there was no way to know for sure that it would.
But 10 years ago tonight, when the Red Sox completed their comeback, they turned the page on that long, awful chapter in their history. This was no longer a team that couldn't. but the team that had. They had done what no team in history had managed before, and suddenly, winning the World Series didn't seem quite so impossible anymore.