The 2004 Red Sox had already done the impossible. They had defeated the Yankees in the ALCS after falling behind 3-0. It felt miraculous. It felt incredible. It was more like magic than mere hits and walks and outs. But it wasn't enough. Not yet. That historic feat might have exorcised some of the demons that haunted Fenway Park, but by itself, it would not ease 86 years of suffering. It would not end the chants of "19-18!" that would reverberate through the Bronx nine times a season. To do that The 25 would have to win four more games.
The idea of momentum in baseball might be just another worn cliché that has little to do with the actual reality of the game, but heading back to Fenway Park to start the World Series against the Cardinals, no one could deny that there was a sense of kinetic energy propelling the 2004 Red Sox forward. After all, they had just won four straight games against the best team in the American League while playing each game on brink of elimination. And not only had they won four straight, but after three close games, the Red Sox offense, which outscored everyone in 2004, finally broke out and put up 10 runs to end their improbable comeback without the need for late-inning dramatics. At the start of Game 1 of the World Series, the 2004 Red Sox seemed to be blazing their way toward the history books.
For all that perceived momentum, though, this was still the Red Sox and the ghosts of 86 years of frustration could still come to claim our souls. The 1986 Red Sox hadn't comeback from down 3-0, but they had won an incredible victory over the California Angels in their ALCS only to come one out away from a championship and fail in dramatic fashion. The 1975 Red Sox had won what might be the greatest World Series game ever played to stave off defeat, only to fall short in Game 7. For those of us too young to remember 1975 or 1978 or 1986 (clearly, at least), we had 2003 to teach us pain and suffering is never far away when you are a fan of the Boston Red Sox. If you were a Red Sox fan in 2004, these thoughts couldn't help but crept into your consciousness. To make matters worse for the superstitious types, two of the heartbreaking World Series losses suffered during the last 86 years had come at the hands of the franchise they were about play.
Reliving the 2004 ALCS
Dave Roberts steals Game 4
10 years ago, the Red Sox began their dramatic, unique comeback against their nemesis the Yankees, and we're here to relive all of it with you.
Reliving the 2004 ALCS
There were also more rational reasons to worry about the 2004 Cardinals. They were best team in baseball in 2004, winning 105 games on the shoulders of a pitching staff that allowed the fewest runs per game in baseball and an offense that outscored everyone else in the National League. They hadn't just waltzed into the Series on a few easy wins either. After winning the first two games against the Houston Astros in the NLCS, they fell behind 3-2 as Carlos Beltran went on an incredible tear to carry the Astros into the lead. They needed a 12th-inning walk-off home run from Jim Edmonds to stay alive and force a Game 7 and then had beat out our old friend Roger Clemens to wrap up the National League title.
Playing four games in a row with the season on the line might have told us something about the mental toughness of The 25, but it had also come at price. The Red Sox had needed seven pitchers to get through the 12-inning battle that was Game 5 of the ALCS. They had to hand the ball back to closer Keith Foulke one day later to hang on in Game 6 and even though Game 7 wasn't particularly close, they had turned to Pedro Martinez in a misguided attempt to shut the door on the Yankees and end up going back to their top righty Mike Timlin and top lefty Alan Embree to finish that game off. That leave-it-all-on-the-field mentality put the Red Sox in a tough position now that the magic had carried them to the World Series. Curt Schilling had already gutted his way through the heroic "bloody sock" game to get the Red Sox to this point and it would be a miracle if he could even take the mound, let alone start Game 1. Pedro had just pitched in relief in a game Derek Lowe had started. This left the Red Sox with two choices: Start Tim Wakefield, who had been the last man standing in the epic Game 5 battle or go with Bronson Arroyo who had been pushed to the relief role since Game 3 of the ALDS. Arroyo had been better during the regular season by almost any measure and while Wakefield had held the Yankees for three innings at the end of Game 5, he also gotten shelled in garbage inning duty in Game 3 against New York. In his favor, Wakefield's knuckleball was unfamiliar to the Cardinals and on any given night it could absolutely dominate. Terry Francona decided to go with Wake to start Game 1, electing to keep Arroyo in close reserve just in case the knuckleball wasn't dancing.
The early results of this decision were promising. Wakefield struck out the first batter he faced and then recovered from a Larry Walker double by getting two quick pop-outs to end the first inning. Opposite Wakefield, the Cardinals ran out 37-year old Woody Williams, who had been practically the definition of a league-average pitcher during the season with a 4.18 ERA and peripherals to match. Williams was outmatched by the top of the Red Sox lineup in the first, however. Johnny Damon doubled to start the inning off. Williams then hit Orlando Cabrera to put two men on for the dangerous combination of Manny Ramirez and ALCS MVP David Ortiz. Ramirez went quietly on a fly out to right field, but Ortiz picked up right where he had left off in New York, driving a home run down the right field line to put the Red Sox up 3-0. Kevin Millar followed that with another double and one batter later Bill Mueller brought him home with a single. Williams got the number-nine hitter, catcher Doug Mirabelli, to strikeout but the damage was done and Wakefield was staked to 4-0 lead.
The Cardinals got a run in the second playing small ball. Jim Edmonds bunted for a hit, reached second on a walk, moved to third on a bunt and scored on a sacrifice fly, but that was all the St. Louis could manage and it seemed to be almost an acknowledgement of how lost they were against Wake's knuckler. Larry Walker was the only player to make solid contact the first time through the lineup and he showed that wasn't a fluke in his second at-bat by giving the Cardinals their second run on a solo homer in the third, but aside from Walker, Wakefield seemed capable of shutting down the powerful Cardinals lineup.
Meanwhile, his opposite number continued to look in over his head facing the Boston offense. Williams made it through the top of the Red Sox order in the second unscathed but came unhinged again in the bottom of the third. With one out, he allowed a walk, a single and another walk to load the bases for Johnny Damon at the top of the Red Sox order. Damon singled in a run and forced Williams from the game. Then Orlando Cabrera followed suit with an RBI single against William's replacement Dan Haren (yes, that Dan Haren, he was 23 and in his second season and I completely forgot he pitched in this World Series). Manny Ramirez then picked up an RBI on a ground out. Haren wisely avoided throwing anything hittable to Ortiz and got out the inning on a Kevin Millar groundout.
To this point, everything was going beautifully for Boston and even the most cynical Red Sox fan could allow a hint of optimism to enter their soul. It was 7-2 in the fourth inning of the Game 1, Wakefield was unhittable to eight out of nine Cardinals hitters and the Sox were already into the St. Louis bullpen. After having chewed through all my fingernails and good chunk of my fingertips during the ALCS I was grateful for the blowout in the making. Maybe I would finally get some sleep. Maybe there would still be few beers leftover for Game 2. It was not to be.
Reliving the 2004 ALCS
Schilling's Bloody Sock takes Game 6
The Red Sox had fought their way back to New York, and we hoped for a miracle. We got weird slaps and a bloody sock (and also a miracle).
Reliving the 2004 ALCS
The first signs that the roller coaster ride wasn't over yet appeared in the top of the fourth. The magic of the knuckleball is that it moves in unpredictable ways and that means it can break bad faster than Walter White in RV. That is exactly what happened in the fourth. Wakefield walked Jim Edmonds on five pitches then threw a passed ball while walking Reggie Sanders on four pitches. Another walk loaded the bases for the Cardinals number-eight hitter, future manager Mike Matheny. He delivered with a sacrifice fly and the Cardinals got a second run on a throwing error by Kevin Millar. 7-4. Hey, is that another hill we are climbing up? A ground out from So Taguchi brought in the last man on base and made it 5-7. Wakefield ended his night by walking leadoff man Edgar Renteria on five pitches and it was Bronson Arroyo's turn to take the hill. The newly appointed swingman got the last two outs of the inning without any more drama, but what appeared to be a blow-out just three outs earlier was now very much a game and the Cardinals (and the Boston defense) weren't done trying to give me a heart attack.
Haren bounced back from two tough battles that ended in walks to set down the Red Sox in the fifth and then posted a clean inning in the sixth. Arroyo looked sharp as well with three strikeouts in 2 1/3 relief innings by the time he met the top of the Cardinals order with two outs in the sixth. So Taguchi singled ahead of Renteria and the Cardinals shortstop doubled to bring him in. Larry Walker then doubled to score Renteria and just like that the game was tied. Arroyo stopped the bleeding with a huge strikeout against none other than Albert Pujols, but once again, the demons that haunted Red Sox nation in those days before Foulke's soft toss to Doug Mientkiewicz began rattling their chains and my stomach returned to its accustomed place midway up my throat.
For once at least, these Boston Red Sox didn't wait until the wee hours of the morning to take the lead back. In the bottom of the seventh, Kiko Calero relieved Dan Haren and promptly fell victim to the Red Sox greatest weapon- the walk. Two of the first three hitters he faced got free passes and Calero found himself facing Manny Ramirez with two men on and one out. Ramirez sent Calero to the showers with an RBI single and journeyman lefty Ray King fared no better against Ortiz, who followed with the same. 9-7 Red Sox.
A two-run lead seemed about as durable as a Faberge Egg by this point, so it was a relief to see defensive replacement Doug Mientkiewicz enter the game at first and Gabe Kapler (who pinch hit for Nixon in the seventh) taking over right field. Defensive replacements had been part Francona's script since the Garciaparra deal went down and it was hard to imagine a time when they would ever be more necessary than here. Mike Timlin had taken over for Arroyo in the seven and breezed through the inning on seven pitches, so he remained on for the eighth, with lefty Alan Embree ready to step in when needed. Timlin got one quick out with a first-pitch groundout from Marlon Anderson, but after a Mike Matheny single brought the tying run to the place, Francona deemed it was time for Embree, with the right-handed hitting Taguchi to be replaced by the switch-hitter Roger Cedeno. In one of his more unconventional moves, Cardinals manager Tony LaRusso also subbed out Matheny, pinch running for his catcher with starter Jason Marquis. Cedeno won the match up against Embree with a single and the lefty's night was limited just one batter as Francona turned the ball over to closer Keith Foulke, who had been lights out against the Yankees in some of the most critical innings of the ALCS.
This next sequence of events is easily the most vivid memory I have of this game. Had things gone differently, this half inning might be remembered as one of the great New England heartbreaks. Francona had employed two defensive subs in deference to how close this game was but he left one of the worst fielders in the history of the game out in left. It wasn't a mistake, either. Manny Ramirez would bat at least one more time if the game remained tied and that at-bat might be critical. Still, for the span of a few short minutes, the eventual World Series MVP looked like the most likely goat. Foulke faced Renteria first and the Cards shortstop hit a ground ball single to Manny who, in true MannybeingManny fashion botched the routine play allowing Marquis, a pinch-running pitcher, to score from second on a groundball, handing the Cardinals one run. He then dropped what would have been a routine fly ball for anyone but him (and maybe Gomes) allowing the TYING RUN to score. Ladies and Gentlemen, your 2004 World Series MVP. Seriously. Could anyone other than Manny Ramirez make back-to-back errors in the World Series to allow the other team to tie the very first game in the eighth and THEN still win the MVP for the series? That actually happened and that explains more about what it was like to watch Manny Ramirez play baseball than just about anything else as far as I'm concerned.
Photographic evidence of pinch-runner/pitcher Jason Marquis scoring. (Photo credit: Getty)
This turn of events had all the marks of one of the Red Sox collapses of the days of yore. It was blundering, it was bad baseball, it was just plain hard to watch. Worst of all it meant that Keith Foulke would now face Albert Pujols (already a legend in just his fourth season, and the NLCS MVP), Scott Rolen, who was right in the prime of a career that has its share of Hall-of-Fame merits and Jim Edmonds, who had just had the best year of his distinguished career at the plate and was just .009 points of OPS behind Pujols that season. It looked bad. It looked like Lee-hangs-curve, Pesky-holds-the-ball style trouble ahead. But this was not 1975 or 1946. This was 2004 and we had Keith Foulke. He took no chances with Pujols and put him on to load the bases. He then got Rolen on a pop-out and struck out Edmonds. Once again, I allowed myself to think that maybe this year would be different.
Julian Tavarez, future Red Sox pitcher extraordinaire, took over for St. Louis in the eighth and got Bill Mueller to ground out. It was time to settle in. If you were a Red Sox fan with gainful employment awaiting you in the morning, this was approximately the point when you accepted sleep was a luxury the universe was conspiring to deny you and got comfortable. Sometimes a double espresso and blood-shot eyes are just your lot in life. When Jason Varitek reached on an error, I didn't let my hopes get too high. No rest for the faithful.
With one out in the eighth, Mark Bellhorn stepped up to the plate. Bellhorn was the kind of addition that characterized the early years of the Theo Epstein-run Red Sox. He replaced a similar player, Todd Walker, as the Red Sox everyday second baseman in 2004. Like Walker, he was acquired in trade for almost nothing and he proved to be a valuable role player throughout the season. Like Walker, he was a defensive-challenged second baseman, but while Walker had regularly posted strong batting averages and double-digit home runs in his career, Bellhorn was an extreme bet on the power of OBP. He struck out 29 percent of the time in his career, but also posted a 13.9 percent walk rate. He had been very productive for the Cubs in 2002 with a .258/.374/.512 batting line and 27 home runs, but he was disaster in 2003, hitting just .221/.353/.293 in 307 plate appearances with just two home runs, despite playing 48 games in Colorado. The Red Sox brain trust chose to focus on the middle number of his slash line and let Todd Walker leave in free agency. The bet paid off. Bellhorn's power returned and he hit .264/.373/.444 with 17 home runs even as he led the league in strikeouts with 177. He was true to his extreme Three-True-Outcome form in the ALCS, hitting two home runs, walking five times and striking out 11 times. As he stepped to the plate, there was reason to be hopeful and reason for concern in just about equal measure.
Batting from the left-side, Bellhorn fell behind in the count 1-2 to Tavarez and it looked like the least productive true outcome would follow. Instead, Tavarez hung a breaking ball belt-high, inside and Bellhorn turned on it. He was almost too quick, but not quite. The ball raced out to the right field corner and rattled against the Pesky pole for a two-run home run. The Red Sox had the lead again and they had Keith Foulke ready to put the game away. Tavarez recovered from his mistake, got Johnny Damon on a pop out and Orlando Cabrera on a ground out, but Bellhorn's shot was a fatal blow. St. Louis was down to three outs with the bottom of their order left to face the Boston closer.
With his work done, Mark Bellhorn was replaced in the field by Pokey Reese for the top of the ninth, giving the Red Sox a boost in infield defense to help out Keith Foulke. The move proved unnecessary, however, as Foulke didn't need much help to earn himself the win in the first World Series game to be played at Fenway Park in 18 years. He struck out Reggie Sanders on three pitches. Marlon Anderson provided a shot of tension by battling Foulke for seven pitches and coming away with a line drive double, but with the tying run stepping to plate, Foulke was unfazed. He went up 0-2 on rookie catcher Yadier Molina before getting him to pop out then struck out Roger Cedeno on three pitches.
With Keith Foulke shutting the door in dominant fashion, the Red Sox had won the first game of the World Series. The adrenaline rush from the ALCS win was still coursing in my veins and another back-and-forth game capped off by late-inning heroics was the perfect way to kick off the World Series. Equally as important was the fact that the Red Sox had won a game that was not started by one of their aces, but cobbled together by the back of the rotation and the bullpen. It would take three more victories against a loaded Cardinals team to end the talk of curses and the chants of some year in the early twentieth century, but one game into the 2004 World Series the magic was still in the air.