2004. 2007. 2013. Each year brought a World Series to Boston in a different, historic fashion. Like every season, they were filled with memorable games throughout, not just in the playoffs (although those were pretty good). The comeback on July 24, 2004 - along with the trade deadline - is considered a turning point in the quest to break the curse. While May 13, 2007 was too early in the year to “turn things around” it did feature one of the most dramatic and improbable comebacks the Red Sox have ever pulled off: the Mother’s Day Miracle.
Josh Beckett had lasted just four innings against the Baltimore Orioles and Jeremy Guthrie. For his part, the Orioles’ starter did everything asked of him - 8.1 shutout innings, a five run lead, one man, Coco Crisp, on at first base. The Red Sox leadoff man, the much maligned Julio Lugo had been retired to get the inning going.
Danys Baez came into the game and promptly gave up an RBI double to David Ortiz, followed by single to Wily Mo Pena to end his day. Wily Mo Pena! If a 5-1 lead with one out in the top of the ninth seems relatively safe with your closer coming in, it should. It usually is.
Handing things off to closer Chris Ray was usually a formula for success. Entering the game, Ray had a 3.44 ERA and eight saves on the season. But this wasn’t most games. J.D. Drew would draw a walk and load the bases. Then Kevin Youkilis walked to score a run and keep the bases loaded. 5-2 and one out. Jason Varitek, the Captain, stepped up to the plate and doubled, driving in two more runs, 5-4. Things were getting out of hand.
Eric Hinske was intentionally walked to reload the bases. A risky move to be sure, but up 5-4 and facing the number nine hitter is about as good a time to make this call as there is. At least when facing a pitcher holding a bat isn’t an option.
The gambit almost worked: Alex Cora grounded into fielder’s choice where the Orioles decided the play at the plate was more important. Since Kevin Youkilis, charging home from third base, would have been the tying run, that was a good call on their part.
Bottom of the ninth, two out. Now all Chris Ray needed was one more out from Julio Lugo, the man who started the inning by making an out. A strikeout, popup, grounder - it didn’t matter. One out would win the game. Ray made his pitch and Lugo made contact - the ball stayed on the ground. While the ball was ably fielded by Kevin Millar, that is to say, with difficulty, Lugo raced towards first base. The runners were in motion but would the timing work? With Millar off the bag to field the ball Ray and Lugo were in a foot race. Millar’s throw was off the mark, Lugo would reach, and two runs would score. 6-5. The Red Sox won!
Julio Lugo wasn’t a great player with the Red Sox. He wasn’t even usually very good at all. But for one day, he was a hero.