How is it possible it’s been 10 years?
Ten years ago, I was an 18-year-old high school senior. My biggest worries were keeping up my ‘95 Pontiac Grand Prix, making it to school and football practice on time and figuring out where I’d be going to college.
It was a world ago, but the memories of the Red Sox from 10 Octobers ago all feel so fresh. When the team won its third world series in 10 seasons last October, I called it the most special to me as a fan, because I was so close to the action all year. But nothing will ever stack up to what happened in 2004. It was the greatest experience I’ve ever had as a sports fan and I suspect it will always be as long as I live.
I’ve written a lot about the ‘04 Red Sox in other places (including my previous blogs and school papers), and you’ve seen excellent retrospectives across the Internet (such as Chad Finn’s terrific recaps of each ‘04 American League Championship Series (ALCS) game on Boston.com) that I won’t spend much time rehashing what you already knew happened.
Instead, I’m making this a bit more personal that I usually do here, sharing my own memories of that incredible stretch.
I wrote extensively about the ‘04 Sox five years ago when I called them the Team of the Aughts on my old Backdoor Slider baseball blog. Of the 25 men on the roster that October, I said “all 25 were part of the most amazing sports story of my lifetime, an iconic piece of American history and the greatest baseball team of the last 10 years.”
Did a baseball team really make American history? Was it really that important? To the people in the Northeast, to the fans who lived and died with that team, the answer is unequivocally “yes.” The ALCS comeback and subsequent World Series sweep changed the attitude of an entire region. Suddenly anything was possible.
You didn’t realize it at the time, but if you’re a Red Sox fan, you can’t say your life didn’t change in at least some fashion after Dave Roberts stole 2nd base in the 9th inning of ALCS Game 4. It certainly changed the way we looked at our teams. I’ll get to why it mattered so much to me in a little bit.
Here are the things that stand out most to me 10 years gone. These thoughts are in loose chronological order and will include bits I’ve written in the past.
- I feel pretty lucky I got to see the Red Sox play twice that year, including once after they made the biggest trade in franchise history to net Orlando Cabrera and Doug Mientkiewicz, while sending Nomar packing. The game was in August and I went with my mom, my stepdad and my stepsister. We sat in the bleachers on a misty night for a game against Toronto in which injuries forced Mientkiewicz to man second base. But the Sox won, as they did so much those last two months of the regular season. I’ve always said it was the best time in history to be a Red Sox fan and that remains true today.
- Because Boston teams have been so prolific going on 13 years now, it can’t be emphasized enough hard to believe that comeback was at the time. Only a few years before, Gerry Callahan anointed Boston “Loserville.” The ‘90s were tough around here, with each of the four teams experiencing the lowest of depths possible (the Pats went 1-15 in ‘90, the Sox went 73-89 in ‘92, in ’97 the Celtics went 15-67 and the Bruins 26-47-9). I think everyone went into any playoff series or game expecting the worst to happen. When the Sox laid a steaming turd in Game 3 of the ALCS, well, anyone who says they expected the comeback that ensued is lying. Sure, the Pats had one two Super Bowls the previous three years. But… these were the Red Sox. It was different. It just was.
- Hell, I remember going to a friend’s house to watch Game 2 and after the Yankees beat Pedro in a close contest, we all pretty much agreed it was over. Curt Schilling could barely walk and Pedro didn’t look like Pedro. And that was TWO DAYS before the 19-8 debacle of Game 3. That’s where we were at as a fanbase.
- Mariano Rivera was ready to give the Red Sox season its last rites in Game 4. I didn’t know what to think. Theo Epstein had loaded up the team for the year, given us not one but two aces, a real closer and kept up a historically powerful offense. But now winter was upon us in such pathetic fashion…but then, it wasn’t. Kevin Millar walks. Roberts steals. Bill Mueller strikes a scorcher under a diving Rivera’s glove. The Sox weren’t dead, yet.
- I can’t lie, I didn’t stay up to watch the end of Game 4. Maybe I didn’t think the comeback would wind up making a difference. But it was a Sunday night and I had to go to school the next day (remember, college was around the corner!). I know, it sounds blasphemous. I kept the radio on and remember waking as Joe Trupiano’s voice raised when David Ortiz hit the blast well after 1 a.m. to win it. I wouldn’t sleep before the last out was recorded for the rest of that particular month.
- What kept the Sox alive through Games 4, 5 and 6 was the bullpen. Sure, we all remember the astounding performance by Curt Schilling, sock soaked in crimson, in Game 6. But with each starter only going six innings at most, the bullpen picked up the slack with big inning after big inning. Mike Timlin, Alan Embree and Curt Leskanic were the middle relief core. Keith Foulke was particularly amazing, throwing everyday and mowing down everyone. Of course, he never pitched anywhere close to that well again.
- My perception (and I assume many others too) of Alex Rodriguez changed the split second he slapped the baseball out of Bronson Arroyo’s glove late in Game 6. Before, I always respected A-Rod, thought he played the game right and was a terrific player. The guy was very nearly a Red Sox himself. But not only was his reputation tarnished that night, it wound up being representative of everything A-Rod became over the next decade: he cheated, hurt his team and then immediately denied any wrongdoing while acting like a petulant brat. All that was missing was him running back out to third base the next inning dressed like a centaur.
- The word “nervous” doesn’t quite describe the feeling going into Game 7, for me at least. I couldn’t think straight the whole day. When Johnny Damon got thrown out at the plate in the first inning, it seemed the luck had run out…but then Ortiz went deep and an inning later, Damon himself hit a grand slam. The nervousness was gone. Well, until Francona inexplicably brought in Pedro to get knocked around in the 7th inning. I still don’t understand that one. But they got out of that and we were rushing towards history.
- People from North Conway and the surrounding area may remember this: I don’t recall who the cable provider du jour was back then, but during the 9th inning of Game 7, with the Red Sox three outs away from ending the biggest comeback ever, some dolt in a control room somewhere decided it was a good time to test the Emergency Alert System and knock out the cable feed for several minutes. The game was well in hand, but I was furious. My dad and I raced to turn on the radio, but the cable feed was restored just in time for Ruben Sierra’s at-bat that would end the game. Phew.
- I didn’t cry when the Sox won the World Series that year. That’s probably because I didn’t have any tears left to cry after beating the Yankees. At first, when Sierra grounded out to Pokey Reese to end Game 7, I was elated, jumping around my dad’s living room like a crazy person. Then, I hit the floor, screaming some variation of “WE DID IT! WE FUCKING DID IT!” over and over while laying on my stomach and pounding the floor with my fists. It was somewhere in there the tears came. And I just couldn’t stop. My dad wondered if I was going to be OK. My sister was going to college in California at the time and I could barely form words when she called that night. So why did I lose it like that? Here’s what I wrote on my old IM Chaos blog (which has disappeared from the web but lives on in saved Word Docs on my MacBook) in ‘06: “As I explained to my Dad, sister and others that night through my hysterical sobs and tears, this win was almost like a personal reward for my years following the team. Ever since I was six, the Red Sox and baseball were always there for me, they were my way out of living in a boring little town, they were my respite when my parents were getting divorced, and they were my outlet for interest and love when so many other things could have taken me in a different direction. Now, I was going to see my team play in the World Series for the first time. It was overwhelming for someone that had devoted so much time and love to the team and to baseball itself.” That might sound ridiculous today, but at the time, at 18, that’s how I felt.
- I tweeted about this the other day: Remember Pedro had, like, a little dude he took around with him everywhere during the playoffs that year? What was that all about? Well, it turns out Pedro’s “little dude” was Nelson de la Rosa, a TV star from the Dominican Republic who went by the nickname “Mahow.” Mahow was one of the shortest men ever on record, standing about 2-feet, 4-inches tall. He died in Providence in ‘06 at 38 and left behind a wife, child and a place in the best sports story of this century. Now that’s a legacy.
- The World Series itself was such an anti-climax I don’t even have that much to say about it here. The Sox had three major impending free agents that offseason: Pedro, Derek Lowe and Jason Varitek. I was confident Tek was coming back, but deep down I knew Pedro and Lowe were done in Boston (it’s easy to forget now just how bad things were with Lowe here before he became the ALCS savior). That the last performances for the Red Sox for those guys came in World Series victories in Games 3 and 4 was a perfect send-off.
- I love Manny Ramirez as much as the next Red Sox fan in his late-20s. But Bill Mueller should have won World Series MVP. I think Manny won it because he was a bigger name (Mueller was also charged with three errors in Game 2). But winning the MVP would have been a deserving cap on a great season for Mueller, a vital cog in the Red Sox engine all three years he was here.
- One of my biggest regrets was missing the duckboat parade in ‘04. I lived 2.5 hours away and I don’t recall if the parade was on a weekend or not, but either way I wished I’d been there. I don’t think anyone would have begrudged me. I felt redeemed when I made it to the parade last year, though. Certainly worth the wait.
- Winning the series was such a huge deal for me that I ripped nearly everything off the walls of my childhood bedroom and put up newspaper clippings and full pages from the Globe and Herald around the victory. They’re all still there to this day. One of my favorite was a full-pager from the Globe with a picture of Schilling and this quote: “The ankle was in trouble. The heart was just fine.”
- In Dan Shaughnessy’s column from after the Series sweep, he included a reference to North Conway IN THE FIRST PARAGRAPH that 10 years later I still can’t believe actually happened.
I’ll wrap this up by going back to what I wrote in ‘09. It all still works to this day.
What the Red Sox accomplished went so far beyond winning eight straight October games and breaking an 86-year string of disappointment. They united an entire region, captivated an entire country and accomplished a comeback that will be talked about for generations to come. How could something like this happen? How could 25 guys who play a game so deeply affect millions who will never meet them? How could one of their most prominent fans write a book called “Now I Can Die In Peace” and nobody thought he was exaggerating? It’s probably because baseball always meant a little too much to the people of New England, caused in part by a rampant desire to shake the Curse. Couple that with a skilled, exceedingly likable team, and the recipe for baseball romance was in place. For once, the Red Sox had a team that knew how to win, didn’t feel sorry for itself down 3-0 against the Yankees, and refused to let up until the trophy was theirs. They were, more than anything, a team, in every sense, down to the very end. The ’04 Red Sox didn’t stay together past that final out and the ensuing duckboat ride. But trust me. There’s no way the ’04 Red Sox can ever die.
I leave you with the best song from Jimmy Eat World’s Futures, which was released during the ALCS and will always serve as the soundtrack for that incredible time.