This was the catalyst for the Dirt Dogs, the Idiots, Cowboy Up, or whatever rallying cries came out of that magical season of 2004. As usual, the Red Sox of that time were chasing the Yankees. People, especially Dan Shaughnessy, like to say that the Sox/Yanks rivalry goes back to the Curse of the Bambino, when Harry Frazee sold Babe Ruth to the Yankees for $125 grand to try and save his ownership of the franchise, in 1919.
With some breaks in Red Sox success (sadly for a decade or more in some cases), the rivalry goes back to 1949 when the Red Sox went to Yankee Stadium needing to win one of two games to make the World Series and lost both. In 1950, the team was one game back with 12 to go, but lost seven of those, eventually winning 94 games and finishing third to the Yankees who won their second of five straight championships. Since the Yankees won every time, some said it was like calling the relationship between a hammer and a nail a rivalry. You know the Sox were nailed in every case.
On July 24, 2004, the Red Sox and Yankees were in the midst of a typical slugfest of that year. It was 3-0 when Alex Rodriguez strode to the plate that Fenway afternoon. He was coming off a game-winning hit from the night before. Before he was an innings-eater for the Reds and Diamondbacks for over a decade, Bronson Arroyo was a Red Sox starter and reliever.
On that day, Arroyo squarely hit Rodriguez, just to the left of the number on his back, with a pitch. Rodriguez stared menacingly out at the pitcher and began yelling. Like any good catcher, Jason Varitek stood between Rodriguez and Arroyo as A-Rod took a few steps toward first. Certainly Arroyo, who could be blown over by a strong wind, would have been in trouble if Rodriguez could have gotten to him. As the third baseman, later to be known as A-Roid, yelled a two word curse at Varitek, starting with “F” and ending with “you,” legend has it that Varitek uttered a famous line that enraged Rodriguez. “We don’t throw at .260 hitters,” said #33. Varitek, still with mask on, shoved his glove right into A-Rod’s smug face. Reminiscent of the brawl they had the previous year, much to the shame of Don Zimmer an Pedro Martinez, the benches emptied and the fight was on. The Red Sox were 8.5 games back at that point; they needed to get some frustration out.
It seemed there was going to be another Red Sox disappointment at the hands of the Yankees. The Red Sox clung to a 4-3 lead through the middle innings, but Arroyo faltered. In the sixth, Miguel Cairo singled home the go-ahead run with two outs. Three walks and two more hits from the Yankees broke the game open. The Yankees struck for six runs to make it 9-4.
The Red Sox came back with four of their own against the long-forgotten Juan Padilla and the overworked Paul Quantrill. Scott Proctor came on to end the rally at 9-8. A Ruben Sierra solo homer in the seventh made it 10-8. In the bottom of the eighth, Joe Torre brought Rivera on to face Manny Ramirez, who represented the tying run. Ramirez nearly tied it, but flied out to deep center field.
Many fans only remember the July 1, 2004 game as Nomar Garciaparra‘s swan song in a Red Sox uniform: the game in which Jeter dove into the stands after catching a ball and Nomar stayed on the bench as his teammates watched the game from the top step of the dugout. Nomar doubled to start the ninth on this day. After a Trot Nixon fly out advance Nomar to third base, Kevin Millar brought him in with a single to make it 10-9. Against the great Mariano Rivera, Bill Mueller stepped to the plate. Perhaps foreshadowing his postseason heroics, Mueller deposited a Rivera pitch into the right field bullpen.
In the grand scheme of things, the Yankees still won the division. Somewhere, deep in our hearts, we knew, though, that this could be a team that could make our baseball dreams come true. On October 29, 2004, the Red Sox finished the race and completed a task they had failed to do for 86 heartbreaking seasons. July 24, 2004 was the first step on a great adventure that would have many heroes. July 24 was a dress rehearsal for the October glory that was to come.