2004 reunion: revisiting the historic comeback of the 2004 Red Sox


May 28, 2014; Boston, MA, USA; A banner to honor the 2004 Boston Red Sox hangs over the green monster before the game against the Atlanta Braves at Fenway Park. Mandatory Credit: Greg M. Cooper-USA TODAY Sports

With the ten year reunion of the curse-breaking 2004 Red Sox upon us, it seems to be a fitting time to look back at one of the most historic seasons Major League Baseball has ever seen. When the “Idiots” of 2004 stepped foot on the field of Fenway Park once again, nostalgia rushed through the veins of every Sox fan in the stands, and of course, those watching at home. So how did that rag-tag band of baseball players take home the sports most prestigious trophy? Let’s take a look:

The story of the 2004 Red Sox begins the year before, when the Sox were eliminated from the playoffs by…yep, you guessed it, the New York Yankees. A walk-off home run in the bottom of the eleventh inning of Game 7 of the ALCS marked another disappointing end to the season for the Sox.

It soon became clear that something needed to change if the Red Sox hoped to break “the curse” that had been lingering over them for the previous 86 years. During the offseason, management did just that, trading for star pitcher Curt Schilling, signing closing pitcher Keith Foulke, and of course, replacing manager Grady Little with Terry Francona, who would go on to lead to Red Sox to two World Championships in just four years.

The Sox started off the season on a pretty good note, going into the All-Star break behind the Yankees in the divisional standings, but at the head of the Wild Card race, sporting a 48-38 record. Soon, the possibility of facing the Yankees once again in the postseason became ever-more likely, and the Sox, led by general manager Theo Epstein, wanted to be sure that they could hit the Yankees with everything they had.

In anticipation of the postseason, the Sox traded away shortstop Nomar Garciaparra, who was well-liked in Boston, to the Cubs on the date of the trade deadline. As a part of a four-team deal, the Red Sox received first baseman Doug Mientkiewicz, and shortstop Orlando Cabrera. Following the trade, the season looked as though it were taking a turn for the worse, as Boston fell behind 10½ games in the divisional standings.

However, the Red Sox were able to recover, and climbed back within two games of the Yankees, who led the division. By the end of the regular season, the Yankees had managed to stay on top, and took the division by a three game margin. This of course, set the Red Sox up against the Angels, who had  just barely slipped into the postseason, winning one more game than the Oakland Athletics, who finished second in the AL West.

The Angels were no match for the Red Sox, who went on to sweep the divisional series three games to none, outscoring Anaheim 25-12, while scoring nine runs in Game One, and eighth in both Games Two and Three. It was David Ortiz’s 10th inning home run that sent the Red Sox to the ALCS, where they were once again matched up with none other than the New York Yankees, a rematch of the previous season’s ALCS.

"As the series began, FOX commentator Joe Buck said: “What’s hard to believe, it was almost exactly one year ago tonight that Aaron Boone hit that 11th inning home run to beat the Red Sox, yet for some reason it seemed predetermined that we would be right back here a year later for a rematch of sort.”"

As would be expected, there was some huge hype for the American League rematch.  The feeling was different from that of 2003, and it seemed that this could be the year that the Red Sox redeemed themselves. However, as the series began, that hope was broken down by the Yankees, who stormed out to a 3-0 series lead.

In Game One, Curt Schilling’s torn tendon sheath in his right ankle (which he sustained in Game 1 against Anaheim), caused him to be nearly ineffective, giving up six of the Yankees ten runs. Meanwhile, in pinstripes, Mike Mussina shut down the explosive Red Sox offense, retiring the first nineteen batters. The Sox rallied for five runs to break up the perfect game bid in the seventh inning, and then two more in the eighth, making it an 8-7 game, but the Yanks shut them down, and closed it out, 10-7, with the help of Mariano Rivera.

May 20, 2014; Boston, MA, USA; Boston Red Sox pitcher former pitcher Pedro Martinez shows his World Series rings prior to a game against the Toronto Blue Jays at Fenway Park. Mandatory Credit: Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports

Game Two in the Bronx turned out to be a pitchers duel, with Jon Lieber of New York outlasting Pedro Martinez of Boston. The Yankees were able to scratch out a 3-1 victory over the Sox, taking a 2-0 series lead heading back to Fenway.

Game Three was a nightmare for the Red Sox, as the Yankees clobbered Boston, and Fenway Park with it, by a score of 19-8. In Boston, it seemed that the Sox would be ousted by the Yankees once again. All hope seemed lost.

"Following the game, Bob Ryan of The Boston Globe wrote “They are down, 3–0, after last night’s 19–8 rout, and, in this sport, that is an official death sentence. Soon it will be over, and we will spend another dreary winter lamenting this and lamenting that.”"

Coming back from a 3-0 deficit seemed impossible to everyone… everyone except the Boston Red Sox. It would take an unprecedented miracle for the Sox to come back from this. And yet, that’s just what happened.

Down by one in the ninth inning of Game Four, Francona sent in Dave Roberts to pinch run for Kevin Millar, who had been walked by Rivera. Everyone in the ballpark, Rivera included, knew that Roberts was going to steal second. Rivera threw over three times, but couldn’t pick off Roberts. Finally, Rivera delivered home, and Roberts took off, sliding safely into second for what would later be nicknamed “The Stolen Base heard around the World.” Billy Mueller than singled, allowing Roberts to score, tying the game at four.

Both teams went scoreless into the twelfth inning, until David Ortiz hit a walk-off, two run home run over the right field wall to win the game. In doing so, he became the first player to two walk-off home runs in the same postseason.

Game Five required extra innings once again, after an eighth-inning Red Sox comeback. It was Big Papi who saved the day once again, singling to center field in the 14th inning to end the ballgame. After 5 hours and 49 minutes of nerve-wracking baseball, Fenway Park erupted.

Game Six marked the return to Yankee Stadium, and the return of the injured Curt Schilling to the mound. Schilling, who had his torn tendon sheath sutured in place via an unprecedented procedure by team doctors, went on to pitch seven strong innings, allowing only a single run. Schilling had three sutures connecting the skin with his ligament and deep connective tissue, essentially forming a tissue wall that kept his tendon from hurting his pitching mechanics.

In the midst of the injury drama, more drama appeared on the field, focusing of course, on Alex Rodriguez. After dribbling a ball back toward Bronson Arroyo, A-Rod slapped the ball out of Arroyo’s glove, allowing Jeter to score. The umpires proceeded to call Rodriguez out for interference, and sent Jeter back to second. Yankee Stadium erupted, throwing things on the field, and delaying the game. Terry Francona pulled the Red Sox off of the field in order to protect them, but soon enough play resumed.

Later in the game, after Orlando Cabrera was called safe in a close play at third, and the fans went berserk once again, so much so that the NYPD had to enter the field, outfitted with riot gear, for fear that the fans would erupt. However, the game went on, and the Red Sox took Game 6, 4-2.

Apr 4, 2014; Boston, MA, USA; Boston Red Sox former players Pedro Martinez , Mike Lowell and Jason Varitek carry out World Series trophies during pre-game ceremonies before the game against the Milwaukee Brewers at Fenway Park. Mandatory Credit: David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

The Red Sox were the 26th team in Major League history to stare upwards at a 3-0 series deficit. They were the first to force a Game 7. The slogan adopted by the team stuck: “Why not us?”

Prior to Game 7, the Red Sox gathered in the clubhouse to watch Miracle, the movie that depicts the story of the 1980 U.S. mens hockey team that shocked the Soviet Union, and went on to win the Gold Medal (defeating Finland) in one of the greatest upsets in the history of sports. Full of inspiration, the Red Sox opened the floodgates for Game 7. Ortiz homered in the first to put the Red Sox up one. In the second,  Johnny Damon made up for being thrown out at the plate in the first inning by blasting a grand-slam into the right field seats, putting the Red Sox up six. Damon then homered again in the fourth, and the Red Sox entered the seventh inning up 8-1, following an outstanding performance by Derek Lowe, who was pitching on just two-days rest.

Pedro entered in the seventh, and was serenaded once again by Yankee Stadium, who chanted “Who’s your Daddy?”, as he gave up two runs. However, Pedro found his groove, and finished off the inning. Just after midnight, Rubén Sierra grounded out to Red Sox second-baseman Pokey Reese, who tossed it over to Doug Mientkiewicz. The comeback was complete.

Boston erupted. Finally, the Red Sox had put out the seemingly eternal fire that was the New York Yankees. The perfect bunch of “idiots” put themselves together and performed one of the greatest comebacks of all time.

From then on, it’s history. The Red Sox went on to sweep the St. Louis Cardinals in four games to win the teams first World Series since 1918, 86 years earlier. In doing so, the Red Sox outscored the Cardinals 24-12. The curse was broken. Boston was the home of World Champions once again.

“Good times never seemed so good.”