Ten Years Gone: Nomar and the June swoon of 2004
Coming off an historic near-miss in 2003, the Boston Red Sox were expected to be right back in the thick of things in ’04. With new acquisitions Curt Schilling and Keith Foulke added to an already-powerful foundation, the Sox got off to a roaring start in April but fell into a malaise that persisted throughout the months of May and June. With our collective memories clouded by the events of October of that year, I decided to go back through the archives at Boston Dirt Dogs and serve up some miserable moments for your reading pleasure.
Much of the drama surrounded Nomar Garciaparra. The five-time All-Star shortstop suffered an Achilles injury during spring training and the media suggested he was taking his time coming back and “sticking it” to ownership for not extending his contract. Sports radio. The papers. The Internet. It was bad.
"He is starting to look like Wade Boggs circa 1992, like a man so consumed with resentment that he cannot focus on anything else.– Tony Massarotti, The Boston Herald"
Factual or not, the sentiment filtered through the fanbase and Garciaparra’s popularity unfathomably went into a tailspin. The veteran was terse with the press and clearly pressing in the field following his return (“There’s a ground ball to Nomar, he boots it!” became a popular Joe Castiglione sound bite on EEI). Nomar even got into it with the official scorer following a key loss in which he was credited with a two-base error. The writing was on the wall for one of the most talented and hardest-working Red Sox of all-time. Within a month, he’d be gone.
Contract extensions also lingered over the heads of Pedro Martinez and Derek Lowe. Rumors of the ace defecting for New York in the offseason surfaced after he was seen palling around with Yankee employees on the field in the Bronx. Lowe continued his downward spiral; his ERA was over 5.00 and hit 6.02 on the Fourth of July.
In the high-octane AL East, the starting rotation couldn’t stop anyone. Pedro’s ERA ballooned to 4.40 after a June 2 shellacking at the hands of the Angels and Schilling was pretty much the only hot hand as he battled an ankle injury that required injections and raised the possibility that he would be temporarily shut down. Of course, the malady reared its ugly head in the playoffs, but at this point in 2004, the postseason was anything but a given.
The “Terry FranCOMA” refrain gained steam as the streak of uninspired play wore on the fans. Trot Nixon was out with a herniated disc and thigh problems. Former Sox closer Byung-Hyun Kim was back in Korea; when he returned to Pawtucket, he was throwing 83 miles an hour.
To top it all off, Kevin Millar (with just five home runs and 21 RBI at the midpoint of the season) and his buds were skewered for attending a country music concert in Mansfield.
Oh, but one good thing did happen in the month of June 2004:
"We couldn’t believe he fell down to us… he’s undersized but plays a big man’s game. He can play second base or shortstop, has tremendous energy, great hands, can make spectacular plays, has a great arm, swings a big bat (but only has 10 K’s), great hand-eye. A unique player at any level and will be a fan favorite.– Theo Epstein on Dustin Pedroia"
To review: a struggling superstar got into it with the official scorer. A right fielder missed significant time with injury. The starting rotation was a mess. Contract disputes hovered over the proceedings. Sound familiar?
Just goes to show that crazier things have happened…