Offseason recap series: Part two (2003-2004)


This is part two of a 12-part series recapping Boston’s notable offseason acquisitions and departures. The following post recaps the 2003-2004 offseason.

May 28, 2014; Boston, MA, USA; Boston Red Sox former pitcher Keith Foulke walks on the field as part of the 10 year celebration of the 2004 Boston Red Sox before the game against the Atlanta Braves at Fenway Park. Mandatory Credit: Greg M. Cooper-USA TODAY Sports

The 2004 season wasn’t anything short of dramatic. The epic comeback in the ALCS against the Yankees, the final out in Game Four of the World Series to end an 86 year drought, the late season surge, Tek vs A-Rod, Nomar sitting in the dugout during an important game (arguably the final nail in the coffin for his tenure in Boston)…

For the all the drama that occurred in the regular season and postseason, it’s only fitting that the offseason was dramatic in its own part.

In addition to the notable player departures and acquisitions, there was also a very notable managerial change. A fateful decision to not make a pitching change in Game Seven of the 2003 ALCS would seal the fate of Grady Little. He was fired and replaced by Terry Francona. Francona would manage the team for eight seasons, winning two World Series championships (to date, his record in the Fall Classic is 8-0).

There was also a very notable trade that didn’t happen. The club pursued a three-team trade with the Texas Rangers and Chicago White Sox involving Nomar Garciaparra (to the White Sox), Manny Ramirez (to the Rangers), Magglio Ordonez (to the Red Sox), Alex Rodriguez (to the Red Sox), and a couple young pitching prospects named Brandon McCarthy (Chicago to Boston), and Jon Lester (Boston to Texas). Of course, that deal fell through and Rodriguez would be acquired by New York later that offseason.

Without further ado, let’s move on to the notable player departures and acquisitions that did happen.


Todd Walker: I highlighted Walker’s contributions to the Red Sox in the previous post. He was one of the better one-year acquisitions in club history. The club opted to let Walker leave following the 2003 season rather than re-sign him long term. Walker would get a multiyear deal with the Cubs and would play there for the better part of three seasons before being dealt to San Diego at the 2006 trade deadline. He would retire after the 2007 season.

Jeff Suppan: Acquired by Boston at the 2003 trade deadline, Suppan was so ineffective in the Red Sox rotation (3-4 5.57 ERA and 1.43 WHIP in 63 innings pitched) that he was actually left off of the postseason roster when October came along. That was actually Suppan’s second stint in Boston. He was actually drafted by the club in 1993 and pitched in parts of three seasons in his first taste of the Majors. He was then acquired by the Arizona Diamondbacks by way of the 1998 expansion draft.

Though he was not in a Boston uniform during the 2004 season, Suppan would provide a memorable moment along the way. It was Suppan who opposed Pedro Martinez in Game Three of the World Series. Aside from it being Pedro’s final performance in a Boston uniform, the game is also remembered for an infamous base running blunder committed by Suppan.

Suppan would could continue pitching until after the 2012 season. While he was never considered a front-line starting pitcher, Suppan’s ability to eat up innings and usually keep his team in the game allowed the pitcher to have a solid 17-year career.


Pokey Reese: Originally signed to play second base, Reese would actually begin 2004 as the starting shortstop with Nomar Garciaparra beginning the year on the DL.

Already well-known as a defensive whiz (he won two Gold Gloves while with the Cincinatti Reds), Reese would provide excellent defense at shortstop and second base. As good as he was defensively, Reese was the complete opposite with the bat. He put up .574 OPS in 96 games. Only 10 of his 54 hits were for extra bases.

The 2004 season would be the final major league season in Resse’s career. He played the 2005 season in the Seattle Mariners’ minor league system. He signed with the then-Florida Marlins prior to 2006, but the contract was terminated after he left the club during Spring Training. His last professional season was 2008 when he would play 31 games in the Washington Nationals’ minor league system.

Mark Bellhorn: While Reese was originally signed to play second base, Bellhorn was signed to be a reserve infielder. But the injury to Nomar Garciaparra led to

Aug 2, 2013; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Philadelphia Phillies wall of fame inductee Curt Schilling is introduced during the 2013 Philadelphia Phillies wall of fame induction ceremony prior to playing the Atlanta Braves at Citizens Bank Park. The Braves defeated the Phillies 6-4. Mandatory Credit: Howard Smith-USA TODAY Sports

Bellhorn becoming the club’s primary second baseman. Bellhorn would start 118 games at second that season while also playing 16 games at third base and one game at shortstop.

While Bellhorn was nowhere near as good a fielder as Reese was, he was much better with the bat during that 2004 season. Bellhorn would have the best season of his career in 2004, putting up an .817 OPS with 17 home runs and 82 RBIs. Though he did lead the league in strikeouts (177, which was also good enough for the club record until Mike Napoli surpassed it in 2013), Bellhorn would also walk 88 times, good for a .373 OBP.

Bellhorn got off to a rough start in the postseason that year. But just like the rest of the team, he got hot at the right time. Bellhorn ignited Boston’s scoring in Game Six of the ALCS with a three-run homer in the fourth inning. He helped pad the lead in Game Seven with a solo homer in the eighth inning. In Game One of the World Series, Bellhorn made it three straight games with a home run. His two-run homer in the bottom of the eighth won it for the Red Sox.

Bellhorn began 2005 season as the starting second baseman, but he was never the same. After putting up a .689 OPS in 85 games and missing time due to an injury, the Red Sox acquired Tony Graffanino (they were considering bringing up a prospect named Dustin Pedroia until he also wound up on the DL) and released Bellhorn. The Yankees signed Bellhorn shortly after. He wasn’t any better for New York, putting up a .544 OPS in 9 games.

Bellhorn would play 115 games for the San Diego Padres in 2006 (.629 OPS) and 13 games for the Reds in 2007 (.349 OPS). He spent 2008 and 2009 in the Dodgers’ and Rockies’ minor league systems, respectfully.

Keith Foulke
: The signing of Keith Foulke solidified the closer’s role in the 2004 season. In 82 innings, Foulke recorded 32 saves with a 2.17 ERA and .940 WHIP.

He was a invaluable piece of the puzzle in the postseason. Foulke accumulated 100 pitches thrown in a three day span, all while pitching in high-leverage situations. His line in the ALCS: six innings (five of them in games 3-5), 0.00 ERA, 1.17 WHIP and one save.

Foulke would be the winning pitcher in Game One of the World Series and was on the mound when the final out was recorded (his lone save in that series as well).

Unfortunately, the workload Foulke carried that October would have a negative effect on his performance in long run. Foulke had an injury-plagued 2005 season. Though he deserved the benefit of the doubt, many fans turned on Foulke while he struggled early on that season. The pitcher didn’t do himself any favors, however, indirectly reacting back with his infamous “Johnny from Burger King” remark. His final line in 2005: 5-5, 5.91 ERA, 1.56 WHIP, 15 saves, 34/18 K/BB in 45 2/3 innings.

Foulke would pitch better in 2006, but was nowhere close to what he used to be. A young pitcher named Jonathan Papelbon would win the closer’s job over Foulke, relegating the former closer to a middle relief role (Mike Timlin was still used as the primary setup man). He also missed time due to injury that season and put up a final line of 3-1 4.35 ERA 1.188 WHIP 36/7 K/BB in 49 2/3 innings.

Foulke departed Boston after the 2006 season. He signed with the Cleveland Indians prior to 2007, but voluntarily retired before the season began. Foulke would make a comeback in 2008 with the Oakland A’s, going 0-3 with a 4.06 ERA and 1.323 WHIP in 31 innings. He retired after that season.

It was nice to see Foulke in attendance at the 10-year anniversary ceremony for the 2004 World Champions earlier this season. It should be good enough to assure that he is remembered most for how much he meant to the club during that unforgettable run.

Curt Schilling: While David Ortiz deserves all the credit he gets for turning the fortunes of the franchise around, Schilling certainly deserves honorable mention.

After losing out to the Yankees in their pursuit of Javier Vazquez, Theo Epstein and Company turned their focus to acquiring the veteran Schilling. After doing some persuasion over Thanksgiving, Schilling agreed to waive his no-trade clause. The Red Sox and Diamondbacks then struck a deal that sent Schilling to Boston for prospects Mike Goss, Casey Fossum, Brandon Lyon, and Jorge De La Rosa.

Schilling would pitch in 32 games in the regular season, going 21-6 with a 3.26 ERA 1.06 WHIP and 203/35 K/BB in 226/23 innings pitched. He made the All-Star Team for the sixth and final time of his career that season.

Schilling added to his legendary postseason resume that October. He would win his lone start in the ALDS, going 6 2/3 innings and giving up two earned runs. But while covering first on a routine 3-1 putout, Schilling injured his ankle.

His ankle was still bothering him when he took the mound in Game One of the ALCS. Schilling would give up six runs in three innings and take the loss. Many were skeptical if he could take the mound again that series, or if the opportunity for another start would even be there. After avoiding elimination in games Four and Five, the team turned to Schilling for Game Six.

The Boston medical staff performed a cutting-edge (pardon the pun) procedure on Schilling’s ankle. Blood was seen seeping through the pitcher’s sock as he took the mound for Game Six. Schilling gutted through seven innings, allowing only one run on four hits, good enough for the win. Schilling succeeded in bringing the series back to even and the comeback would be completed the following night.

Schilling would have the same procedure done before taking the hill in Game Two of the World Series. He went on to win Game Two, giving up one run in six innings. That would be Schilling’s final start in 2004 and he had surgery on that ankle that offseason.

The ankle surgery led to a slow recovery for Schilling. So it shouldn’t be all that surprising that 2005 was a lost year for the pitcher. He would pitch in 32 games that season, but only 11 of those games were starts. His line in 2005: 8-8, 5.69 ERA, 1.53, WHIP, 9 saves (he had a brief and unspectacular stint as the team’s closer) and 87/22 K/BB in 93 1/3 innings pitched.

Schilling bounced back in 2006, going 15-7 with a 3.97 ERA, 1.22 WHIP, and 183/28 K/BB in 204 innings pitched.

In his final season, Schilling would only go 9-8 in 24 starts. His final pitching performance was as the winning pitcher in Game Two of the 2007 World Series. It was a fitting ending for one of the best postseason pitchers ever.

Schilling is currently working as an analyst for ESPN where he recently returned after beating cancer. A winner of 216 games, member of the 3,000 strikeout club, and owner of one of the best postseason resumes of any era (featuring a warrior-like 2004 performance), if there is any justice in this world, Schilling will someday find himself in the National Baseball Hall of Fame.

Final analysis: The final pieces were brought into the fold for the 2004 season. One provided a solid glove in limited action. Another provided the best offensive output of his career. There was also a reliever who provided a “sure thing” in the ninth inning and then some. The last was a warrior who preferred making a certain 50,000 people shut up over hearing about a couple of girls named “Mystique” and “Aura.” 2004 was and still is one of the most unforgettable seasons ever. The offseason that would prelude it added to the magic.