Ten Years Gone: Bellhorn off the Foul Pole and other tales from the 2004 World Series


Ten years ago tonight, the eyes of the world turned to the legendary Fenway Park in Boston, MA for Game 1 of the World Series.

Writing this on a soggy, blustery New England evening at the heels of a veritable October Nor’easter, I remember that Saturday night ten years gone. So does Game 1 starter Tim Wakefield.

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“The weather wasn’t great – like it is today, but a lot colder,” remembered the knuckleballer, who I sat down with earlier in the day at a MetLife event in Charlestown promoting kids’ oral health during the Halloween season.

The veteran Wakefield, who had logged ten years with the organization, doing everything he was asked (Cy Young-caliber starter to closer and back again, with various high-leverage postseason relief appearances against the Yankees tossed in for good measure), was most worried about the camera flash bulbs going off when he threw the first pitch of the series. “I hope he (Edgar Renteria) doesn’t hit it back at me,” thought Wakefield, who whiffed his future teammate to start the ballgame.

But the bats wouldn’t stay quiet for long. Given the magnitude of the moment – it was also the first World Series appearance since 1987 for a Cardinals franchise that had been consistently competitive in the interim – both teams brought out the lumber. Wakefield would not factor in the decision, though he left with the lead.

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David Ortiz, who answered the bell so many times in the previous two series against the Angels and Yankees, continued a legendary postseason with a three-run homer in the first inning off Cardinals starter Woody Williams. But, unlike the Yanks in Games 6 and 7, every time the Red Sox pulled ahead in Game 1, the Cards clawed back.

It would be an unsung hero, one who slogged through much of the ALCS before bouncing back with two home runs in the final two games of that series, who saved Game 1 for Boston.

Mark Bellhorn had the makeup of a Dan Duquette pickup (his OPS had dropped .240 points during the 2003 season, making him the definition of a “buy-low” quantity), made with both Theo Epstein’s hand and brain (his .374 OBP in 2002 was exactly what the new Red Sox GM was after). A textbook “three true outcomes” hitter, Bellhorn bashed 17 homers, walked 88 times and struck out an alarming 29% of his plate appearances in 2004. But he fit with what the Red Sox were trying to do, and the sometimes frustrating second baseman carved out a cult following among the Fenway faithful.

In the eighth inning, with the score tied at nine, Bellhorn turned on a middle-of-the-plate Julian Tavarez offering, following the flight trajectory as the ball banged off of Pesky’s pole and plummeted to the outfield surface near right fielder Larry Walker. Fenway popped like Hulk Hogan had just bodyslammed Andre the Giant.

The scruffy second baseman had already provided a clutch three-run job (atonement for the Jeffrey Maier farce – in Yankee Stadium, the umpires correctly ruled that the ball went over the wall and off a fan) to give the Red Sox the early lead in Game 6, and had pounded the Stadium foul pole in Game 7 late to pad the lead and vanquish their antagonists. Behind Bellhorn’s two-run blast in Game 1, the Red Sox would go on to an 11-9 victory.

Three games in a row for Mark Bellhorn. Five consecutive wins for the Sox. Was it for real? It certainly felt like it. And Boston had a 1-0 lead in the 2004 World Series.