Red Sox: Keith Foulke reflects on 2004 World Series championship

BOSTON - OCTOBER 23: Pitcher Keith Foulke
BOSTON - OCTOBER 23: Pitcher Keith Foulke /

Former Boston Red Sox closer Keith Foulke talks about his memorable experience with the curse-breaking 2004 World Series Championship team.

Two outs, bottom of the ninth inning on the biggest stage in baseball. Edgar Renteria chops a one-hopper back to the mound, where Boston Red Sox closer Keith Foulke fields it cleanly. He takes a few steps toward first base and tosses the ball underhand into the glove of Doug Mientkiewicz for the out the seals the deciding game of the 2004 World Series.

“They can never take that away from me,” proclaims Foulke.

YouTube reporter Tyler Boronski caught up with the former Red Sox closer at the MLB Legends game, where they reflected on memories of that historic championship team.

2004 was Foulke’s first year in Boston. He had spent the previous year in Oakland, where he established himself as one of the top closers in the game with a major league-leading 43 saves and an All-Star nod.

Foulke continued that late-inning dominance with the Red Sox, logging 32 saves to go along with a 2.17 ERA and 5.27 K/BB ratio during that first year in Boston. As impressive as those numbers are, the real success would come in October.

More from Red Sox History

When Foulke arrived in Boston he was struck by the veteran presence on the team. He had seven years in the big leagues under his belt, yet at age 31 he found himself as one of the younger guys on the roster. Foulke credits having experience on their side as a factor in their unbelievable postseason run. They knew not to panic, even after falling behind by three games to the New York Yankees in the ALCS.

Foulke pitched in five of the seven games in that series against the Yankees, compiling six scoreless innings along the way. His recollection of the first three games has faded with time, yet the epic comeback that followed will forever be ingrained in his memory.

Everyone remembers the clips of Kevin Millar rallying the team with his “Cowboy Up” mantra and shots of Jack Daniels. The players in that clubhouse banded together after Game 3 of the ALCS, which Foulke provides some additional insight on.

"“You just kind of take the pressure off of yourself, and you know, it really was, we just decided to go out there and play one pitch at a time, one game at a time,” recalled Foulke. “After we won Game 4, it’s like, that’s cool. Well, hey – let’s keep that same mentality, we’re going to do it again tomorrow.”"

Which is exactly what they did. David Ortiz followed up his heroic 12th-inning home run in Game 4 with an RBI base hit in the bottom of the 14th inning to steal Game 5. For the second consecutive night, Big Papi’s bat sent Fenway Park into a frenzy with a walkoff win.

Suddenly, this wasn’t a team merely avoiding the embarrassment of being swept by their most hated rivals. The thrilling walkoff wins gave the Red Sox new life.

More from Red Sox History

Foulke tossed 2 2/3 scoreless innings of relief, throwing a staggering 50 pitches, to help get the Red Sox to extra-innings in Game 4. Who puts their closer in during the seventh inning? Terry Francona, that’s who.

Despite the heavy workload, Foulke was back on the mound for another four outs the next night in Game 5. Most teams wouldn’t dare push their closer to throw that much in a short span. Without Foulke taking on that challenge, the Red Sox would have likely gone home early without celebrating the greatest comeback in sports history.

The next night saw Curt Schilling take the mound, his sock seeping with blood from his sutured ankle. Schilling’s gutsy seven-inning effort in which he held the Yankees to only one run earned him the win in Game 6. Foulke capped off the ninth inning that night with his lone save of the series.

With the three game deficit wiped out, Foulke says the pressure was back on the Yankees heading into Game 7. Once the Red Sox got rolling, there was no stopping them. Timely hits, great pitching – this team had it all going for them after three disappointing losses that would have devastated most teams. That 2004 Red Sox club had the mental fortitude to focus on the next game, leaving those agonizing losses in the past. Boston cruised to a 10-3 victory over the Yankees in Game 7, earning them a trip to the World Series.

Next: Could Red Sox trade for Stanton?

While the four-game sweep of the Cardinals was a bit anticlimactic after that dramatic ALCS comeback, there is one lasting image that we’ll never forget – catcher Jason Varitek jumping into the arms of Keith Foulke before a mob of teammates engulfed them on the field to celebrate the end of an 86 year title drought.