The deal that changed Red Sox history forever
Thanksgiving 2003 will forever be a major chapter in Red Sox history. On this day, GM Theo Epstein gained the services of ace pitcher Curt Schilling, and soon the two would deliver Boston’s first World Series in 86 years.
It was November 2003 and the Red Sox were still feeling the emotional drain of losing to the Yankees in the ALCS. It was game 7, a game the Red Sox could’ve won at any time. A misplaced Knuckleball from Tim Wakefield to Aaron Boone would send the Yankees to the World Series, and the Red Sox home.
On Thanksgiving 15 years ago, Theo Epstein ventured to meet with Curt Schilling. He went there with the sole purpose of swaying the ace into accepting a trade to the Red Sox. Schilling was coming off a poor season but wasn’t far removed from being the hero of the 2001 World Series. Little did he know that his heroics wouldn’t end there.
It was this last effort sales pitch form Epstein that would change the course of the Boston Red Sox franchise forever. Along with new Manager Terry Francona and a new mentality in the locker room, the 2004 squad was ready to get to work. Epstein was on the forefront of the analytics movement along much like Oakland Gm Billy Beane.
The way he looked at the game was completely different than how it had been done for generations. Instead of always looking at the black and white skill of the player in question, they’d look at the stats. Not just a batter’s overall average but how he hit with men on, facing a lefty, in the 6th inning or later.
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They would boil it down to those specifics to build the 2004 team. And Schilling was the perfect fit for that style of management. Early in his career, Curt Schilling was a fire throwing arrogant kid who had zero fear. As age caught up to him he began to utilize scouting reports, tape study, and notes on each batter that he’d face on an opposing team. He began to focus not necessarily on his best pitch, but the best pitch for the situation.
It was often spoken about how Schilling and catcher Jason Varitek would go over pages and pages of notes and scouting reports that Schilling had created himself over the years. Was it always a guarantee? Absolutely not. But those two always had a game plan going into each inning of what they wanted to do.
As the 2004 season fast approached the excitement for what the Red Sox could offer with Schilling on the mound rose. This is where we fast forward our story to when that fateful night on Thanksgiving of 2003 paid off. The playoffs had finally arrived and the Red Sox punched their ticket via the Wild Card.
With the strength of Schilling, Pedro Martinez, and Derek Lowe on the mound and the bats of Manny Ramirez and David Ortiz, the Sox made quick work of the Angels in the ALDS. Next up was a rematch of the 2003 ALCS against the Yankees. I won’t speak for every Red Sox fan, but there was a feeling in the pit of my stomach of “oh no.”
Curt Schilling take his place in Red Sox history
Game 1 came and Schilling didn’t seem himself on the mound. As one of the greatest postseason pitchers ever it surely wasn’t the bright lights. Something else had to be going on with the cerebral righty. It would later come out that he had a torn tendon sheath in his right ankle. For most people, this would be a debilitating injury, not for Curt, not this year.
The Red Sox medical staff worked some serious medical wizardry and maybe a bit of voodoo as well to get Curt ready for his game 6 start. There was the doubt that whatever they had done would even work as all it could take was one wrong push on the mound to worsen the injury. With the pressure of the postseason and the hopes of the entire Red Sox Nation falling on his ankle, Schilling was ready.
With Yankee stadium rocking at a decibel I don’t think I had ever heard before in a baseball game, Curt took the mound. Having just finished his warm-up sequence, blood already began to seep through his sock. And thus, “Schilling’s Bloody Sock,” earned its way into baseball history. Curt made a statement instantly, making quick work of Jeter, A-Rod, and Sheffield. This was going to be his night, his chance to join the annals of baseball history.
As the game went on you’d imagine with an injury of that caliber that he’d be slowing down, not on this night. Schilling would end his night with a line of 7 innings/1R/0BB/4K, a gutsy heartfelt performance from the veteran on a night when we needed him the most.
With Schilling’s legendary pitching display and a Mark Belhorn 3-Run shot, the Red Sox would go on to win 4-2, tying the series. Game 7 would rear its ugly head once again but this time Boston was ready. Derek Lowe took the mound and pitched an absolute gem of a game. Add in a pair of homers from Johnny Damon and the Red Sox were heading to the World Series.
The storybook year for Boston didn’t end there. Becoming the first team in history in ANY major sport to overcome a 3-0 deficit to come back and win a series. Four action-packed games against St. Louis in the World Series and the impossible dream had come true.
I remember sitting with my Father that night, a lifelong Sox fan that handed that tradition down to me and my siblings, with tears in his eyes. He had finally witnessed what he had been told would never happen. No more “next year.” A team of idiots had come through and made good on their promise. They delivered the first World Series championship to Boston in 86 years, and it all starts on that Thanksgiving night.