Red Sox Memories: Keith Foulke saves 2004 postseason
By Sean Penney
The Boston Red Sox wouldn’t have been crowned champions in 2004 without closer Keith Foulke’s dominance out of the bullpen.
Everyone remembers the Dave Roberts steal. The pivotal moment put the tying run in scoring position in the ninth inning of Game 4 of the 2004 ALCS, igniting the epic comeback that vanquished the New York Yankees and led to the end of an 86-year title drought. That moment will forever be ingrained in our memories but the Boston Red Sox wouldn’t have been in that position without the heroics of Keith Foulke.
The Red Sox had their backs against the walls trailing by a run in the seventh inning. Mike Timlin had coughed up the lead in the previous frame but stayed on the mound to face the first two batters in the seventh.
With zero margin for error, Boston turned to their closer with one out and a runner on first. Foulke induced a weak ground ball to first from Hideki Matsui for the second out but there was no time to turn two. Alex Rodriguez, who had been walked by Timlin to open the inning, advanced to second base. The Yankees had a runner in scoring position and a chance to double their lead but Foulke struck out Bernie Williams to end the threat.
Boston failed to score in the bottom of the inning but they stuck with their closer as we moved to the eighth despite that they were still trailing. This was an elimination game and they were going to squeeze all they could out of Foulke’s arm. The closer put away the bottom of the Yankees order after allowing a leadoff walk to Jorge Posada, keeping the Red Sox within striking distance.
Sensing that they were on the verge of victory, the Yankees followed Boston’s lead by bringing in their closer early. Mariano Rivera took the mound to begin the bottom of the eighth against the heart of the Red Sox order.
Manny Ramirez led off with a base hit to left. Ramirez wasn’t exactly known for his speed and Boston had some of their most trusted bats coming up. Imagine if Terry Francona had picked this as the moment to bring in Roberts as a pinch-runner. Getting a runner on base against Rivera in the postseason was rare and the manager couldn’t have known they would get another chance. Patience paid off. David Ortiz struck out and RIvera carved up the next two batters with his deadly cutter to induce a pair of ground outs. The speedy Roberts would have gone to waste in that inning.
It’s not often that a team will lean on their closer for more than two innings since their arms are accustomed to shorter stints and they might be needed again in a save situation the next day. The stakes were too high to take Foulke out in the ninth inning so the closer trotted out to the mound one more time.
Derek Jeter drew a leadoff walk – the third consecutive inning that the Yankees had led off with a free pass. Once again, Foulke was able to escape without that runner doing any damage. A shallow pop fly, a lineout to left and a strikeout wrapped up the day for Foulke.
His final line for the day was 2 2/3 scoreless innings without allowing a hit. He walked a pair and struck out three on a staggering 50 pitches – easily the most he had thrown in a single appearance that year.
You know what happened next. Rivera walked Kevin Millar to begin the ninth and in came Roberts for his infamous steal. Bill Mueller‘s base hit up the middle tied the game and the Red Sox would go on to win Game 4 on a walk-off homer by Ortiz in the 12th inning.
Foulke didn’t finish the game and he was never put in a save situation but by preventing the Yankees from tacking on to their lead for nearly three innings he saved the postseason for Boston. They never make it to extra innings if they were trailing by more than one run in the ninth and their season would have ended that night. The Red Sox asked more of him than any typical closer and Foulke delivered.
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While Game 4 of the ALCS was his most heroic effort, delivering in big moments and being leaned on heavily were two themes that followed Foulke throughout that postseason run.
Foulke was called on in the final two games of Boston’s three-game sweep of the Angeles in the ALDS, recording more than three outs both times. That includes a 37-pitch effort in the decisive Game 3 which the Red Sox won in extra-innings on a walk-off home run by Ortiz after Foulke had left the game.
It’s a good thing the Red Sox had a few days off before the next series began because they would give their closer a heavy workload in the ALCS. Foulke pitched in five of the seven games against the Yankees, only one of which was a classic save situation. You would think he earned himself some time off after throwing 50 pitches in Game 4 but he ended up tossing 50 more over the next two nights. That’s 100 pitches in three days! No rest for the weary.
Boston swept the St. Louis Cardinals in the World Series and Foulke pitched in all four games, notching a win in Game 1 and a save in Game 4.
Foulke’s stellar postseason run concluded with a 0.64 ERA and 19 strikeouts in 14 innings over 11 appearances.
The only run he allowed in the playoffs that year was a solo home run in the ninth inning of Game 3 of the World Series. Boston led by four at the time and Foulke put away the next two batters to seal the win.
A chopper back to the mound was fielded by Foulke, who tossed over to first base to record the final out of the World Series. Red Sox players flooded the field to celebrate their championship glory and their closer was front and center for that iconic moment when the curse was officially reversed.
Foulke’s career went off the rails after that championship run. Perhaps the heavy workload finally caught up with him. He battled knee injuries while posting a brutal 5.91 ERA in 2005 and lost his closer role to Jonathan Papelbon the following year before leaving town. Foulke lasted only one more season in the majors, pitching for the Oakland A’s in 2008 after taking a year off.
He put it all on the line by giving it everything he had and it paid off with a World Series ring. There were many heroes on that ’04 Red Sox team and Foulke earned himself a spot among them with a dominant postseason.