2004 World Series
The 2004 Major League post-season witnessed perhaps the greatest comeback in the history of professional baseball. Down three-games-to-none in the American League Championship Series, baseball's perennial "bridesmaids", otherwise known as the Boston Red Sox, stood three outs from elimination courtesy of their hated rivals, the New York Yankees. With the game's greatest post-season closer on the mound, Mariano Rivera, Boston miraculously rose to the occasion to win the final four games and become the first team ever to comeback from a three-games-to-none deficit to take the league title. It had been one-hundred years since the Red Sox had last won a pennant in New York with a 3-2 victory in a doubleheader opener at Hilltop Park in 1904. For decades, New York had repeatedly dashed the hopes and dreams of the Red Sox faithful and many considered their so-called "rivalry" to be a "one-sided" affair. In 1949, the Yankees overcame Boston by winning the final two games of the 1949 season at Yankee Stadium. They also won a historic one-game playoff for the American League East in 1978 behind Bucky Dent's three-run homer at Fenway Park. More recently, Aaron Boone had hit an eleventh-inning home run to win Game 7 of the 2003 ALCS for the newly christened "Evil Empire."
Adding to the historic backdrop and impending drama were two epic Boston wins in extra-innings, as well as a clutch performance by newly-acquired pitcher Curt Schilling, who essentially started two games on one ankle. In retrospect, the spectators (on both sides) deserve credit as well. Throughout the entire series Red Sox fans were often shown praying and holding up signs that said "We Believe", "Manny-fest Destiny" and "Please God - Don't Let Us Get Swept By The Yankees." In the Bronx, the Bleacher Creatures responded with deafening chants of "Who's Your Daddy" (referring to an embarrassing post-game comment made by Pedro Martinez) while holding up signs of their own depicting Babe Ruth's face, with "1918" and "The Curse Lives On".
After what many considered to be the most intense week of baseball ever witnessed, the Red Sox persevered four games to three, granting them a ticket to their first World Series since 1986 and possibly their first Championship title in eighty-six years.
Unfortunately, due to the magnitude of the American League contest, the National League version, which was equally compelling, took a far back seat in the ratings. The St. Louis Cardinals boasted the top offensive stats in the National League during the regular season as well as the game's most expensive player, Albert Pujols, who had signed a franchise record $100 million, seven-year contract earlier in the year. In Houston, the biggest story of the Astros' season was the return of "hometown hero" Roger Clemens. After enjoying a brief, seventy-eight day retirement, Clemens returned to pitch with friend and former teammate Andy Pettitte on their hometown team. For more than a year, "The Rocket" had insisted that 2003 would be his final season, but all bets were off after the Yankees lost the World Series and Pettitte left New York. Remarkably, the forty year-old, six-time Cy Young winner, returned better than ever becoming a Cy Young candidate en route to the National League Championship Series.
Like their American League counterparts, both teams went head-to-head for a seven game classic in which the Redbirds managed to emerge victorious. Most amazingly was the fact that heading into the decisive Game 7, both teams had exactly the same batting average at .246, the same number of runs scored at twenty-nine apiece and the exact same ERA at 4.80. In the end, the Card's clutch, 5-2 win brought the World Series back to St. Louis for the first time since 1987.
Going into the Fall Classic neither team stood out as a statistical favorite. Both had put up the best offensive numbers in their respective leagues (Boston: nine-hundred forty-nine runs, St. Louis: eight-hundred forty-five runs) and featured a strong line-up, inspired pitching staff and dependable bullpen.
Game 1 opened at Fenway Park as the euphoric "Red Sox Nation" cautiously waited the fall of the dreaded "Curse of the Bambino" (an eighty-plus year-old superstition based on the infamous trade of Babe Ruth to the New York Yankees following the 1919 season). As expected, the two highest-scoring teams in the Major Leagues combined for the highest-scoring Game 1 in World Series history as the Red Sox edged the Cardinals, 11-9. The twenty runs scored were two more than the previous record holders; New York Yankees (12) and Chicago Cubs (6) had scored on September 28, 1932 and there were also a remarkable fourteen walks and five errors. The opener presented the first Fall Classic duel between these two teams since 1967, when the Cardinals won in seven games. Time had definitely changed though, as there were twenty-one total runs scored in the first four games of that series by both teams combined.
The second outing also went in Boston's favor (6-2) as starter Curt Schilling continued to add to his mythical post-season performance. Many fans stated that what he accomplished in Game 2 of the World Series belonged in a special class and was the kind of story that would be told (and retold) for generations to come. Originally slated to be unavailable in the American League Championship Series (due to a serious ankle injury) the thirty-seven year-old right-hander compromised his own career by electing to "go" after receiving both shots and sutures. With blood staining his right stocking, Schilling tossed an unbelievable masterpiece against the Yankees. The following week, he repeated the effort in Game 2 and left after pitching six innings of one-run, four-hit ball. Before the game, The Associated Press reported that Boston team physician Bill Morgan said the procedure to stitch Schilling's torn tendon to the ankle might be too dangerous to repeat a third time. Regardless of no chance at a "hat-trick", the two outings Schilling had given his team quickly became inscribed in the books of Boston's ever-growing folklore.
Game 3 shifted the series to Busch Stadium, but unfortunately for Cardinals fans, so shifted the momentum of the Red Sox as they crept closer and closer to a sweep with a 4-1 road-win. Boston ace Pedro Martinez faced pitcher Jeff Suppan for what was originally billed as a "pitchers duel." The three-time Cy Young Award winner responded with his most dominant performance of the postseason. On the day after his thirty-third birthday, Martinez shut down the usually prolific offense of the Cardinals, holding them to three hits over his seven shutout innings, striking out six and retiring the last fourteen batters he faced. In doing so, the Sox came just two outs shy of notching their first World Series shutout since Bruce Hurst and Calvin Schiraldi had combined in Game 1 against the Mets in 1986. It was also Boston's seventh win in a row and put them twenty-seven outs from total vindication.
Down three-games-to-none, St. Louis received widespread criticism for not playing "fundamental baseball" in key situations. The Cards showed promise going against Martinez in the bottom of the first, loading the bases with one out. But on a shallow fly out to left by Jim Edmonds, Larry Walker surprisingly tried to score. He was tagged out by catcher Jason Varitek, who easily handled an accurate one-hopper. In the third inning, St. Louis had another golden opportunity after Suppan got things going with a single down the third-base line. Edgar Renteria followed with a double to right, but the Cardinals stung themselves again with shoddy base running. A grounder to second by Walker should have scored Suppan. However, Mark Bellhorn methodically fielded the ball and eased the throw to first, essentially giving away the run for the sure out. A confused Suppan somehow got hung up on the third-base line as first baseman David Ortiz (playing defense for just the second time since July 22) alertly fired a laser to third baseman Mueller, who tagged Suppan out.
Now just with one win to go, the buzz about the New England area (as well as the rest of the country) continued to rise to monstrous proportions. One quote by sports writer Mike Bauman from Baseball Perspective summed up the miraculous rebirth of the Boston mystique. He wrote: Victory over the Yanks has changed the equation. And it has changed the emotion, from frustration and perennial disappointment to buoyant anticipation and optimism. For the first time in decades, the Fenway Faithful felt real promise as the Cardinals fell further and further away from bringing the title back to "America's greatest baseball town."
Game 4 started with a bang as Boston's Johnny Damon led-off with a homerun courtesy of Cardinals' starter Jason Marquis. Derek Lowe took the mound for the Red Sox pitching a seven-inning masterpiece with three hits, one walk and four strikeouts. It was Lowe who had come up huge in two critical playoff games in the American League Championship Series. Despite having a terrible September, the right-hander rose to the occasion and redeemed himself with a magnificent start in New York for the deciding Game 7. In retrospect, he was only given the opportunity for these masterful performances (ALCS 4 and 7, and WS 4) due to the disruption of Boston's starting rotation resulting in manager Terry Francona relying on would-be starter Tim Wakefield for several innings of relief in Games 1 and 3. Things continued to favor Boston in the third when Trot Nixon stepped in (with the bases loaded and two outs) and came out swinging on a 3-0 pitch, clocking a two-run double off the wall in right-center, putting the Sox ahead by three runs. And that was it. For the next six innings both teams left multiple base runners stranded as neither was able to add to the scoreboard.
St. Louis came close in the fifth after Edgar Renteria tagged a double to left-center and moved to third on a wild pitch with just one out. Lowe however managed to regain his composure striking out John Mabry and getting Yadier Molina on a grounder to short. In the eighth, Boston loaded the bases, but Cardinals' closer Jason Isringhausen ended the inning, giving the offense a chance to rally back. Unfortunately, baseball's most winningest team in 2004 (one-hundred five regular season victories) was unable to generate any offense as Boston relievers Bronson Arroyo and Alan Embree combined with closer Keith Foulke to finish the job for the 3-0 win. In the end, the Red Sox pitching staff was masterful in the final three games of the series, holding St. Louis' line-up to three runs over twenty-seven innings.
And with that the entire culture of the Boston Red Sox changed as the self-proclaimed "idiots" franchise won its sixth World Series championship, but first since 1918. Finally the so-called "curse" had been broken after breaking so many hearts generation after generation. As the team mobbed each other at home plate, loyal members of the Red Sox Nation from Boston to Baghdad raced into the streets in jubilant celebration. General Manager prodigy Theo Epstein, the pride of Brookline, Massachusetts (who built the team at the age of thirty) summed up the historic significance of the victory by stating, "This is what we've all been waiting for. We can die happy. I just hope everyone out there who has been rooting for the Red Sox the last eighty-six years is enjoying this as much as we are. We're coming home to see you soon."
On the other side, Cardinals' skipper Tony La Russa echoed the obvious disappointment in both himself and his players. Not only had the team who scored the most runs and allowed the fewest in the National League been swept, but they were also shutout in the process. In addition, the win for Boston was sweetened, as it had been the St. Louis Cardinals who previously shattered the Red Sox dreams of a championship title in both the 1946 and 1967 World Series.
The date: October 27th, 2004, a day that will live on throughout history and a day that Boston, "The Babe," and other ghosts of the past could finally rest in peace.