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Remembering the 2004 Red Sox Season

courtesy of foxsports.com

Playoff baseball is a personal favorite of mine.  I have so many fond memories of watching my favorite baseball team, the Boston Red Sox, during their playoff runs.   Even the bad memories are worth remembering.  For instance in 2003, the Sox lost to the Yankees in the ALCS.  Tim Wakefield served up a knuckleball to Aaron Boone that looked more like a meatball and he blasted it into the leftfield stands for a walk off home run.  My team lost and I didn’t want to go to school because I had talked so much trash about the Yankees.  I faked being sick and thankfully my mom didn’t force me to go to school.  Sorry Mom.  With this Sox team getting ready to embark on their latest playoff run, let me tell you about how I remember the 2004 Red Sox season.  A season Sox fans will never ever forget. 

The year is 2004, and I’m a sophomore in high school.  Boston’s baseball franchise hadn’t won a World Series in 86 years.  Theo Epstein was the team’s General Manger and he was looking to end the drought.  Side bar, Theo is the greatest executive in the history of sports.  At least he is in my opinion.  That season would have been memorable in July whether they won or not.  During the season the Red Sox traded away Sox icon Nomar Garciaparra.  I recall being asked if I thought the team had a chance after they shipped “Nomah” out.  And I know this may sound bogus but I did say “YES!”  All these years later I don’t know if I actually believed that but it is fun to mention.  They did have a good team but back in 2004 calling for a Red Sox title made you a Boston homer or crazy…or both.

There is no question that this roster had a bunch of talent on it.  Anchored by arguably the most dangerous duo in baseball history, David Ortiz and Manny Ramirez, this lineup had major pop.  Both hitters crushed over 30 homers and drove in over 100 RBI’s the year before.  So fans were already expecting big things from this pair.  Guys like Johnny Damon, Kevin Millar and Jason Varitek surrounded their big mashers.  Boston’s lineup was strong due to their killer 3-4 hitters but don’t get me wrong they had good hitters up and down the lineup.  Well their starting rotation was very similar.  Much like Ortiz and Ramirez, their staff was built around their two aces.  Curt Schilling and Pedro Martinez was an elite combo at the top of their staff.  And just like the current Sox team they had a shutdown closer in Keith Foulke.   I can remember being very excited for the 2004 season.  When you look back on this group of “idiots” you can see why that season seemed special from the start. 

During the regular season this Red Sox team had their ups and their downs.  I would say that they endured more positive moments than negative.  Throughout the beginning of the season the Sox struggled due to some injuries and their defense was subpar.  At one point, they would fall behind the rival Yankees by 8 games.  Boston was good but they still seemed haunted from the Aaron “F’in” Boone walk off home run.  As a fan of the Sox I wanted nothing more than to see them avenge the playoff lose from the year prior.  But before that could happen, this team was able to deliver a haymaker in July. 

The rivalry is always hyped when these division foes face off but in this particular game fans were able to witness fireworks.  On that July afternoon, the fireworks came in the form of a brawl.  It was the third inning and the Yankees were out to a 3-0 lead.  Alex Rodriguez was at the plate and Bronson Arroyo was on the mound.  The count was 1 ball and 1 strike and with the next pitch Arroyo plunked Rodriguez on the elbow.  As you can imagine, A Rod was not too happy so he had some choice words.  Jason Varitek was catching and as a catcher you always have to protect your pitcher.  So Tek approached Rodriguez and mushed his catcher’s mitt and his right hand directly into A Rod’s face.  At the time I was playing catcher for my high school team so I was a fan of Varitek and him standing up for his teammate.  I can remember watching on that Saturday and absolutely losing it when Tek lifted him off of the ground.  I still kind of wish he would have given A Rod a German suplex.  That would have been crazy.  Even though Tek never actually slammed Rodriguez, the Red Sox absolutely slammed the Yankees.  Trailing in the bottom of the 9th, Boston scored 3 times capped off by a Bill Mueller walk off home run.  Bill Mueller was a solid hitter and I think he was better than people remember.  But back to the game, Mueller hit that homer off of the best closer of all time Mariano Rivera.  Varitek standing up for his teammate was a launching point for a group of self proclaimed idiots to have the confidence to stand up to the Yankees.  They definitely won the battle and in 2004 they would end up winning the war.

courtesy of boston.com

After that notorious game, Boston would go on to win 40 out of their 65 final games.  Ultimately they would never catch the Yankees in the standings but after a few mid season acquisitions, Orlando Cabrera, Dave Roberts, and Doug Mientkiewicz, they would play solid baseball down the stretch and finish in second place.  That was only 3 games behind the New York Yankees.  Boston would go on to win 98 games which is nothing to scoff at. 

On came the American League Divisional Series and the Red Sox would take on the Anaheim Angels.  It wasn’t the most epic series of all time but there was some excitement in game 3.  Boston won both games in California fairly easily.  Game 3 was in Boston and seemed like it would be another quick victory but Vladimir Guerrero hit a late grand slam to tie the ball game.  I remember this like it was yesterday.  I was working at a local Shaw’s grocery store.  Our break room had a TV and once that game was on I must have taken 25 breaks.  I kept running upstairs to watch the game.  In the seventh inning a coworker approached me and gave me the news of Vladdy G’s grand slam.  Work wasn’t as fun after that.  When my shift came to an end I got into my old Saturn stick shift and listened to the game on the radio.  Personally, I love listening to baseball games on the radio.  Did I mention that I’m 78...just kidding.  It was the tenth inning and David Ortiz came up to the plate.  The pitcher was Jarrod Washburn and Ortiz took him deep.  Big Papi crushed a clutch home run over the Green Monster.   If anyone drove alongside my car when that was happening, would have seen me cheering like a crazy person.  I wouldn’t have blamed them if they pulled over to avoid my completely unsafe celebration.  Locking up that series meant one thing…a REMATCH with the New York Yankees!

Games 1, 2, and 3 were some of the worst baseball games I have ever watched, especially Game 3.  The Yankees would destroy the Red Sox in that game by a score of 19-8.  I think all the evil Yankees hit home runs that night.  I was at a friend’s house tuning into the game and I immediately left when the game concluded.  It was not possible to have anything that resembled fun after that butt whooping.  What I say next is going to sound like a flat out lie but I promise it is true.  I was walking around the halls of my high school the day of Game 4 and overheard two people talking about how their mom’s psychic says the Red Sox would win the next four games.  At the time I thought it was utter nonsense but I kid you not, I heard that at school.  That night, Game 4 was looking like it wasn’t going to get any better for Boston.  They found themselves down a run in the bottom of the ninth inning and I won’t lie, I thought the season was over.  I was watching completely saddened by the playoff series that I hoped would bring revenge but instead was on the verge of ending with a Yankees sweep.   What came next was simply amazing.  With Rivera on the mound, Kevin Millar drew a walk, then Dave Roberts entered the game to pinch run.  Everyone in the world knew he was going to attempt to steal second base.  So when he successfully stole the bag the crowd went wild. Roberts eventually scored on another Bill Mueller clutch hit off of Rivera.  This time it was a gorgeous single up the middle.  The game would remain tied until the twelth inning.  And in dramatic fashion David Ortiz ended the game with a walk off home run.  It was late but I stayed up to watch that incredible moment.  I was home so there isn’t really an interesting story to go along with Game 4.  The next game was actually very similar.  The Sox would find themselves down late in the game only to tie it and win with another Papi walk off hit.  Ortiz seemed to carry this team from death’s door all the way back to New York for Game 6.  If you are a Sox fan then you know that game as the “bloody sock game.”  Curt Schilling returned to the mound after getting his ankle repaired.  He would pitch with a red blood stain on his sock.  What a performance from Schilling, he would go on to pitch 7 innings and only gave up 1 run.  It was night that will forever be part of Red Sox lore.  Boston took Game 6 and used that momentum to win Game 7 pretty easily.  Highlighted by 2 Johnny Damon home runs, including a grand slam, the Red Sox completed the greatest comeback in sports history.  No team had ever come back from being down 3 games to zero in a series in any sport.  Boston moved on and would take on the St. Louis Cardinals in the World Series.  It was the first time Boston made it the Fall Classic in my lifetime. 

My memories of the World Series were all positive.  The Red Sox would sweep the series 4-0.  No game every really produced the nerve racking moments like the prior series.  Keith Foulke closed out Game 4 in dominate fashion much like he did the entire post season.  Immediately after the game ended I remember calling my dad to celebrate the season and we both were beyond excited.  I was only in high school but my dad had lived over 40 years without seeing a World Series Championship.  Sox fans everywhere let out a roar of celebration 86 years in the making.  People flooded the streets in the city of Boston and all around Massachusetts.   I remember hearing horns and cheering late into the night.  Fans could have been over 80 years old and never saw their favorite team win.  That fall night in 2004 was nothing short of shocking in the best way possible.  Generations of Sox fans were finally about to witness a World Series title.   2004 was one magical season for Boston’s professional baseball team.  Nothing will ever compare to that first championship but you can bet the house I will be rooting for another one this post season.  CAN’T WAIT FOR GAME ONE!!!

Follow me on Twitter @Matty_wests1de

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