2004 American League Championship Series - History takes a turn.
The Yankees did beat the Red Sox by three games in the final standings, but the Sox won the wild card and now were set for another run at the Yankees, after the seven-game ALCS in 2003 went into extra innings of Game Seven to resolve. This the Sox hoped for a reversal. They’d beaten New York 11-8 in the regular season, so they knew it could be done even if they’d fallen short in the ALCS in both 1999 and 2003.
It was Schilling vs. Mussina at the Stadium in Game One. But something was wrong with Schilling, seen limping from the start. He gave up two runs in the first and four more in the third. Manager Terry Francona, in his first year with the Red Sox, had to take Schilling out. Curtis Leskanic came in to pitch, and before it was over the Red Sox used seven pitchers, partly so as not to overly tire any one of them. It was 8-0 after six, when Tim Wakefield had given up a pair of runs, too. Boston finally found Mussina, and he gave up four runs in the top of the seventh, the fourth being a runner that Tanyon Sturtze inherited just before he surrendered a two-run homer to Jason Varitek. Now it was 8-5, Yanks. And then 8-7, when David Ortiz tripled in two more in the top of the eighth. But it wasn’t mean to be their game, and New York scored two more in the bottom of the eighth. More worrisome than losing one game on the road was the fear that they’d lost Schilling.
Game Two seemed to offer some hope for Boston, with Pedro Martinez going against Jon Lieber. But Lieber had been decent (14-8, 4.33), and he pitched a fine game this night. He left the game with a 3-0 lead in the top of the eighth, having given up a single. It was Tom Gordon who then allowed a double and saw the inherited runner score on a groundout. That made it 3-1, the final score. A walk and a steal had set up a run-scoring opportunity that Gary Sheffield cashed in back in the first, and John Olerud hit a two-run homer in the bottom of the sixth. Those were the three runs New York had scored.
Now it was Fenway Park for at least two games, and – if need be – three. The need for a fifth game looked in doubt, though, after the Yankees dismantled the Red Sox and demoralized Red Sox fandom. Neither starter recorded an out after the second inning, Kevin Brown for New York and Bronson Arroyo for Boston. A walk and an A-Rod double scored one, and Hideki Matsui’s homer gave the Yankees a 3-0 lead before the Red Sox got up to bat. In the bottom of the second, though, the Red Sox actually took a 4-3 lead and pretty much bounced Brown. There was a two-run homer by Trot Nixon, and Johnny Damon drove in a run on a single. An error off a Manny ball hit to shortstop provide the fourth. After a leadoff homer by A-Rod, Arroyo put the next two men on, too, and Ramiro Mendoza relieved. He let in another run on a hit, and then balked one in. Orlando Cabrera doubled in two runs to tie it 6-6 in the bottom of the third. The Yankees blew it open in the fourth, a three-run homer off Curtis Leskanic by Gary Sheffield and a two-run triple by Ruben Sierra gave New York an 11-6 lead. Two doubles in the fifth produced two more runs, and in the seventh they got four more. Matsui hit another homer, too, and by the time the game was over, there were few people left in the stands and the Red Sox had dropped the first three games, this one by 19-8. After all these years, the Yankees still had the Red Sox’ number. Despondency and despair hit Red Sox Nation. No team had ever come back from an 0-3 deficit in a championship series. No team, ever.
Red Sox fandom was as demoralized as could be, anticipating yet another year of mocking by Yankees fans with their “19-18” chant, reminding long-suffering Red Sox fans of the last time the Red Sox had won a World Series. The Red Sox team, however, was not demoralized. Francona successfully instilled in them that each game is separate, and all they had to do this night was to win Game Four. And the Red Sox believed in themselves. “Don’t let us win tonight,” said Kevin Millar. “Don’t let us win tonight.”
Winning Game Four wasn’t easy at all. Derek Lowe started and when Jeter singled and A-Rod homered in the third inning, fatalism infected even more fans. When Orlando Cabrera singled in a run off Orlando Hernandez, that was nice, and two batters later David Ortiz singled in two more. The Sox actually had a lead, 3-2. Lowe gave up a triple in the top of the sixth, and Mike Timlin was brought on in relief. The Yankees scored twice, to take the lead back. And they still held the slim lead in the bottom of the ninth. Millar walked. Dave Roberts was put in to pinch-run and – as everyone knew – try to steal second. He did – just barely. And Bill Mueller singled Roberts home. The score was tied. And there was still nobody out. Mariano Rivera had blown a save. With one out, Mueller got to third after a sacrifice and an error. Rivera loaded the bases – and got out of it. The Yankees loaded the bases in the top of the 11th, but they couldn’t score. In the bottom of the 12th, after midnight, with Paul Quantrill on in relief, Manny Ramirez singled and David Ortiz homered. It was an exciting moment for Red Sox fans. A reprieve. But still, it was just one win. Maybe salvaged a little pride. They wouldn’t get swept. But no team had ever come back from an 0-3 deficit in a championship series.
Game Five started at 5:11 PM and had Pedro Martinez on the mound for Boston. He got through the first, but Yankees starter Mussina was touched for two runs, the second one on a bases-loaded walk. First Yankee up in the second, Bernie Williams, homered. It was still 2-1 after five innings. In the sixth, though, Jeter hit a bases-clearing triple giving New York a 4-2 lead. In the bottom of the eight, Ortiz homered and – again – Millar walked and Roberts went in to run for him. There was no steal, but Nixon singled and sent Roberts to third base with nobody out. Mariano Rivera came in and blew another save, when Tek hit a sac fly. The game went into extra innings, and lasted even longer than Game Four – into the 14th inning. Esteban Loiaza was pitching for New York. A strikeout and a walk, another strikeout and another walk left a man on second with two outs. And David Ortiz at the plate. Once more, he came through winning the second game on October 18 (Game Four ended after midnight on the 17th and Game Five ended before midnight on the 18th. It was arguably the biggest win in Red Sox history, when considered after the 2004 World Series was over.
The Yankees only had to win one of the next two games, and the venue had shifted back to their home park.
Joe Torre started Jon Lieber for the Yankees, who hit a batter in the first, allowed three consecutive singles in the second, and a leadoff single in the third, but remained unscathed. The Red Sox unexpectedly had Curt Schilling back on the mound. He’d undergone surgery on his right ankle that had temporarily sewn a tendon back into place, allowing to pitch without as much of the pain that had made it impossible before. It was the first time this surgery had been done, and it was later revealed that Dr. Bill Morgan had experimented on a cadaver beforehand – an anonymous benefactor for the Boston Red Sox. Schilling was able – some say heroically – to pitch seven full innings, giving up just four hits and a solo home run to Bernie Williams in the bottom of the seventh. By then, the Red Sox had already built a 4-0 lead. They’d gotten to Lieber in the fourth. A two-out double by Millar and a wild pitch put him on third, and Varitek singled to score him. Cabrera singled, putting two men on, and then Mark Bellhorn hit a ball that landed just into the left-field stands. It was ruled a double – but the umpires conferred and got it right: a three-run homer. The Yankees picked up a second run in the bottom of the eighth.
The pressure was clearly on the Yankees now. To repeat, no team had ever come back from being down three games to none and then won a seven-game playoff series. To be the first team that has folded so badly – especially after the 19-8 shellacking they’d given the Red Sox in Game Three in front of the Fenway fans – and to lose in front of their own fans, well, that would be mortifying. The Red Sox were riding momentum.
The Yankees were forced to start Kevin Brown, who’d been a big ticket free-agent signing before the 2004 season, but had been truly disappointing during the year. He let down the Yankees fans again, right away. Johnny Damon singled to lead off the game. Damon stole second, but Brown struck out Bellhorn. Manny Ramirez singled, but Damon was thrown out at the plate. Things were looking OK, but then Ortiz struck once more – a home run. A single and two walks in the top of the second, and Torre pulled Brown. He put in Javier Vasquez. The Yankees had beaten out the Red Sox in the bidding for Vasquez’s services, but now Vasquez helped the Red Sox, unintentionally. Johnny Damon hit a grand slam. It was only the top of the second and it was already 6-0, Red Sox. The Stadium was stunned. It was really all over. If there were ever such a thing as destiny, this was it, and both teams knew it.
Rather than just concede, the Yankees played on. They did get a run in the third, when Jeter singled in Miguel Cairo. But Damon struck back right away, with another home run, a two-run homer, in the top of the fourth.
In the bottom of the seventh, Pedro Martinez came on in relief of Lowe. And – as in Game Seven of the 2003 ALCS – he started giving up runs. A jolt of fear hit Red Sox fans. Their 8-1 lead became 8-2 on back-to-back leadoff doubles by Matsui and Bernie Williams. Pedro got an out, but then Kenny Lofton singled to drive in Williams. It was 8-3. And then Lofton stole second. Martinez bore down and got out of the inning. In the top of the eighth, Mark Bellhorn hit a home run to make it 9-3, and after Mike Timlin shut down New York 1-2-3, Cabrera restored the seven-run lead on a sacrifice fly.
It was the bottom of the ninth. The Stadium had become half-empty even before the eighth. Clearly, Yankees fans didn’t believe in any last-minute miracle. The Red Sox fans there moved down to the expensive seats, and the only cheers heard were when the Sox did good things. Matsui singled to lead off the bottom of the ninth, and Lofton later walked. A home run at that point – nervous Sox fans calculated, inured as they were to disaster – would make it 10-6… But really it was over. And then it truly was. The Red Sox had come from the depths and battled all the way back from the depths to four wins in a row, and now they were headed to the World Series, feeling as confident in their abilities as a team could.