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Eight Years ago the Boston Red Sox wiped away 86 years of pain

The Red Sox hosted the St. Louis Cardinals for the first two games of the 2004 World Series, because the American League team had won the All-Star Game in July. The Sox had come back from Yankee Stadium, giddy over winning four games in a row over New York to take the A. L. pennant. They had momentum on their side. But the Cardinals weren’t going to be any pushover. They’d had the best record of any team in all of baseball: 105-75, finishing 13 games ahead of the second-place Houston Astros –who were so strong they won the Wild Card.

The Cards had fairly easily set aside the Dodgers in the Division Series, with scores of 8-3, 8-3, and 6-2, around the one game they lost, a 4-0 shutout. In the NLCS, they prevailed in a hard-fought series against the Astros – and they’d been down three games to two. It took them 12 innings to win Game Six, and they were down 2-0 in Game Seven before rallying to win. It was the firm time St. Louis had won the pennant since 1987. So they were in fighting form. The main thing they lacked was a big one – the loss of pitcher Chris Carpenter. He’d had to end his season in September with a nerve problem in his right biceps. He’d been 15-5, with a 3.46 ERA, probably the best pitcher on their staff. No starter had a lower ERA and only Jeff Suppan won more games (16-9, 4.16).

The Red Sox started knuckleballer Tim Wakefield in Game One. He let in a run in the second on a sacrifice fly, another run in the third when Larry Walker hit a homer. And he walked the bases loaded in the top of the fourth with nobody out. A sacrifice fly brought in one, a fourth run scoring on a throwing error, and then a fifth run came in on a groundout. When he walked the next batter, Terry Francona asked for the game ball and handed it to Bronson Arroyo, in from the bullpen. The five runs would have been truly bad news, except that Woody Williams of the Cardinals had already allowed seven Red Sox runs to score. Johnny Damon had doubled to lead off the bottom of the Boston first. Then Williams hit Orlando Cabrera – and had to face Manny Ramirez. He got Manny on a fly ball, but then it was David Ortiz at the plate, and Ortiz – the hero on offense of the ALCS – homered for three runs. Another run came in later. In the bottom of the third, alternating walks and singles, the second single making it 5-1, Red Sox, were all Tony LaRussa needed to see. Williams’ night was over. Dan Haren came on. A single drove in one, and a groundout drove in another.

After So Taguchi singled in the top of the sixth, back-to-back doubles by Edgar Renteria and Larry Walker tied the game, 7-7. Boston took a 9-7 lead in the bottom of the seventh, when Ramirez and Ortiz both singled after two bases on balls, but St. Louis promptly came back with two runs to re-tie the score in the top of the eighth. The sixth pitcher for St. Louis, Julian Tavarez, saw Varitek reach base on a Renteria error, and then saw Mark Bellhorn launch one toward right field. Would it be foul or fair? It struck the Pesky Pole, for a home run. And Keith Foulke allowed a double, but no more, in the bottom of the ninth.

Game Two featured the return of Curt Schilling. As in the ALCS, surgeons had prepared him for the game with an operation to secure a tendon in his ankle so that he could pitch. And pitch he did. Six innings of ball, with only one run – an unearned run that permitted Albert Pujols to score from third base. The Red Sox put up two runs in the bottom of the first off Matt Morris, who had walked Ramirez and Ortiz and then seen Varitek triple. The Red Sox response to the run Pujols scored was to put two more up on the board on a double by Bellhorn scoring Millar and Mueller. And Cabrera singled in two more in the sixth. St. Louis got another run, later on, but it wasn’t enough. The final was 6-2.

In Busch Stadium for Game Three, Jeff Suppan saw Manny Ramirez launch one in the first inning, giving the Red Sox an early lead. Pedro Martinez pitched seven innings for the Sox, allowing just three hits and setting down the last 14 batters in a row. Cardinals batters didn’t get a ball out of the infield in innings five, six, and seven. The only time he’d been in trouble was in the bottom of the third, when Suppan hit an infield single to lead off and then moved to third when Renteria doubled. An infield grounder (4-3) should have scored Suppan but he hesitated – and an alert David Ortiz fired the ball across the diamond from first to third and caught Suppan in between third and home for an unconventional double play.

Red Sox had meanwhile added a run in the third when Mueller doubled and Nixon singled. Four hits in the top of the fifth gave the Red Sox a 4-0 lead. The Cards’ Larry Walker hit a solo home run in the bottom of the ninth. The Red Sox took the game, 4-1. And the Cardinals faced the same challenge the Red Sox had faced in the ALCS – they’d have to come back from a three-games-to-none deficit to win the World Series. Only one team had ever done that, and it was the 2004 Red Sox. Baseball historians had firmly in mind that the Cardinals had been the team to wreak Game Seven wins against the Red Sox in the 1946 World Series and again in the 1967 World Series. It looked as though the Red Sox might finally come out on top. Short a miracle.

Derek Lowe had won the deciding game of the Division Series, and he’d won the deciding game of the Championship Series. Now he had the opportunity to make it a trifecta and win the deciding game of the 2004 World Series. If that miracle didn’t occur. There was a full moon.

The Red Sox scored one run in the top of the first. On a 2-1 count, Johnny Damon made a statement and hit a home run off St. Louis starter Jason Marquis. In the top of the third, Manny singled and Big Papi doubled, and then Trot Nixon doubled to drive them both home. There wasn’t any more scoring in the game. It was a 3-0 Red Sox win, and after 86 years the Red Sox were finally champions of the world once more. It was the first time since 1918 and it truly did seem that a curse had been lifted.

Even with the score 3-0, and nothing happening, there was suspense at the end. Lowe had only allowed three hits and one walk. Neither Arroyo nor Embree had allowed a hit in the eighth. But Pujols singled right through Keith Foulke’s legs to lead off the bottom of the ninth. Scott Rolen flied out to right field, and Foulke struck out Jim Edmonds. With Renteria at bat, a man on first and two outs, Pujols took second on defensive indifference. On a 1-0 count, Renteria hit one right back to Foulke, who snared it and then threw it to Doug Mientkiewicz at first base. Time stopped for Red Sox fans. Why didn’t Foulke just run it over and make the play, instead of throwing it when an error could occur? If he’d started to run, might he have tripped, and seen Pujols score while Renteria reached second as the ball dribbled free, putting the tying run at bat? Red Sox fans were used to everything going wrong at the last possible moment. Remembering 1946 and 1967 and 1972 and 1975 and 1978 and 1986 and even just the year before, 2003.

Nothing bad happened. The flip worked fine. The out was recorded. The Red Sox won the World Series. And the St. Louis fans showed the greatest of class, congratulating the Sox fans present at Busch Stadium - sincerely so. The Cards didn’t have too long to wait. After the White Sox got their turn to win a long-awaited World Series in 2005, the Cardinals won it in 2006.

In Boston, something like 3,000,000 people – about quadruple the population of the city itself – came out to cheer the Red Sox celebratory parade.

 

By The Baseball Page
Saturday, 27 Oct 2012

 

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