With Curt Schilling on board, and a Ford advertisement running on TV saying he was coming to Boston to end an 86-year-old curse, the year started after an exceptionally active hot stove season – though some of the moves never came to pass (for instance, the near-signing of A-Rod at the end of 2003, which left Nomar Garciaparra wondering what the Red Sox thought of him). To prove a point to Manny Ramirez, they put him on waivers, but nobody claimed him.
The Red Sox had tried to sign Alex Rodriguez, too, and he wanted to play for Boston. He wanted to play for Boston so badly that he’d been willing to dramatically restructure his contract with the Rangers. In dollar terms, he was willing to take a paycut of $25 million to play for the Red Sox, but it was so huge an amount that the Players Association refused to approve it. The New York Yankees worked out a different deal, one that was more palatable to the MLBPA.
Another key component for a winning team, Keith Foulke had been added to Boston’s bullpen.
The baseball ops office was expanded, and the resulting offseason renovation removed the bowling alley that used to be in Fenway Park’s “basement”.
Nomar was a little scarce in spring training. Though conspiracy theories flourished because no one actually saw it happen, Nomar suffered a serious injury to his right Achilles tendon on March 5, saying he’d been hit by a ball during batting practice. He ultimately needed to go on the DL on March 31 – almost at the last minute, just as in 2001. His first game back was June 9. After the crushing, seemingly-avoidable loss to the Yankees in the 2003 ALCS, the rivalry reached its peak with one pair of tickets to a spring training game between the two teams see on eBay priced at for $500.
The Red Sox reportedly sold 2,400,000 regular-season tickets before the games began. And the most sought-after seats in the house were the newly-installed ones atop the Green Monster.
The Red Sox won six of their first seven meetings against New York, the most dramatic being a 3-2 win on April 24 at Yankee Stadium, when Mark Bellhorn’s sacrifice fly (the third one of the game for Boston) making the difference. Keith Foulke, another important offseason free-agent signing, earned the win in relief. All year long, only one left-hander started a game for the Red Sox – Abe Alvarez (legally blind in one eye) on July 22.
There was a feel-good moment on May 11. When the Red Sox ran onto the field before the game, Manny Ramirez ran to his position waving a small American flag; he’d become a naturalized U.S. citizen the day before. During his first at-bat, the song “Proud To Be an American” played over the PA and Manny received a standing ovation. It wasn’t uncommon for his teammates to play a joke on him, letting him run out to his position in left field while they all held back, and then seeing him realize he was the only one on the field. The Red Sox ended May tied for first place, but from June 1 on never budged out of second place.
Manny hit a two-run home run in the All-Star Game off Roger Clemens, now an Astro. Later in the game, Big Papi (David Ortiz) hit one off former Sox prospect Carl Pavano, who’d figured in the Pedro trade with the Expos.
July 24 was the game which may have begun to cement the spirit that kept them in contention all year long. The Yankees were in Boston, and after a Bronson Arroyo pitch hit A-Rod, there was some jostling with Jason Varitek, whose glove ended up shoved into A-Rod’s face. Benches emptied and punches were thrown, and – after 23 consecutive saves – reliever Mariano Rivera gave up a game-winning three-run homer to Bill Mueller in the bottom of the ninth.
Seven days later, at the trading deadline, as part of a complicated four-team trade, Boston icon Nomar Garciaparra wound up on the Cubs, and the Red Sox added Orlando Cabrera at short and Doug Mientkiewicz for backup at first. Theo Epstein also traded a minor-leaguer to the Dodgers for Dave Roberts.
It was never a lock that the Sox would make the postseason again. As late as August 15, they were a full 10 ½ games behind the Yankees in the AL East – and tied with Texas in the putative wild card standings. The team caught fire the next day and won 16 of 17, part of a 20-2 run, creeping to within 2 ½ games of first place and way out in front for the wild card. It was a team that played with abandon, led by free spirits like Manny, Kevin Millar, and Johnny Damon – who dubbed himself and his team “a bunch of idiots”. At season’s end, Ortiz (41) and Manny Ramirez (43) each had more than 40 homers, more than 100 RBIs (Papi was 139 to Manny’s 130), and averages over .300. Only Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig combined on stats like those - 73 years earlier.
Schilling was 21-6, with a 3.26 ERA. Pedro won 16, Derek Lowe won 14, Tim Wakefield 12, and Arroyo 10. Foulke saved 32 games, with a 2.17 ERA. Mike Timlin was a superb setup man, appearing in 76 games. And now the Red Sox had another run at the postseason and the chance to make up for the frustrating and seemingly-avoidable loss in 2003. This ongoing talk of a “curse” was such a hook the media couldn’t leave it alone. It was becoming insufferable.By Bill Nowlin
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- Abe Alvarez, Alex Rodriguez, Bronson Arroyo, Carl Pavano, Curt Schilling, Dave Roberts, David Ortiz, Derek Lowe, Doug Mientkiewicz, Jason Varitek, Johnny Damon, Keith Foulke, Manny Ramirez, Mariano Rivera, Mark Bellhorn, Mike Timlin, Nomar Garciaparra, Orlando Cabrera, Pedro Martinez, Roger Clemens, Tim Wakefield