In retrospect, ALCS turned with Red Sox's Game 4 rally off Rivera
Posted: Thursday October 21, 2004 2:30PM; Updated: Thursday October 21, 2004 2:30PM
NEW YORK -- For years to come, the tired, the poor, the down-and-out and the backs-to-the-wall will look to the American League Championship Series of 2004 for inspiration. And these words will be spoken:
"If the Red Sox could do it ..."
It's amazing what a little comeback can do for a club's reputation. Before the 2004 ALCS, the Red Sox were cursed. They were chokers. They were inept bumblers, lumped in with the pathetic Cubs as charter members of baseball's Loser's Club.
Now, after their rising in the ALCS, the Sox are going to their first World Series since 1986 with a chance to win their first title since 1918. They are examples. The Red Sox are -- get this -- baseball role models.
On Oct. 16, the hated Yankees beat the Sox in Game 3 of the ALCS, 19-8, in the longest nine-inning game in postseason history. It went four hours and 20 minutes, and it couldn't have been more painful. The loss was the third in three games for the Sox. No team had ever rebounded from there to win a best-of-seven postseason series.
How the Sox managed it is a lesson for the down-and-out everywhere ...
Dave Roberts' steal in the ninth inning set up the game-tying run against Mariano Rivera.
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After that Game 3 marathon, everyone was tired. Many bleary-eyed fans in Boston expected the Sox to roll over. On Yawkey Way, outside of Fenway Park, a Yankee fan with a broom went practically unaccosted just hours before the game.
But Boston manager Terry Francona had a plan that he started formulating during the Game 3 debacle. While the Red Sox were getting their brains beaten in, Francona offered up 40-year-old veteran knuckleballer Tim Wakefield as sacrificial fodder, having him go 3 1/3 innings and 64 pitches against the free-swinging Yanks. That kept at least a couple of pitchers fresh for the games to come. It would prove to be one of Francona's smartest moves of the series.
The Yankees jumped out to a 2-0 lead in the pivotal Game 4 on Alex Rodriguez's home run off Derek Lowe in the third inning. That seemed to wake up the moribund Sox, who jumped ahead with three runs in the fifth. The big blow was a clutch two-out, two-run single by designated hitter David Ortiz.
Boston reliever Mike Timlin gave it back on three infield hits in the sixth, and the Yanks led 4-3. But that would be the last run the Yankees would score. The Boston bullpen held them in check for the next 6 1/3 innings of what turned out to be a 12-inning classic, as taut as a game can be when it goes on for five hours and two minutes.
The Red Sox tied the score in the ninth off closer Mariano Rivera in large part because of their depth. When Kevin Millar walked on five pitches, speedster Dave Roberts came in to run, and everyone knew what was going to happen.
Roberts had been warming up during Millar's at bat -- Rivera had to have seen him, which may have contributed to him walking Millar -- and on a 1-0 count to the next batter, Bill Mueller, Roberts did his thing, easily stealing second base.
The Red Sox had the tying run in scoring position with no one out, and they wasted no time in bringing it home. Mueller showed bunt on the next pitch, taking a strike, and then stroked a hard grounder up the middle to knock in Roberts.
Each team had chances in innings to come. But it wasn't until the bottom of the 12th, with the Sox facing the fifth Yankees pitcher of the night, righty Paul Quantrill, that someone came through. It was Ortiz -- he had popped out with the bases loaded and two outs in the ninth -- who hammered a two-run homer to right for the 6-4 win.
The Sox had life.
Play it again, Sam. David Ortiz kickstarted the Red Sox with back-to-back walkoff hits.
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Boston jumped out in this one, against Yankees ace Mike Mussina, with a run-scoring single from Ortiz and a bases loaded walk to catcher Jason Varitek in the first inning. The Yankees came back, though, and led 4-2 in the eighth before the Sox answered.
Again, pinch runner Roberts was instrumental. After Yankees reliever Tom Gordon gave up a leadoff homer to Ortiz to make it 4-3 -- the ball hit the Volvo advertisement in left field, right next to the carmaker's catch phrase on the bottom, "for life" -- Gordon got ahead of Millar 0-2. And then he walked him on four straight pitches. All the time, Roberts was warming up.
Gordon got the first strike to the next batter, Trot Nixon, but then threw over to first base twice to keep Roberts close. He faked another throw and held the ball another time long enough that Roberts backed off. Yankees catcher Jorge Posada made a visit to the mound. There was another throw to first.
Gordon threw three straight balls. "There's no question that Roberts is in Gordon's head," FOX analyst Tim McCarver said. Rodriguez came over to talk to Gordon. And then Roberts took off. Nixon ripped a single to center and Roberts easily made it to third. The Sox had the tying run at third with no one out.
Rivera, who had blown a save a game earlier, came in to relieve Gordon, to face Varitek. Three pitches later, Varitek lifted a fastball to center that drove in Roberts.
And the game went on. And on. And on. Game 5 lasted a record five hours and 49 minutes. It didn't end until the bottom of the 14th, when the Sox scored a run against the seventh Yankees pitcher of the night, the banished Esteban Loaiza, who threw a very good 3 1/3 innings before allowing the game-winner.
Again, incredibly, it was Ortiz, who fought off an inside cutter and flared it to center field for a bloop single to drive in Johnny Damon.
Ortiz was later named the MVP of the series.
Shades of Roy Hobbs? Curt Schilling tends to his bloody ankle on the mound.
Al Bello/Getty Images
Back in New York, things were starting to get desperate for the Yankees. They were throwing Jon Lieber, who beat the Sox with seven strong innings in Game 2. But the Sox had momentum, and they had an X-factor -- Curt Schilling.
In Game 1, Schilling had lasted only three innings in getting pounded by the Yanks. The 21-game winner couldn't pitch effectively because of a painful injury to his right ankle. A tendon had broken loose from its protective sheath and was bouncing back and forth over the right-hander's anklebone.
In between Games 2-6, team doctors and specialists tried all sorts of techniques to keep the tendon from moving. They experimented with different braces, they tried a modified high-top shoe, they tried drugs to numb the area.
And then, on Monday, the day before Game 6, the doctors went radical. They stitched the skin around the ankle to keep the tendon in place. They had been talking about the possibility, and had strongly considered it, and Schilling finally OK'd it. He wanted it done the day before, though, so he could get used to the feeling.
It worked. The Sox won, 4-2.
Bleeding slightly through his sock, Schilling went seven innings, gave up only four hits, struck out four, didn't walk anyone and allowed only a home run to Bernie Williams in the seventh. His ability to go deep into the game saved the exhausted bullpen even more, enabling the Sox to go into Game 7 with the most-rested 'pen they'd had in days.
"You can talk all you want to about that area," Francona said of the most famous ankle in the game, "but his heart is so big ... his heart and his wanting to compete made this happen."
Slumping second baseman Mark Bellhorn struck the deciding blow in the game, a two-out, three-run homer to left field off Lieber.
"Just watching [Schilling] go about it out there was awesome," Bellhorn said. "It kept us in the series."
The win enabled the Sox to become the first team in history to force a seventh game after losing the first three.
Johnny Damon's grand slam was the crushing blow to the Yankees.
Al Bello/Getty Images
By this time, the Yanks were stunned. Three outs away from sweeping the Sox, they had let them push their way back into the series. "This Sox," blared one New York tabloid earlier in the week. "Put Him In," said another, next to a picture of Babe Ruth.
Still, the Yankees had won a Game 7 against the Sox just a year earlier at the Stadium. They had history, they had curses, they had enough talent, they figured, to put down the pesky Sox.
But Kevin Brown, their Game 7 starter, was a question. Bothered by all sorts of ailments all season long, Brown had been the starting pitcher in Game 3, but lasted only two innings in that win.
Because of a rainout in Boston, the two teams were playing for a fifth straight day, and three of those days were marathons -- the Game 3 nine-inning job that lasted more than four hours, and the extra-innings of Games 4 and 5, both of which lasted more than five hours. Both teams were exhausted.
The difference turned out to be the hapless Brown, who last month broke his left hand in a moment of anger swinging at a wall, sidelining him for several starts. Brown, a surly right-hander who had come to the Yanks in a trade for Jeff Weaver, lasted only 1 1/3 innings in Game 7, giving up five runs on five hits.
"I won't look in the mirror and say I didn't try," said a sad-looking Brown. "My regrets can only be that I didn't do well enough to give my teammates a chance."
Brown left in the second after walking No. 9 hitter Orlando Cabrera to load the bases. Reliever Javier Vazquez -- another of the big-name free agents that the Yankees had signed in the offseason to become part of the biggest-moneyed team in the majors -- stepped in to face leadoff man Damon, who was hitting .103 in the series.
Damon turned on the first pitch, hitting it into the right-field stands for a grand slam. The Sox romped, 10-3, completing the biggest comeback in postseason history.