"Don't let us win tonight"
A night earlier the Sox had been pounded 19-8 and I remember my friend Ben calling me and basically offering his condolences. Ben was still feeling guilty about the year before when the Red Sox seemed to be on their way to winning Game 7 of the ALCS.
So here we were a year later and Ben was calling to check on me. I was in better spirits than Ben had anticipated. I had come to terms with it all. The Red Sox were never going to win and I just needed to enjoy the great game of baseball and the beauty of Fenway Park. I told Ben that we needed to take a road trip next season to Boston so he could finally see a game at Fenway Park. I went to bed looking to move on.
I woke up on the morning of the 17th feeling different though. I am not going to sit here and say I predicted a Red Sox comeback but I did feel they had a shot. After all they had come back from being down 2-0 in a series a year earlier against the Athletics. They had done the same thing in 1999 against the Indians. Those of course were just best of five series , this was a best of seven. The Red Sox would have to win four games in a row, not three and they would have to do it against the Yankees. It definitely seemed next to impossible especially since it had never happened in the history of baseball. Much like Kevin Millar, I was thinking kind of the same thing. We just needed to find a way to win tonight. I have always been this way. I have been a Red Sox fan since a young boy but grew up in Upstate NY. I didn't have that natural New England angst and the sky is falling mentality. Ever since I was little I always thought that my Red Sox were going to win. This is actually not a good thing because you really leave yourself open to getting kicked in the gut and trust me my guts have been kicked over and over again thanks to my beloved Sox.
The actual game was a classic. Derek Lowe was forced to start since Wakefield was no longer available. Lowe left the game with the lead, although he didn't pitch great. He would pitch much better a couple of nights later. Mike Timlin would cough up the lead that the Red Sox would eventually find a way to erase.
The guy who warned the Yankees several hours earlier had the pivotal at bat against the greatest closer in the history of baseball. Kevin Millar led off the ninth inning with the Red Sox trailing by a run. Millar has said that he was actually looking to take Mariano Rivera deep. Rivera was uncharacteristically wild and Millar found himself on first base where he was quickly pinch run for by Dave Roberts. As Roberts left the dugout, Tito Francona gave him a little wink. Roberts found himself on second base after a steal that will live on forever in Red Sox history. Only Jackie Robinson has a more famous stolen base in postseason history and fittingly both came against the Yankees.
The forgotten man did his job next with a base hit up the middle scoring Roberts and tying the game. Bill Mueller was the batting champ in 2003 and hit a walk off homer against Mariano Rivera in the famous July 24th game which really got the Red Sox going. There are many heroes and legends from the 2004 Red Sox, Bill Mueller is one of those who often goes unmentioned.
Keith Foulke is another guy who history has tended to forget. He was amazing in this game. He didn't get the win or the save but pitched 2 and 2/3 innings, threw over 50 pitches and did not allow a hit. People like to bash the free agent track record of Theo Epstein but those same people tend to forget that Mueller, Millar and Foulke were all free agents signed by Theo.
David Ortiz would then end it in the 12th inning off of old friend Paul Quantrill. The crowd went nuts, the team went nuts and I went nuts as the ball landed in the bullpen. The series was now 3-1 but it felt like it was 3-3. Something special just happened, you could feel it. The Red Sox would live to play another day by winning an absolutely thrilling and crazy game. How crazy? Curt Leskanic got the win. Leskanic was waived by the last place Royals in June of that season.
The Yankees did just what Millar warned them not to do. They let the Red Sox win...seven years ago tonight.