Monday, October 31, 2011

Sandy Koufax vs Mickey Mantle: No Comparison

Jane Leavy who authored books on Mickey Mantle and Sandy Koufax had some interesting comments on both icons. Leavy grew up as a New York Yankee fan and Mantle was her hero. She first met Mantle in 1983 while working for the Washington Post. Mickey had showed up late for the interview with blood shot eyes and the smell  of alcohol on his breath. Mickey put out his hand and said "Hi, I am Mick". Jane responded "I am nervous". Mickey smiled and said "Why are you nervous? You afraid I am going to pull on your titties?" Mickey ended the interview by passing out face first in Leavy's lap while trying to feel her up. Mickey being Mickey.

When Leavy met Koufax she told him that growing up she always hated him because he made Mickey look so bad in the 1963 World Series. John Roseboro said that Mickey was so overmatched by Koufax in that series that Mantle would yell back to Roseboro, "How the (expletive) do you hit this (expletive)!?"

Koufax who is intensely private did not want a book written about him but he decided that if book was going to be written about him anyway he might as well make sure it was accurate. He never gave Leavy an on the record interview but he was available to verify stories told to Leavy by people who knew Koufax.

Koufax has always been bothered by the perception of his private nature. People have assumed he is private because he is trying to hide something. This perception grates at Koufax. Leavy does a great job in the book of explaining his private nature and the real reason behind it. Leavy said that Koufax ruined all men for her. He is a true mench she would write and it turns out she was cheering for the wrong guy growing up.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

25 Years Later...

Twenty-five years ago tonight I cried myself to sleep. I was 11 years old and I just witnessed something horrific, game six of the 1986 World Series. It was the worst night of my childhood but maybe it was a blessing in disguise.


1986 was a magical season and it was the first season that I followed closely from start to finish. By the time the playoffs began I was fully invested. The Red Sox were my team and I tuned in to watch them win it all. I tuned in expecting them to win it all. I was a month away from turning 12 and grew up in Upstate NY away from the angst of New England. I was naive and knew fairly little about Red Sox history. I had no baggage. My team had Roger Clemens, Jim Rice, Dwight Evans,Wade Boggs and the guy I called "the glue", Marty Barrett. They were the best team in baseball and the best team wins it all, right?

Dave Henderson homered off of Rick Aguilera in the tenth inning putting the Red Sox up 5-3. They were three outs from winning it all. I started drinking kool-aid like it was victory champagne. The bottom of the tenth inning came and the first two Mets made outs. My team was now one out away from winning it all, with a two run lead and nobody on base. I drank more and more kool-aid. Then it all happened. I stopped drinking the kool-aid and my personal Red Sox baggage had arrived.

I was devastated. I watched game seven in silence knowing that the Red Sox would not win, and they didn't. I was a true Red Sox fan now. I had baggage, heart break and I was bigger fan than ever. What if the Red Sox would have won that night? Would I care about them as much as I do today? I doubt it. That night was awful but it made me determined to see the finish line. I wanted to know how it would feel if the Red Sox were to win it all. As each season passed after 1986 I wanted to feel it more and more. It became a passion bordering on an obsession.

Seventeen years later the Red Sox had the lead in game seven of the 2003 ALCS. It was the closest the Red Sox had been to winning it all since 1986. The Red Sox entered the 8th  inning with a three run lead. I was 28 years old now and was not celebrating. I was pacing around my apartment praying for six more outs. The confident kool-aid drinking 11 year old was killed off. The angst ridden, baggage filled 28 year old Red Sox fan was alive and not well.

All of that pain led up to the 2004 season. There are no words to describe what happened in 2004 and the feelings that long suffering Red Sox fans had after seeing their team finally get it right. I was 29 years old and cried when they won. I had an excuse twenty-five years ago when I cried myself to sleep, I was just 11 years old. I was now a month away from turning thirty and I was crying tears of joy over a baseball team. I wasn't alone twenty-five years ago and I know I wasn't alone seven years ago. That awful night in 1986 is what made 2004 so special. 2004 made that awful night in 1986 a less painful memory. October 25th will be tough to forget, it truly was the worst night of my childhood but in two days it will be the anniversary of one of the greatest nights of my life. Those tears of joy that flowed seven years ago were from that 11 year old inside of me. He finally got to see how it feels when his Red Sox won it all.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

October 20, 2004: The Best of Times

October 20th, the holiest of holy days for Red Sox fans everywhere. They may have actually broke the 86 year championship drought a week later, but this was in many ways bigger. History was made and it was made at the expense of the Yankees in Yankee Stadium. It doesn’t get any better than that. It was the best of times for the Red Sox and the worst day in Yankee history.
The Red Sox didn't just win Game 7 but they dominated it. It was over before it even started. The Red Sox finally snapped and beat up their long time bully. After two innings it was 6-0 Red Sox as David Ortiz continued his domination of Yankee pitching with a homer in the first inning. Johnny Damon hit a grand slam in the second inning. Mark Bellhorn would back up his huge homer in Game 6 with another homer in Game 7 and then Damon would homer one more time to complete the scoring. It was surreal. After three excruciating nights of nail biting games, the Red Sox exploded in Game 7. The last few innings were a coronation. Yankee fans were silenced in disbelief while Red Sox fans became louder and louder as each out was counted down. The Red Sox had their own party in Yankee Stadium.

The locker room scene after the game said it all. A huge weight had been lifted on a franchise and a fan base. Theo Epstein talked about payback for the 1949, 1978 and of course the 2003 failures to the Yankees. It was as emotional as anything I have ever witnessed. I was a grown man of 30 years old fighting back tears of joy. The tears would be there again a week later when the Sox would finish their sweep of the Cardinals and become World Champions but this night meant more in so many ways. It was revenge, the ultimate revenge.

The Red Sox were often associated with their failures, their choking and their 86 year drought. October 20th, 2004 erased all of that. No team in baseball history had ever come back to win a series after being down 3-0. The Red Sox had become the first that night and the Yankees instantly became the first team in MLB history to ever lose a series after being up 3-0. The Yankees were now associated with the biggest choke in baseball history. The 2011 Red Sox collapsed in September and by the numbers it was the worst collapse in baseball history but many teams have had big leads and blew it down the stretch in the regular season. The collapse was awful but it had been done before and besides it was for a wild card spot and the team that passed the Red Sox was the Tampa Rays, not the Yankees. There is no comparison.

The 2004 ALCS series will never go away. As long as sports is played and as long as teams go up 3-0 in a series the 2004 ALCS will be referenced. October 20th is the culmination of that miracle, the worst night in Yankee history, the best night in Red Sox history and fittingly the birthday of Mickey Mantle

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

October 19, 2004: The Bloody Sock

The greatest thing about Game 6 is how it still bothers Yankee fans. Yankee fans still refuse to admit that Curt Schilling had anything wrong with his ankle. They are convinced the blood was fake and Schilling was just creating the drama. As a Red Sox fan I love it, it shows just how much the collapse bothers Bronx Nation. The facts are the facts, Schilling only made 11 starts the following season because of surgery and had an ERA of 5.69. Schilling was not the same in 2005 and in reality was never the same after that incredible night in 2004. It was the ultimate sacrifice by Schilling, he went out there on one leg and forever changed the Red Sox franchise. He will always be remembered for it and it was the kind of thing that may just push the Cooperstown doors open for him. The bloody sock will live on forever and be a thorn in the side of Yankee fans as long as there is baseball.


The Schilling heroics were far from the only story line from this game. Bronson Arroyo and the Alex Rodriguez saga continued in the 8th inning. The saga actually got it's start back on July 24th when Arroyo plunked AROD on his elbow pad in a game the Yankees were dominating. This touched off the infamous bench clearing brawl with Jason Varitek giving AROD a picture perfect facial. The Red Sox woke up on that day and came from behind and beat the Yankees with a walk off homer by Bill Mueller against the great Mariano Rivera. The Red Sox would use that win as a rallying point and it transformed them from a team that wasn't looking like postseason material into a very dangerous pennant contender.

With the Red Sox up 4-2 in the 8th inning they turned to Arroyo. The Red Sox bullpen was on fumes and Arroyo who served most of the season as the fifth starter was now asked to get three very big outs before turning things over to Keith Foulke. Arroyo struck out Tony Clark for the first out of the inning and then gave up a double to Miguel Cairo and a single to Derek Jeter. AROD was up with runners on the corners with one out in a two run game. Rodriguez had a chance to build a reputation right here as a true Yankee and a great postseason performer. Instead, he dribbled a ball off the end of his bat and then slapped the ball out of the glove of Arroyo.

 As the ball was rolling free, Cairo and Jeter scored. Alex was standing on second base and the game was briefly tied. I was watching in utter horror. Jeter was pumping his fist as he touched home plate and I was contemplating throwing my television out my bedroom window. The umpires came to the rescue and for the first time in the history of postseason baseball the Yankees did not get the call. Arroyo got Gary Sheffield to pop up and the Red Sox dream was alive and kicking. AROD would go hitless in Game 7 and would struggle the next several years in the postseason. He would briefly redeem himself in 2009 but Rodriguez will be more known for his big game failures than for anything else and it all started with that at bat against Bronson Arroyo seven years ago tonight.

While AROD began a personal trend of postseason failure, the Red Sox second basemen entered his name into Red Sox lore. Mark Bellhorn was booed incessantly by Red Sox fans throughout the 2004 playoffs. He hit just .091 against the Angels in the first round. Fans wanted Pokey Reese, but Terry Francona stuck with him, beginning a pattern that would define Francona's mangerial career in Boston. He always stuck with his veterans, it was a trait that angered many Red Sox fans but it was his style to the very bitter end. In Game 6 of the 2004 ALCS it paid off.  The Red Sox would win 4-2 and force a Game 7 thanks to a Mark Bellhorn three run homer and an incredible performance from Curt Schilling. Two of Tito's veterans stepped up when it mattered most making this 2004 team one to remember for the ages.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

October 18, 2004: He Can Keep on Running to New York

Kevin Millar had warned everyone the night before not to let the Red Sox win. A Red Sox win in Game 4 would mean the Yankees would have to face Pedro Martinez and Curt Schilling in Game 5 and a possible Game 6. When this series is remembered 25 years from now people will think about that and it will make sense to them how the Red Sox came back and it may take away some of the magic of it all. However, on October 18th, 2004 the reality of the situation was setting in for Red Sox fans.

The Game 4 win was incredible and it felt special but the issue going into Game 5 was that Pedro was no longer the Pedro that history will remember. His last dominant, prime season was really 2003. His ERA in 2004 was 3.90 and on top of that he was facing a Yankees team that had started to figure him out over the last couple of seasons. In 2004, Pedro was 1-2 against the Yankees with an ERA of 5.47.

Game 5 was the greatest game of the series. It was a game the Red Sox could have lost in a variety of ways. They didn't of course and the way they would win was truly special.

Pedro had a 2-1 lead headed to the 6th inning and was pitching pretty well. However, Pedro's pitch count was rising and his effectiveness was starting decline quickly. He loaded the bases with two outs and Derek Jeter delivered a three run double down the right field line. Yankees 4 Red Sox 2. I really thought it was over at this point. I had a bad feeling coming into this game with Pedro and those bad feelings were confirmed. Was it really possible we could rally again?

The 8th inning came and the heroes from Game 4 made their presence known in Game 5. On the mound for the Yankees was Tom Gordon, a pitcher who just six years earlier had a dominant season as the Red Sox closer. How dominant? Well, Stephen King, a Red Sox die hard fan, wrote a book called The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon

Gordon was brought in an inning earlier to face Manny Ramirez and got him to ground into a double play. David Ortiz would lead off the 8th inning and homer to cut the lead in half. There is a reason why Ortiz would eventually be named the ALCS MVP, this is just one of them. Kevin Millar would then walk, immediately he was pinch run for by Dave Roberts. Ring a bell? Trot Nixon was now up. Nixon signed with the Red Sox out of high school eleven years earlier. He was a fan favorite for the way he played and here he was in a huge spot. This was his chance to make a mark on the 2004 season in which injuries had limited him to just 48 games during the regular season. Roberts was running and Nixon was swinging. A base hit to center would put runners on the corners with nobody out. Gordon's night would be over, Mariano Rivera was summoned from the bullpen to redeem himself from the previous night. Rivera would face Jason Varitek and the captain would fly out to deep center, scoring Roberts to tie the game. Two nights and two runs scored by Roberts, both of which tied the game. He is now a Red Sox legend. Mark Bellhorn would then strike out as his slump continued and as fans would continue to question Francona and why he was sticking with him.

The game was far from over. It would last 14 innings and nobody would score from eighth inning. The five innings in between were excruciating. It really felt like I was losing my mind at times. The Red Sox offense went to sleep and I remember just waiting for the lineup to turn over until Manny and Papi would get up. Johnny Damon and Bellhorn were both slumping and were basically automatic outs at this point. Gabe Kapler pinch ran for Nixon in the 8th inning and he wasn't exactly a huge offensive threat. It was agonizing.

The Yankees did threaten a few times, most notably the infamous double by Tony Clark in the 9th inning that somehow jumped up into the seats negating Ruben Sierra from scoring.

Then there was Tim Wakefield, two nights earlier he had made the sacrifice in which I called his greatest night as a member of the Red Sox, well this night is right up there. He would pitch three innings, giving up just one hit, no runs and would strikeout four. He did this all the while pitching to Varitek who was awful at catching the knuckle ball. Every pitch that Wakefield would throw with a man on base was torture to watch. Usually you are just worried about a base hit but now you were worried about a base hit and if the guy didn't hit it would Varitek catch it. To make matters worse, the knuckle ball was really moving. There would be three passed balls during Wakefield's three innings of work but none would cost the Red Sox a run or the win. They found a way to survive until Big Papi showed up.

The 14th inning came and Damon who was swinging really bad managed to work a walk. Manny would also work a walk from Yankee pitcher Esteban Loaiza and then our Mr. October would fight off a single to center scoring Damon five hours and forty nine minutes after the first pitch of the game. I will never forget the image of Damon sprinting home and hearing Joe Buck say "here comes Damon, and he can keep on running to New York"  The Red Sox were headed to New York. They had survived Game 5 and fittingly Tim Wakefield would be the winning pitcher.

Monday, October 17, 2011

October 17, 2004: Don't Let Us Win Tonight

Where were you seven years ago tonight when Kevin Millar warned the Yankees?

"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.

Ben was on his way home from a friends house when he called me to check on the score. I told them the Red Sox were leading and it looked like it would be the night. Ben then showed up at my apartment to be part of the celebration. Things started going badly as soon as he showed up and when the Yankees finally tied it he left. He didn't stick around for the Aaron Boone home run. He knew that things would only get worse or maybe I scared him away when I threw my liter of bottled water against the cabinet, so long security deposit.

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 years ago tonight.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

October 16th, 2004: The Sacrifice

It is that time of year again, time for Red Sox fans to celebrate . After a 7-20 September and daily new revelations of a drunken and fat clubhouse, this yearly celebration could not get here soon enough. It is holiday time for Red Sox fans. Seven years ago tonight it all started. Now many people like to start the celebration tomorrow night but I feel the ultimate life altering, history making comeback began on October 16th, 2004.

While many Red Sox fans are still throwing up in their mouths about the selfishness of the 2011 team, there was no mistaking the unselfishness and heart that was exhibited seven years ago. The Red Sox were in the middle of getting clobbered at home by their most hated rival. They were on the brink of elimination and Tim Wakefield went and got his cleats and told Tito Francona that he could go as long as needed. This was remarkable given that Wakefield was scheduled to start in Game 4. Wake sacrificed a postseason start in order to save the bullpen and take a beating in the process. Wakefield threw 64 pitches over three innings of work giving up five hits and five runs. The Yankees would of course go on and win 19-8 but none of the key guys in the Red Sox bullpen had to pitch. Timmy fell on the sword and the comeback doesn't happen without him.


Ironically, Wakefield is one of the pitchers being questioned about his selfishness in 2011. His pursuit of career win 200 never did seem quite right and his quote after the season saying he wanted to come back next year because the fans deserve to see him go after the all time win record in Red Sox history also didn't seem exactly right. Seven years ago tonight just about everything went wrong. Wake went right and because he did we now get to celebrate it all over again. Happy Holidays Red Sox fans.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

The Anatomy of a Collapse

The Boston Globe detailed some new allegations and more detailed accounts of old allegations as the Red Sox collapsed their way out of the postseason. The old allegations surrounding pitchers drinking beer were given more detail, including names. The new allegations are about Tito Francona and the claim that he was distracted by marital problems and an abuse of prescription drugs.

Francona disputes being distracted but doesn't dispute marital problems or the fact he is on a steady dose of pain medication.

Kevin Youkilis, David Ortiz, and Dustin Pedroia have all spoken and not one of them has denied the allegations brought up by team sources. They were all careful not to throw anyone under the bus but not one of them said that the allegations were false. That says a lot. So here is the article, it is a great read and is all the more intriguing because it seems to be factual.

The issue I have with the article is the characterization of Tito Francona. Tito took full responsiblity for the Red Sox collapse. He refused to point fingers or throw any of the players under the bus. He took the high road and handled it with class. Unfortunately, the team "sources" decided to throw in under the bus in this article. It is pretty clear the source for this information is the ownership, in particular Larry Lucchino.

Dustin Pedroia voiced his anger with how Francona was treated in this audio clip

Keith Olbermann defends both Francona and Epstein in his blog and goes off again against Red Sox ownership on his tv show in this clip

Eric Wilbur also takes the ownership to task in this article.

The big question though deals with the Red Sox rotation and in particular John Lackey, Jon Lester and Josh Beckett. Lackey was horrible all season and Beckett and Lester were at their worst when the team needed them most.

When Jacoby Ellsbury homered to beat the Yankees on that Sunday night, I was convinced that the Red Sox would catch fire and make a very deep run in the postseason. This didn't happen. Instead, the aces of the staff would get hammered in their remaining starts taking away any momentum gained by the heroics of Ellsbury. It now appears that Beckett has always been this way. Peter Abraham is now reporting that Beckett had these issues dating back to his days with the Marlins. It got so bad that Jack McKeon had to lock the clubhouse during games so that Beckett and Brad Penny would not sneak back there and drink beer.

The Boston Herald's back page tomorrow will read that Beckett must go. I am starting to agree with them.