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Perspective

‘Not this time’

Five years ago . . . the Yankees . . . three games to none. A Red Sox player who lived the miracle looks back.

The impossible dream On October 20, 2004, Jason Varitek, left, and Alan Embree start the celebration after Game 7 of the American League Championship Series. The impossible dream On October 20, 2004, Jason Varitek, left, and Alan Embree start the celebration after Game 7 of the American League Championship Series. (Jim Davis/Globe Staff/File 2004)
By Ellis Burks (as told to Nick Cafardo)
October 18, 2009

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Our team was so dejected. I looked up in the stands during Game 3, and I could see fans with their faces buried in their hands. I’d been around Boston long enough as a younger player to know what they were thinking: “Same old Red Sox.” I didn’t blame them. We played terrible. After the game Kevin Millar kept going up to guys and saying, “All we have to do is win tomorrow.” It was the right thing to say, but guys had long faces, and I’m not sure the message was getting through. They seemed beat.

When we got to the ballpark the next day, we got the incentive that we needed, and I truly believe this got us going. Gary Sheffield had made some remarks about us in the papers saying we were a mess, and Millar made copies and put them on everyone’s chair near our lockers. It was the first thing you saw when you walked into the clubhouse. We didn’t have a meeting about it, but as guys started to read the comments, they were pissed off. I told Bill Mueller, “Can you believe this [expletive]?”

It was really disappointing that I couldn’t play in the series. I had knee surgeries. While I knew my career was over, I took it upon myself to find a way where I could be of some help -- where I could use the 18 years of knowledge and wisdom I had accumulated and somehow transfer that to the players, one by one. Before the series started, I took Johnny Damon aside because I didn’t think he was giving us everything he had. Johnny is the type of guy who will go through a wall for you, but for some reason, whether he was tired or just worn out, he was kind of in that surfer boy mode where the intensity just wasn’t there. So I said to him, “Whether you do it for your own personal future or for the sake of this team, you’ve got to give us everything.” I focused on certain guys like Mark Bellhorn, who was a terrific guy but who could get down on himself. He struck out sometimes in key situations, but I told him, “Mark, there’s going to come a time when you’re going to have to win the game for us.”

It was obvious we had a little something extra in Game 4. Whether it was Sheffield’s comments or just a sense of pride that took over, we had that fire back. And yet, we were still behind (4-3) when we got to the ninth. I remember getting off the bench and just screaming, “We can do this!” Millar draws a walk. Dave Roberts pinch-runs and steals second. Dave spent the entire game watching video on Mariano Rivera’s delivery. He knew that this moment might come when he had to deliver. Mueller drove in Roberts to tie it. And then Papi did his thing in extra innings.

We had Pedro Martinez and Curt Schilling going the next two days, and we all felt pretty good about that. Once Curt won Game 6,

I knew we were going to win it. There was this loudmouth behind our dugout during Game 6, and he was just killing us. After we won,

I made it a point to look right at him. He said to me, “It’s over for you guys. You’ll choke again. You’re dead!”

I stared him down and yelled, “Not this time.”

I knew that’s the way our team felt. Then we pounded them in Game 7. It was just one of those incredible things. The only way I can explain it is we just believed in what we had done the entire year, and we didn’t let anything overwhelm us.

The most rewarding part for me was after we won, Pedro yelled out to me: “Hey old man, Pops, why don’t you carry the trophy for us” out to the field. We celebrated like you wouldn’t believe. We tore up that clubhouse. We busted up the drywall and the ceiling. We went crazy.

Tim Wakefield and Mike Timlin came up to me, and both said how much they appreciated what I had done for the team. That meant so much to me. We were a real together team. We loved playing together. Even though I wasn’t much a part of this on the field, I don’t think I ever had more fun in my career.

Ellis Burks, a special assistant to the general manager for the Cleveland Indians, played for the Red Sox from 1987-1992 and 2004. Nick Cafardo is a Globe staff writer. Send comments to magazine@globe.com.

  • October 18, 2009 cover
  • october 18 globe magazine cover
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