NEW YORK -- Forevermore, the date goes into the New England calendar as an official no-school/no-work/no-mail-delivery holiday in Red Sox Nation.
Mark it down. Oct. 20. It will always be the day that Sox citizens were liberated from 8 decades of torment and torture at the hands of the New York Yankees and their fans. Boston Baseball's Bastille Day.
The 2004 Red Sox won the American League pennant in the heart of the Evil Empire last night. In the heretofore haunted Bronx house, raggedy men wearing red socks embarrassed and eliminated the $182 million payroll Yankees, 10-3, in the seventh and deciding game of their American League Championship Series. On the very soil where the Sox were so cruelly foiled in this same game one year ago, the Sons of Tito Francona completed the greatest postseason comeback in baseball history. No major league team had ever recovered from a 3-0 series deficit.
Red Sox fans now have a stock answer for those clever chants of ''1918." They'll always be able to cite the fall of 2004 when the Big Apple was finally and firmly lodged in the throats of men wearing pinstripes. This time, it was the gluttonous Yankees who choked.
''It's very amazing," said manager Francona. ''To do what we did you have to have people chip in and do some special things . . . When we were down, 0-3, there's just no room for error, and we didn't make any errors."
The Sox won the much-hyped finale on the strength of two home runs (including a grand slam) by team mascot Johnny Damon and a stunning six innings of one-hit pitching from Derek Lowe, who lost his job in the starting rotation before the start of the playoffs.
Pedro Martinez came on for a curious (two-run) relief stint in the seventh, followed by Mike Timlin and Alan Embree. Embree retired Ruben Sierra on a grounder to second for the final out at 12:01 this morning.
Sox players and officials celebrated on the Yankee Stadium infield and the area in front of the third base dugout a half-hour after the final out. Thousands of Boston fans gathered behind the dugout and players tossed equipment and sprayed champagne into the stands, while the throng chanted, "Let's Go, Red Sox!"
"You know how long this team and the fans have been waiting to win a World Series," said series MVP David Ortiz. "Last year we had a bad memory and I saw a lot of my teammates destroyed. It was a big-time opportunity to get to the World Series."
Now this. The 2004 World Series begins Saturday night at Fenway Park when the Sox play the St. Louis Cardinals or Houston Astros, who play a seventh game tonight to determine the National League champion.
At this giddy, soaking, sleepless moment in time (Warren Zevon's "I'll Sleep When I'm Dead" should be a new theme for the Fenway fandom), Boston baseball fans need to remind themselves that the job is not yet done. Sweet as it was to beat the Yankees, the Sox still have to win a World Series before they throw off the dreaded pox in the home of Hub hardball. The Red Sox have been in four World Series since last winning in 1918, and each time Boston lost the seventh game.
Just four days ago, the Franconamen were three outs away from going home for another long winter of discontent. They had dropped the first three games of the Yankee series, losing Game 3 at Fenway by the hideous score of 19-8. Sunday night in Game 4, they rallied against Mariano Rivera in the ninth, then won in dramatic fashion on Ortiz's walkoff homer in the 12th. Less than 23 hours later, they won again, this time on a 14th-inning single by Ortiz. The exhausted clubs returned to New York, and Tuesday Curt Schilling willed Boston to victory with seven innings of mastery despite a dislocated tendon in his right ankle.
The rivals had already played a record 25 hours 36 minutes of baseball (over six games) when they arrived at Yankee Stadium yesterday afternoon. Despite the fact that both managers were hindered by depleted pitching staffs, the pregame anticipation was unlike anything in the rich history of Boston sports.
Red Sox-Yankees Game 7 had the requisite classic themes of history, revenge, passion, and redemption (Lowe, for one, comes to mind). It had the two most storied baseball teams meeting in a winner-take-all game for the second time in 12 months. It had a long-suffering Red Sox Nation convinced that this really is the year.
Ever-entitled, but suddenly desperate to turn things around, the Yankees wheeled out the big guns for the finale. Bucky Dent, the man who drove a stake through the heart of New England with his pop fly division playoff homer in 1978, was summoned to throw out the ceremonial first pitch. Not satisfied with that little bit of history, the Yankees offered the Red Sox owners an opportunity to watch the game from the comfort of the Babe Ruth Suite at Yankee Stadium. John W. Henry, Tom Werner, and Larry Lucchino opted for box seats near the Sox dugout.
It was 54 degrees in the Bronx when slumping Damon (.103 in the series coming into the game) stepped in to face the first pitch from Yankees righthander Kevin Brown at 8:30 p.m. Yankees fans took comfort in the knowledge that the game was played on the birthday of the late Mickey Mantle. It ended on Whitey Ford's birthday. Didn't matter. This time the cosmic forces were aligned with Boston.
Ortiz -- a.k.a. "Senor October" -- crushed a first-pitch, two-run homer to right to give the Red Sox a 2-0 lead in the first inning. In the second, after Brown was pulled with the bases loaded and one out, Damon hit Javier Vazquez's first pitch over the wall in right to make it 6-0. There was bedlam in the Boston dugout as Damon circled the bases.
The Yankees staged their only rally off Lowe in the third. Miguel Cairo was hit by a pitch, stole second, and scored on Derek Jeter's single to left. The RBI single was New York's lone hit off Lowe.
Damon launched his second homer, this one into the upper deck, with one man aboard in the fourth to make it 8-1.
As the game lurched into the middle frames, anxious Sox fans waited patiently for more outs and more innings that could deliver the Sox back into the World Series. Lowe did the job. He was the one who stopped the bleeding in Game 4 after New York scored 19 runs in Game 3, and he stuffed them again in the clincher. New York scored only 13 runs in the final four games of the series.
Lowe had retired 11 consecutive batters when he was pulled at the end of six innings. The odd relief appearance by Martinez got the Yankee crowd back into the game as the place came to life with chants of "Who's your daddy?" The Yankees rocked Martinez for three hits and a pair of runs in his shaky inning of work.
A homer by Mark Bellhorn in the eighth made it 9-3. Orlando Cabrera's sacrifice fly in the ninth completed the scoring, and Timlin, then Embree, finished off the Yankees in the bottom of the ninth.
In the end, there was the strangest sight of them all: Boston Red Sox players jumping up and down and hugging one another in the Yankee Stadium infield, laughing and goofing like little boys, celebrating their hard-earned American League pennant while "New York, New York" boomed over the public address system.