Bouquet of forget-me-nots
These days worth remembering
OAKLAND, Calif. -- The trait best suits jilted lovers and baseball teams prone to acts of self-destruction: a short-term memory. So what if she dumped you for the cable guy? Or your closer of the moment just made a cruel mockery of the quaint concept of pitchers providing relief?
So what if she and the cable guy deepened the wound by running off with your car and CD collection? Or if another one of your relievers, then another and another, went from tracking games on the bullpen television to committing random acts of squandery (otherwise known as blowing leads)?
Or your bullpen had occasional coconspirators afflicted by sudden ineptitude in the field or at the plate?
Heartache? What heartache?
Forget about it.
"That's what has made this team special," said Red Sox catcher Jason Varitek. "It has a short-term memory."
For every devastating loss -- there were enough to sap the spirit of some of the hardiest souls -- the Sox overcame the heartbreak as if the cable guy never existed. They cowboyed up. They donned T-shirts that warned, "Nobody ever [fools] with us." They embraced a 12-year-old reel of videotape -- can you say "rally karaoke guy"? -- as an inspirational charm. And they won their first ticket to the playoffs in four years.
More than that, they captured the hearts of millions of fans.
Here's a glimpse at 10 of their most memorable moments.
April 1: Setting the tone for their signature resiliency, the Sox rebound the night after a crushing defeat on Opening Day at Tampa Bay in which they coughed up a 4-1 lead in the ninth. The season's first victory hardly comes easy, though, as Bobby Howry blows a save by surrendering a two-run homer to the light-hitting Rey Ordonez in the bottom of the eighth. The Sox forge on, playing eight more innings until Kevin Millar launches his first homer in a Sox uniform, a solo shot in the 16th inning that seals the victory in the 5-hour, 15-minute marathon.
April 27: It's the finale of a six-game grind through Texas and Anaheim, and Pedro Martinez gives the Sox a chance to break even on the trip by leaving the game with a 4-2 lead after seven innings against the defending world champions. The pen falters as Brandon Lyon gives up a run in the eighth and Chad Fox coughs up another in the ninth to force extra innings. The Sox and Angels play to a standoff until the 14th, when David Ortiz launches a pinch-hit homer and Jason Varitek follows with a shot of his own. It's the first of four straight wins.
May 29: The team has the day off after dropping two of three to the Yankees in the Bronx, letting their division lead slip to a half-game, down from a season-high 2 1/2 games after they won the series opener. While the Sox rest, general manager Theo Epstein makes a watershed transaction, sending Shea Hillenbrand to Arizona for Byung Hyun Kim. The move frees Ortiz and Bill Mueller from part-time duty to become two of the league's most productive hitters while Kim improves the pitching staff. A popular player, Hillenbrand is hardly missed by the All-Star break.
June 15: The Sox, trying to complete a three-game sweep of Jimy Williams's Astros on Houston's first-ever visit to Fenway Park, take a 2-2 tie into the seventh inning. Then the eighth. And the ninth. Ultimately, the Sox pen holds the Astros scoreless until the 14th inning, when Manny Ramirez rewards the Sox relievers on Father's Day by singling home Todd Walker for the victory. Nomar Garciaparra's first sacrifice bunt in six years made it possible by moving Walker into scoring position.
June 27: Making history and infuriating Florida manager Jack McKeon, the Sox set a major league standard by scoring 10 runs before they make an out. The first inning lasts 50 minutes as the Sox amass 14 runs in all, tying the American League record for runs in the first frame. Johnny Damon falls a home run short of the cycle as he matches a major league mark with three hits in the inning. The team's 25-run total is the second-highest in franchise history and the highest in 53 years. Before it's over, the Marlins are so angered that the Sox appear to be needlessly piling on that a couple of purpose pitches are tossed, leading to a benches-clearing showdown in the ninth inning.
July 26: The Sox win the first of two thrillers against the Yankees at Fenway as Ortiz cranks a drive off the Monster with two outs in the bottom of the ninth to knock in Jeremy Giambi with the decisive run. The next day, the Sox trail, 3-0, in the seventh when Varitek slugs a three-run homer to tie it before Damon hits a solo shot and Ortiz unleashes a two-run triple to cinch it. The Sox pull within 1 1/2 games of the Yankees in the East.
July 29: Cooperstown comes calling after Mueller becomes the first switch hitter in major league history to hit grand slams from both sides of the plate in one game, against the Rangers in Texas. Mueller, who also strikes a solo shot and finishes with nine RBIs, grants the Hall of Fame's request to donate the bats he used for the grand slams.
Aug. 14: In danger of losing three of four to the A's in Oakland, the Sox trail the series finale, 2-1, in the ninth with Ramirez leading off against Keith Foulke, who is on his way to logging 43 saves and nine wins and becoming the Rolaids Relief Man of the Year. Ramirez wages a 10-pitch struggle that ends with him swatting a solo homer to tie it. Mueller knocks in Gabe Kapler with a sac fly for the run in the 10th inning before the Sox pick up an insurance run on Eric Chavez's error. The comeback victory, one of 40 this season for the Sox, comes in their last visit to Network Associates Coliseum before Game 1 of the Division Series.
Sept. 1: With their season close to spiraling out of control, the Sox have lost two straight at home to the Yankees in dispiriting fashion while Ramirez is too ill to play but well enough to socialize with his pal, Yankees infielder Enrique Wilson. In the first stop on a four-city, nine-game road trip, they enter the ninth inning trailing the Phillies, 9-7, in Philadelphia. Asked to pinch hit, Ramirez declines, forcing manager Grady Little to use Doug Mirabelli, Damian Jackson, and Lou Merloni in the pinch. The three spark a six-run rally capped by Trot Nixon's grand slam as the Sox stun the Phillies, 13-9. To a man, the Sox call it a galvanizing victory. And it serves as a springboard for a sensational September.
Sept. 23: The AL East race is all but lost and the Sox cling to their last best hope, a threadbare lead in the wild-card race. Their season seems to hang in the balance as they trail the Orioles, 5-2, at Fenway Park and are down to their last strike in the ninth. Heartache? What heartache? Walker uncoils the biggest hit of his baseball life, a three-run homer off Jorge Julio into the Baltimore bullpen to tie it. Then Mr. September, Ortiz, takes Kurt Ainsworth deep leading off the 10th to win it. Little calls it the biggest victory of the season.
© Copyright 2003 Globe Newspaper Company.