Second in a two-part series of excerpts from "Reversing the Curse," by Dan Shaughnessy (Houghton Mifflin). Copyright 2005.
Bronson Arroyo took the hill in Game 3 on Saturday night and looked like a pitcher who had only 19 big league wins under his belt. The Yankees jumped on him for three runs in the first and three more in the third. It was 11-6 after four, 13-6 after five, and 17-6 in the seventh inning. Sheffield, A-Rod and Matsui looked as if they were taking batting practice off Boston pitchers. The Yankees cracked 22 hits en route to a 19-8 victory, which certainly seemed to draw a curtain on the Red Sox season. Matsui was 5-6 with five RBI. A-Rod was 3-5 with three RBI, and Sheffield was 4-5 with four RBI. All of them homered, Matsui twice.
Nineteen to eight. Why not 19-18? As the game droned toward its inevitable conclusion, the scene in the Red Sox owners' box was not pretty. With the score, 17-6, Tom Werner turned to the suite steward, Bill Teseira, and said, "Do we have any whiskey?" Larry Lucchino joined Werner in a shot of Glenlivet on the rocks. It was hardly a rally shot, but Werner admitted, "I nursed the drink for the last three innings and it really did help with the pain of that game." It was the first hard liquor either one had consumed in Fenway all season.
It was cold and late and most of the sad faces of the Red Sox were wrapped in hooded sweatshirts as they sat slumped in the dugout. The hole was too deep. This was no way to end such a season of high hopes. They were going down without a shred of dignity against the team they hated most. And it was happening in their own house, a ballpark that was almost empty for the final innings of a must-win playoff game.
In her season-ticket seat in the lower boxes, historian Doris Kearns Goodwin stopped keeping score, breaking what she called "an almost religious habit my father had instilled in me when I was 6 years old." During the meaningless late innings, three customers walked into the Twins Enterprise souvenir store on Yawkey Way and switched allegiances. They bought Yankee caps. The unbearable heaviness of being a Red Sox fan had simply become too much. In the press box, veteran Globe writer John Powers spoke over the phone with his 23-year-old son, Evan, who was watching from his 82nd Street apartment in New York. Evan had attended Game 2 in Yankee Stadium, but he said it was simply too hard to keep rooting for the Red Sox. He was done.
"They have broken my spirit," he told his dad.
As the game lurched toward its brutal, inevitable conclusion, John Henry went to his best friend, his computer. Undaunted, ever-optimistic, and hopelessly innocent (in other words, he was a newcomer to the Red Sox), he started calculating. A philosophy major who never graduated from college, Henry made his billions calculating odds. He was a commodities man. It was easy to calculate that the odds were 16-1 that the Sox could come back from an 0-3 deficit to win four straight. Henry turned to Rich Levin of the commissioner's office and said, "Someone is going to do it. Someday. Absolutely. Why not us? It's going to happen sooner or later. It's overdue."
Maybe. But in a century of professional baseball, hockey, and basketball seven-game series, only 2 of 236 teams ever came back from a 3-0 deficit -- the 1942 Toronto Maple Leafs (vs. Detroit) and the 1975 New York Islanders (vs. Pittsburgh). This wasn't a hedge fund. The Sox weren't pork bellies. Swept up in his childhood love of baseball, Henry was letting his heart get in the way of his head. He was dreaming.
The Yankee blowout lasted four hours and 20 minutes, the longest nine-inning game in postseason history. It did not end until 12:25 a.m. on Sunday and there were less than 5,000 fans in the ballpark for the final pitch. Who would have guessed it would wind up being the shortest of the three Fenway games of the 2004 ALCS?
Few noticed, but something important happened in the middle of the horrible loss. Watching Arroyo, Ramiro Mendoza, and Curtis Leskanic take their beating, Tim Wakefield went to Terry Francona and volunteered to pitch. Typical Wakefield. He was the man who gave up the homer to Aaron Boone in 2003 and feared he'd be Bill Buckner. He'd pitched an inning of relief in Game 1 and been rocked for two runs on three hits, including a Kenny Lofton homer. He was slated to be Game 4's starting pitcher, but there he was, raising his hand to save the beleaguered bullpen in a game the Sox were certain to lose. By the time Wakefield got into Game 3, the Sox were out of it and already thinking about how they could salvage Game 4. So Wakefield, who prided himself on always having his spikes on, came into Game 3 and took his beating, giving up five runs on five hits in 3.1 innings. It was the 3.1 innings that counted. Wakefield would finish the ALCS with an awful ERA of 8.59 but his willingness to take one for the team lined up the Sox pitching for the final four games. He was the silent MVP with the ugly numbers.
Francona made a point of Wakefield's contribution in his postmortem, er, postgame remarks, noting, "We got ourselves into a bind. You saw what was going on. It was getting ugly. Because Wake did what he did, we were able to stay away from Timlin and Foulke . . . He's a professional, and when we win tomorrow, we'll have Wake to thank for that." The manager also mentioned that Derek Lowe, not Wakefield, would be starting Game 4. Lowe, who had yet to pitch in the series, was 2-3 with a 9.28 ERA against the Yankees in 2004. In 39 career games against New York, he was 8-10 with a 6.07 ERA. He was certainly no Yankee killer, but he was all the Sox had left.
Game 3 drove a stake through the heart of the Nation, and tales of woe were legion. My son, 17-year-old Sam Shaughnessy, who lives for all things baseball, gave his Game 4 ticket to his aunt Ann. He claimed it was because Game 3 had ended after midnight and he had a history test the morning after Game 4. A ruse. Sam loves the Red Sox and hates history. But he couldn't bear to watch the Yankees celebrate at Fenway after a four-game sweep.
Theo Epstein had an interesting few hours after the blowout.
"I was pissed," he remembers. "That was probably our worst game of the year, including spring training. You hate to play your worst game of the year at the most important time. We were faced with our own mortality. I was thinking, `God, is this the way this team is going to be remembered? This team should have won it all.' After the game I sat in Tito's office, even after Tito left."
Epstein was rescued by Jonathan Gilula, Peter Woodfork and Jed Hoyer, three of his young friends from the front office, part of the Real World Fort Myers from March. In the late 1980s, a young Lucchino had been rescued in a similar manner by his mentor, Edward Bennett Williams. Both men were battling cancer at the time and one day, when Lucchino was feeling sorry for himself, his boss grabbed him and said, "Let's go out for some real chemotherapy!" An afternoon of drinking ensued. In the hours after the sickening loss to the Yankees, Epstein went to the apartment of his pals -- located above the Baseball Tavern a block from the park -- and downed four or five vodka tonics. They even watched an ESPN broadcast of Game 7 of the 2003 ALCS, the Aaron Boone game.
"They said they didn't want me to be alone, they were worried about what I might do," remembers Epstein. "We sat and talked about the series. I said we just needed one miracle in Game 4. Then we could come back with Pedro and Schilling and anything can happen in a Game 7. We were flipping channels, forcing ourselves to watch highlights, then we came across last year's Game 7. I hadn't watched it all year. So I said, `That's it, I'm watching it! We need a cleansing.' I ended up passing out on their couch. So I spent the night in my sports coat."
He bounced back and was at the park plenty early for Game 4. He took tough questions from a bloodthirsty media for a half-hour during batting practice. Everyone could see that this was going to be especially tough on Epstein, who had boldly traded the wildly popular Nomar Garciaparra hours before the midsummer trading deadline. Ever mindful of my book, Epstein looked at me and said, "You look kind of pale. How's that book going?"
Easy answer. Susan Canavan, a Sox fan and editor of this book, had already summed things up early Sunday, saying, "There's no book anymore. No one wants to read about these guys now."
She was right. We all knew it was over. And it was ugly. Under my byline on the front page of the Boston Sunday Globe, it read, "So there. For the 86th consecutive autumn, the Red Sox are not going to win the World Series. No baseball team in history has recovered from a 3-0 deficit and this most promising Sox season in 18 years could be officially over tonight. Mercy."
Fastidious about admitting and correcting factual errors, the Globe has yet to retract this incorrect declaration in its October 17, 2004, edition.
Tommy McLaughlin, a longtime Sox employee who served as equipment manager in the visitor's clubhouse, was forced into the dirty deed of procuring champagne for the Yankee victory celebration. A Brighton native, he went to ever-trusted Dorr's Liquors in Brighton Center and picked up 10 cases of Great Western. The stuff was iced and stored in a back room near the Yankee clubhouse on Sunday afternoon. McLaughlin and his helpers also had to put the plastic covering in front of the Yankee lockers, then disguise it atop the stalls before the team arrived at Fenway.
Kevin Millar never gave up. Speaking for all of his teammates when the world expected the Sox to fold and go home, Millar corralled me near the first base dugout during batting practice and warned, "Don't let us win tonight. This is a big game. They've got to win, because if we win we've got Pedro coming back in Game 5 and Schilling in 6 and then you can take that fraud stuff and put it to bed. Don't let the Sox win this game." He said the same thing to just about every person he saw before Sunday's game.
They were surprisingly composed and confident while perched on the brink of extinction. They truly believed they could dig out of this hole and there was odd comfort in the knowledge that no one outside the clubhouse thought they could do it.
Meanwhile, the message on the Sox clubhouse door read, "We can change history. Believe it."
Francona, he of the intestinal woes, kept a jar of Metamucil handy at all times. He was downing a large chalky glass of the stuff before every game, always offering some to his young GM. Before Game 4, Epstein joined the manager in the odd ritual. It was the ultimate gesture of solidarity. So to speak.
Lowe gets credit for slowing down the Yankee lineup in Game 4. He gave up a two-run homer to A-Rod in the third inning, but wasn't charged with another run until the sixth and the Red Sox led, 3-2, when Lowe was lifted in favor of Timlin. The thumpers in the middle of the Yankee lineup, Messrs. Sheffield, Alex Rodriguez, Matsui, and Bernie Williams were finally stifled in Game 4 and they never found their hitting shoes after Lowe put a stop to the batting practice madness that had marked Game 3. Meanwhile, Wakefield's Game 3 sacrifice paid the predicted dividends, as Foulke was able to hold the Yanks scoreless for 2.2 innings when the game groaned past midnight.
The key play of Game 4 -- indeed, probably the key play of the series and the season -- came in the bottom of the ninth inning. It was a stolen base by Dave Roberts.
Odd that a stolen base would wind up being one of the most important plays in Red Sox history. It's like MIT winning the Rose Bowl or Legal Seafoods earning a citation for best steak in Boston. Red Sox and base stealing go together like Danny DeVito and Arnold Schwarzenegger.
The Yankees were leading, 4-3, in the bottom of the ninth and the sand was truly running out on another Fenway summer. Mariano Rivera, without question the greatest closer in the history of October, needed only three outs to clinch New York's 40th pennant and send the Sox into yet another cold winter without a ring.
Upstairs in L-1, Lucchino took out a yellow notepad and started composing some thoughts. He was joined by Werner, Dr. Steinberg, and Steinberg's friend, George Mitrovich.
"I didn't trust my instincts to say the right thing," Lucchino said. "I wanted to talk about what a bitter pill it was -- having this phenomenal, exciting, great second half of the season -- and how we would redouble our efforts to come back again."
While Lucchino scribbled, Werner looked toward the third base dugout and saw Yankees GM Brian Cashman, team president Randy Levine, and former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani. "The idea that we are going to be defeated by the Yankees at Fenway Park and have the American League trophy handed to them in this clubhouse was a little more than I could stomach," Werner remembered. "It had been a very good season for us. We'd won 98 games and swept the Angels, but clearly losing four in a row to the Yankees was going to be a pretty harsh blow. You couldn't help but come to the conclusion that once again the Yankees had proven they were the stronger team. And could you ever beat them? This was just such an embarrassment. So we wrote some notes."
When Millar led off with a walk -- on five pitches -- Lucchino put the pad into a drawer. His wife, Stacey, fumbled with a tiny No. 11 rubber pool ball, the same orb that Grady Little had apparently jinxed the year before. She'd left it at home for the first three games of the series, but figured there was nothing to lose when the Sox went down, 0-3. Sort of like a shot of Metamucil.
With Millar on board and nobody out, Francona sent Roberts in to run for Millar. Thirty-two years old, Roberts was born in Okinawa (where Johnny Damon lived briefly). His dad was a Marine for 30 years, his mom Japanese. Roberts graduated from UCLA, majoring in history, and broke into the big leagues with the Indians in 1999. Along with Orlando Cabrera and Doug Mientkiewicz, he'd been part of Theo's trading deadline harvest -- the least celebrated of the July 31 newcomers.
The 5-10 Roberts looked over his shoulder at Francona as he walked toward first. The manager winked at Roberts. Green light. Francona was trusting his player, as he had trusted all of his players all season. He was leaving the game and the season in the hands (okay, feet) of a .256 career hitter who'd stolen 38 bases and been caught only three times in 2004.
"Dave's one of the few guys in the league who can steal a base when everyone knows he's going to try," said Francona. "We had talked after the inning. When I winked, he knew that meant, `Go when you can go.' I wouldn't pick a pitch for him because that's hard to do. But he knew if he got a jump, he had my blessing to go, and if he got thrown out, I would take the bullet."
It was a bold move. With Bill Mueller at the plate -- the same Mueller who'd beaten Rivera in July with a two-run walkoff homer -- Rivera threw to first base three times before delivering a pitch to the plate. When the Hall of Fame closer finally fired toward home, Roberts was off and running. The pitch to Mueller was high and away. Mueller took the pitch. Catcher Jorge Posada uncoiled from his crouch and came up firing. It was an ideal pitch for a catcher to handle with a runner stealing. However, Posada's strong throw to Jeter was a shade to the shortstop side of second and it allowed Roberts to beat the tag with a headfirst slide. Mueller squared to bunt the next pitch, then took it for a strike. Francona lifted the bunt sign and Mueller made contact with the 1-1 pitch, shooting it past a sprawling Rivera and into center field. Roberts scored easily. Game saved. Series saved. Season saved. Finally, something went Boston's way. It was 4-4.
With former Red Sox Paul Quantrill on the mound in the bottom of the 12th, Manny Ramirez led with a single to left. David Ortiz strode to the plate, dragging the magic black bat that had done so much damage all year. It was long after midnight, just as it had been when Carlton Fisk walked to the same home plate in Game 6 of the 1975 World Series. It was the 12th inning. Just as it had been for Fisk. Ortiz worked the count to 2-1. When Quantrill tried to sneak a fastball past him, Ortiz sent it into the Yankee bullpen. It was 1:22 a.m. in Boston and Fox' Joe Buck told the world, "We'll see you later today."
Even at the hideous hour, there was hardly an empty seat in old Fenway. Like the players, fans were not ready for winter. Not yet. There would be other days to cut cordwood and hang storm windows. It was still baseball season in New England. Theo went back to the couch and the vodka tonics at his friends' apartment above the Baseball Tavern.
Not much work or studying got done in New England on Monday, October 18. The fans, who had watched the game through their fingers, didn't roll into their beds until 2 or 3 a.m. It seemed that by the time they finally woke up, it was almost time for the next game.
Dr. Bill Morgan, the youthful orthopedic specialist who served as medical director of the entire Sox system, could ill afford to be sleepy. He spent part of Sunday at the University of Massachusetts Medical School in Worcester practicing an unprecedented procedure in hopes that he could get Curt Schilling back on the mound. Shots of Marcaine hadn't worked -- Schilling needed to feel his foot push and land. The special hightop shoe hadn't worked -- it put too much pressure on the ankle. Morgan was forced to be more creative. He wanted to stabilize the flapping tendon by attaching the skin around the tendon to the deep tissue, thus creating a makeshift sheath to hold the tendon in place. He went to UMass to find a human cadaver leg on which he could practice.
"I was able to get an ankle there and open it up and look at the anatomy again," said Morgan. "It was an amputated specimen, cut just below the knee."
Male or female? we wondered.
"Let's just say it was kind of a big, hairy foot," said Morgan. "No nail polish. I'd say it was a guy."
Yeesh. The ultimate sacrifice. A dead man breathed life into Curt Schilling to get him back on the mound.
"Fans didn't actually give their lives for the Red Sox," noted Lucchino. "This was after the fact. But it did help us win."
Before Game 5 at Fenway, Morgan gathered with trainer Jim Rowe and assistant trainer Chris Correnti and performed the procedure on Schilling in the back training room of the Sox clubhouse. It required local anesthesia and took approximately 20 minutes. Boston University's Dr. Timothy Foster, associate editor of the American Journal of Sports Medicine, later told the Globe, "This is the first time I've seen or heard of this." Schilling was able to walk around with his numb foot before the game.
Fifteen hours and 49 minutes after Ortiz rounded the bases to finish Game 4, Pedro Martinez threw his first pitch of Game 5 to Jeter. This game would turn out to be the longest postseason game in history -- five hours and 14 minutes over 14 innings.
Pedro was long gone and the Yankees led, 4-2, in the top of the eighth when A-Rod muffed a chance to bury the Sox. Miguel Cairo led off with a double and Jeter (acting on his own) bunted him to third. Facing Timlin with only one out, Rodriguez was expected to get Cairo in from third. But A-Rod struck out swinging, a sin for which Yankee fans would punish him forever.
In the bottom of the eighth, with the Red Sox down to their final six outs, Lucchino again was scribbling concession notes in the owners' box. Then Ortiz -- officially replacing the great Carl Yastrzemski as Boston's most clutch postseason hitter -- started the inning with a home run off Tom Gordon. Lucchino put his notes back in the drawer. Millar walked again. Roberts pinch ran again and took third on a single to center by Trot Nixon. Rivera replaced Gordon, and for a second straight night, he was unable to hold the lead as Jason Varitek -- doing what A-Rod failed to do -- tied the game with a sacrifice fly to center. The Red Sox would never trail again in 2004. The idiot savants played their final 60 innings without ever needing to come from behind.
In the top of the ninth, something happened that gave pause for those who might have believed in the Curse of the Bambino. With Ruben Sierra on first base and two out, Tony Clark (like Quantrill and Gordon, another former Sox) roped a double down the right field line. Running on contact with two out, Sierra was a lock to score from first, but the ball somehow hit the right field wall beyond Pesky's pole and crawled up the green facade and into the stands for a ground rule double. Sierra had to hold at third. In a typical Red Sox unlucky time, the ball would have stayed in play and Sierra would have scored. Joe Morgan's flare dropped in front of Fred Lynn in Game 7 in '75 and Posada's popup landed in front of Damon in the fateful eighth in New York in 2003. Not this time. This year was different. Cairo, the next batter, popped up, and it was on to the bottom of the ninth.
With two on and two out in the 14th, Ortiz had a memorable at-bat against Esteban Loaiza. He fouled off six pitches before dumping the game-winning single into center on Loaiza's 10th pitch, scoring Damon from second. Gabe Kapler described Ortiz' feat as "Jordanesque." Fittingly, Wakefield got the win in relief. Games 4 and 5 both ended on October 18, a rare "morning-night" doubleheader.
Wakefield said, "Being down, 3-0, and being down the last two nights shows the depth, the character, the heart, the guts of our ballclub. And it took every ounce of whatever we had left to win tonight's game and to win last night's game."
Epstein said, "I'll take nominations. I might be in sort of a haze, but I think that was one of the greatest games ever played, if not the greatest." Then he was back to the vodka tonics and the couch in his friends' apartment.