ANAHEIM, Calif. - Manny Ramírez's towering walkoff home run - if a baseball lands in the Charles River does it qualify as a "splash hit?" - and the Red Sox charter aircraft both returned to earth sometime Saturday morning and throughout Red Sox Nation it feels like 2004 all over again.
There have been a lot of good nights at Olde Fenway since the Sox vanquished the Yankees (and Cardinals, by the way) three years ago, but this is the first time it's felt like the golden days of October '04.
Curt Schilling, one of the seven holdovers from that championship season, gets the ball today in a potential clinch game against the Angels. The Sox are on the threshold of advancing to the American League Championship Series and the Franconamen appear locked and loaded - ready for anything the Indians, or Yankees, can throw at them in the next round.
"It's always about winning the World Series," Schilling said yesterday at Angel Stadium. " . . . And '04 was special in a lot of different ways. It seems like it's been a long time since I've been able to take a ball in a game like this. It's exciting."
It's a mistake to look ahead, of course. The Oakland A's no doubt thought they were going to advance to the ALCS when they took a 2-0 series lead against the Red Sox in 2003, but Trot Nixon's Game 3 walkoff ignited a comeback in that series and started a BoSox last-call tradition that rocked Fenway again Friday night/Saturday morning.
It was no ordinary time in the ancient Back Bay ballpark. Playing in front of the largest Fenway crowd (37,706) since World War II, the Sox and Halos scratched and clawed for 4 hours, 5 minutes. The MBTA had stopped running when Manny sent everyone into the streets with his majestic clout off Francisco Rodriguez at 12:44 a.m. Throughout New England, the spontaneous sounds of car horns cut through the warm, humid air. It was something like New Year's Eve - 9 months, 5 days, and 44 minutes late.
Loud and late. This is the way the Sox captured the region in 2004. It was 1:22 a.m. when David Ortiz hit his walkoff shot against the Yankees in the 12th inning of Game 4 of the ALCS. That was the Dave Roberts-steal game and it ended a mere 15 hours and 49 minutes before the start of Game 5.
It felt a lot like that at Fenway Friday night/Saturday morning. Manny, who hadn't homered since Aug. 28, and had never hit a walkoff with the Red Sox, abandoned his helmet (Big Papi style) after rounding third and was greeted at the plate by the entire team while "Dirty Water" played and the Fenway floors shook.
"Mikey Lowell actually said, 'We're going to have a party at home plate here in a little while,' " said Jonathan Papelbon, who ran the anchor leg for Boston's impeccable relief relay team and earned the win.
More stunning than Papelbon's confession was the appearance of a dapper Manny in the interview room. It was his first press conference since spring training '06 and he did not disappoint, sounding a little bit like Muhammad Ali.
"I haven't been right all year round," said Manny, who talked on a daily basis in '04 when he was World Series MVP. "But, I guess, you know, when you don't feel good and you still get hits you are a bad man . . . I am one of the best players in the game. I have confidence in myself, and I know my train doesn't stop there. Sometimes you get me, sometimes I get you. And I got him at the right time."
Manny is another '04 holdover. The others are Ortiz, Jason Varitek, Mike Timlin, Kevin Youkilis, and Doug Mirabelli. Tim Wakefield was here in '04, but he's not on the ALDS roster. Also involved in this series is Angel shortstop Orlando Cabrera, who has seen Red Sox October magic from both sides now.
There's some nice symmetry in the presence of the 40-year-old Schilling on the mound today. Schill hasn't pitched since Sept. 25 and was last seen in a playoff game when he limped to the mound with a bloody sock in Game 2 of the '04 World Series.
Schilling was not at Fenway Friday night/Saturday morning. The big lug and Josh Beckett flew to California ahead of their teammates to get some rest for Game 3 and (if necessary) Game 4. Unaware of what had happened, Schilling and Beckett walked into the team hotel bar after their lengthy journey, looked up at the TV, and saw Manny with his arms in the air.
"I was acting like a 2-year old," said Schilling. "I was just screaming . . . We literally just stepped out of the cab and Manny hit the ball. So it was a pretty wild night."
Wild in Boston, too. Magical even. Just like in 2004.
Dan Shaughnessy is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at email@example.com.