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The Globe's top 10 Red Sox stories for 2004

By Scott Thurston, Globe Staff, 12/25/04

1. FIRST WORLD SERIES TITLE IN 86 YEARS
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With all due respect to the 16 NBA titles for the Celtics, the five Stanley Cups for the Bruins, and the couple of Super Bowl championships for the Patriots, is there any doubt this was the greatest story in the history of Boston sports? The jinxed (some say cursed) Olde Towne Team finally put its ghosts to rest as this renegade bunch avenged 86 years of frustration with a scintillating four-game sweep of the high-powered St. Louis Cardinals, who had posted the best record in the majors in the regular season (105-57). ''This is for anyone who ever played for the Red Sox, anyone who ever rooted for the Red Sox, anyone who has ever been to Fenway Park,'' said general manager Theo Epstein. Of course, how they got to this point made it all the sweeter . . .

2. COMING BACK FROM 3-0 DEFICIT TO WIN ALCS
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Not even the most rose-colored devotee in the Nation would have been optimistic after a grisly 19-8 loss to the hated Yankees at Fenway Park that put the Sox on the brink of an epic collapse in the American League Championship Series, down three games to none. But then legends were made. Pinch runner Dave Roberts will be remembered as the guy who stole second off Yankees übercloser Mariano Rivera in the ninth inning of Game 4 and scored the tying run on a single by Bill Mueller, a game won on David Ortiz's series-turning home run in the 12th. What followed was a rally from a two-run deficit in the eighth and a 14-inning win in Game 5; a stitched-together Curt Schilling turning in a gutsy performance in Game 6; and a masterful start by the forgotten Derek Lowe on two days' rest in a do-or-die Game 7 that merely completed the greatest postseason comeback in baseball. The best was yet to come.

3. NOMAR GARCIAPARRA IS TRADED
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He was the face of the franchise for eight seasons, a routine-driven shortstop who was the American League Rookie of the Year in 1997 and so inspired his legions of No. 5-wearing fans, young and old, that chants of ''Nomah, Nomah'' became commonplace. And then he was gone. General manager Theo Epstein -- insisting he needed to shore up his team's defense -- made the boldest move in his tenure, sending the popular, two-time batting champion to the Cubs at the July 31 trading deadline in a four-team, eight-player deal. The Sox acquired two former Gold Glovers, Montreal shortstop Orlando Cabrera and Minnesota first baseman Doug Mientkiewicz, both of whom played pivotal roles in the team's surge to the world championship.

4. PEDRO MARTINEZ DEPARTS AS OTHERS ARRIVE
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For all the class he displayed in seven brilliant seasons on the Fenway mound, it was a no-class exit from Boston for Pedro Martinez, one of the greatest pitchers of his generation. Citing the all-too-familiar ''lack of respect'' theme, the free agent ace opted for approximately $54 million worth of ''respect'' with the lowly Mets, and in his graceless departure insulted former teammate Curt Schilling and Sox management. Of course, ''respect'' was echoed in St. Louis, too, where new Sox shortstop Edgar Renteria cited a similar theme in his decision to sign a four-year, $40 million deal with Boston. To help fill the Martinez void, Epstein signed free agent pitchers David Wells (two-year, incentive-laden deal), Matt Clement (three years, about $25 million), and Wade Miller (one-year, incentive-laden deal).

5. JASON VARITEK AND A-ROD BRAWL/BILL MUELLER HITS GAME-WINNING HOMER
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In a July 24 slugfest (literally) that only served to reinforce the level of intensity in this New York-Boston rivalry, Bill Mueller hit a walkoff, two-run homer off Rivera in the ninth inning that gave the Sox an improbable 11-10 victory. But the real drama was staged six innings earlier, when catcher Jason Varitek (aren't you glad he's back for another four years?) took issue with the stream of invectives Alex Rodriguez directed at Sox pitcher Bronson Arroyo after getting hit with a pitch, and promptly stuck a mitt in the third baseman's face, touching off a benches-clearing melee. After a two-run single by Nomar Garciaparra the next inning, a prophetic lyric from Chumbawamba's ''Tubthumping'' is heard over the Fenway sound system: ''I get knocked down but I get up again, you're never gonna keep me down.''

6. SWEEPING ANGELS IN DIVISION SERIES
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While a new generation of Sox fans may be too young to remember Carlton Fisk's memorable blast in Game 6 of the '75 World Series, they'll always have David Ortiz in Game 3 of the Division Series against Anaheim. Big Papi's 12th-inning blast off a juicy Jarrod Washburn slider powered the Sox to an 8-6 victory over the overmatched Angels and a stunning ALDS sweep, only their second in 20 postseason series since 1903. ''We're just the idiots this year,'' Johnny Damon had declared prior to Game 1. ''We feel like we can win every game. We feel like we have to have fun - and I think that's why this team is liked by so many people out there.''

7. SCHILLING BECOMES FOLK HERO
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From the days following the Thanksgiving dinner with Theo to the comebacker to Keith Foulke that clinched his legend, Curt Schilling's mantra never changed. ''I came here to help the Red Sox win a World Series,'' he said. Schilling was brilliant in the regular season, finishing on a 20-4 run to post a 21-6 mark with a 3.26 earned run average. But his numbers belied the fact he was pitching much of the season with an injured ankle numbed by an anesthetic. In the ALDS, he dislocated his ankle tendon on a fielding play. After getting battered by the Yankees in Game 1 of the ALCS (''I can't pitch if I'm like this again,'' he conceded), a little (Dr. Bill) Morgan magic came to the rescue. In an innovative procedure, Morgan used a few sutures to keep the loose tendon in Schilling's ankle secure. The big righthander took the hill again and with blood seeping through his sock (think Roy Hobbs), baffled New York in Game 6, securing his place in Boston lore.

8. LATE-SEASON WIN STREAK OF 21 OUT OF 23
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The streak began Aug. 16, the opener of a three-game series against Toronto. Manager Terry Francona drew criticism for starting Gold Glove first baseman Doug Mientkiewicz at second base because of a thumb injury to Mark Bellhorn, but the Sox, trailing the Yankees by 10 games in the AL East, rolled to an 8-4 victory. Little could anyone have predicted that Francona's outside-the-box thinking may have given his team just the inspiration it needed. The Sox would go on to win 20 of their next 22 to cut the division deficit to two games Sept. 8, but just as important, it gave them a firm grip in the wild-card standings.

9. EPIC 13-INNING JULY 1 BATTLE VS. YANKEES
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July 1 in the Bronx -- the night the Yankees did it to 'em again. In one of the greatest regular-season games in the history of the rivalry, the Sox had taken a 4-3 lead in the top of the 13th on Manny Ramirez's second home run of the night. Not so fast. One strike from defeat, the Yankees got game-turning hits from Miguel Cairo and John Flaherty for a memorable win. The game featured many twists and turns, but will perhaps best be remembered for Yankee shortstop Derek Jeter's headfirst dive into the third row of box seats in the 12th inning that saved the game and left him with stitches on his chin and cheek. ''It was one of the greatest plays I've ever seen,'' said Yankee catcher Jorge Posada.

10. PEDRO CALLS YANKEES HIS DADDY
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Ah, a headline writer's dream. Especially in New York. The Sox opened a three-game series with the Yankees Sept. 23 at Fenway Park, hoping to set the tone for a playoff matchup. Instead, after a frustrating 6-4 defeat in which he was unable to hold a 4-3 eighth-inning lead against his team's archrivals after being sent back out by the manager to start the inning (sound familiar?), Pedro Martinez said, ''What can I say? I just tip my hat and call the Yankees my daddy.'' The statement would resonate through the postseason, but in the end, Martinez would have the final say.