From a Red Sox perspective, this year’s Baseball Hall of Fame election did not figure to be one ending with another ‘B’ cap embossed in Cooperstown’s Plaque Gallery. Although longtime closer Lee Smith will give Boston a sliver or representation, his 18-year career including two and a half seasons with the Red Sox from 1988-90, none of the eight former Sox on the Baseball Writers Association of America ballot made the cut.
Jason Bay, Derek Lowe, Darren Oliver, and Kevin Youkilis didn’t receive a vote and won’t be back next year. Manny Ramirez (22.8 percent) essentially got no closer to induction in his third try, still hundreds of votes short. Billy Wagner (16.7), he of the 17 appearances out of the bullpen in 2009, is even further back. Curt Schilling (60.9) and Roger Clemens (59.5) were the leading vote-getters not to receive the 75 percent needed for induction, but each still faces a battle for reasons beyond their raw talent.
Fortunately, the Red Sox figure prominently in the stories for the quartet that was inducted. Mariano Rivera, Roy Halladay, Edgar Martinez, and Mike Mussina played the vast majority of their careers in the American League, with three longtime Red Sox rivals in the AL East.
A sampling of their places in our New England baseball lore.
The first unanimously elected Hall of Famer in more than 80 years of elections converted 64 of the 82 save opportunities he had against the Red Sox during his 19-year career, plus ended up winning five of the games he blew. Rivera saved two games in the 1999 ALCS victory, saved two more in 2003, plus won Game 7 when he threw three scoreless from the 9th to 11th innings.
Dustin Pedroia was 1-for-12 against him. Trot Nixon was 3-for-24. Manny Ramirez had 11 hits, but averaged just .234. Rivera was not lights-out dominant, but he certainly succeeded a lot more than he failed.
You don’t remember that, though. You remember those two nights in October 2004. So does Rivera.
“The hardest moment [of my career], to me, was against Boston Red Sox,” Rivera said in an MLB Network interview with Joe Girardi, his former manager and teammate. “Because we had that lead and because it was Boston. Just, period, because it was Boston.”
Boston’s comebacks in Games 4 and 5 in 2004, going from 3-0 down in the best-of-seven to pushing the series back to New York, are legendary enough to not need the play-by-play. So, too, is the grace with which Rivera handled his lowest point. When the Yankees returned to Boston for the home opener in 2005, Rivera responded to his tongue-in-cheek standing ovation with a smile and a tip of the cap.
That scene was the centerpiece of the team’s gift to Rivera when he retired in 2013, and the Fenway crowd gave him multiple ovations that year as a thank you. That feeling was mutual as well.
This what Rivera wrote in the bullpen. pic.twitter.com/dgQzS02bM6
— Buster Olney (@Buster_ESPN) September 16, 2013
The righty’s tragic death in a 2017 plane crash made Tuesday bittersweet, him being the first player posthumously elected via the annual writers vote since Christy Mathewson and the initial vote of 1936. Halladay spent 12 of his 16 seasons with the Toronto Blue Jays, rising from a walk-the-ballpark fireballer early in his career to a two-time Cy Young winner and, while with the Phillies, just the second pitcher to throw a postseason no-hitter.
Toronto’s Opening Day starter from 2003-09, Halladay made 39 starts against the Red Sox and generally struggled. His 4.39 ERA is his fifth-worst against any team, with his teams going 17-22 in those games. Halladay’s final game in a Blue Jays uniform was a three-hit shutout at Fenway Park in the waning stages of the 2009 regular season, though the Red Sox lineup he dominated included Joey Gathright, Casey Kotchman, George Kottaras, and Chris Woodward — Boston had clinched a postseason berth in the wee hours that morning.
David Ortiz slugged six home runs off Halladay in 109 career plate appearances, both the most Halladay gave up to a hitter and the most Ortiz had against any pitcher. Youkilis also had quite the career against him, going 21-for-56 with a 1.071 OPS. He had a triple, walk and a home run in Halladay’s lone Phillies appearance against the Red Sox.
Congratulations to an amazing class of 2019! Idolized @11EdgarMartinez as a hitter and was lucky to compete against three stud pitchers. Well deserved fellas. #HOF2019 #MazelTov https://t.co/YCCPt1rUI0
— Kevin Youkilis (@GreekGodOfHops) January 23, 2019
If not for Mussina, the Red Sox might’ve ended their World Series title drought a year earlier. The Game 7 of the 2004 ALCS that Rivera won in the 11th was saved by the longtime Orioles ace hours before.
Already down 3-0 entering the fourth inning, an ineffective Roger Clemens gave up a leadoff homer to Kevin Millar, then walked Trot Nixon, who got to third on Bill Mueller’s ensuing single. In Game 7 of the 2004 ALCS, the Red Sox extended their early lead and never gave New York a chance to recover. In 2003, Mussina shut the door.
In his first career relief appearance, Mussina — who’d lost all three his postseason starts that year, including Games 1 and 4 to the Red Sox — threw six straight strikes to get out of the fourth-inning jam, then followed with a scoreless fifth and sixth. It was 4-1 when he came out, then it was 4-2, then 5-2 into the bottom of the eighth …
Even 16 years and four championships later, it still stings a little.
Mussina posted a 3.66 ERA in 57 career regular-season starts against the Red Sox, plus won Game 1 of the 2004 ALCS (when Curt Schilling couldn’t pitch through his ankle injury) and left Game 5 in the seventh inning with a 4-2 lead. (A win denied him by those old bullpen friends, Tom Gordon and Rivera.) It took Mussina until the final start of his 18-year career to post a 20-win season despite winning as many as 17 seven other times, but he finally did it at Fenway Park on Sept. 28, 2008.
A small bit of consolation for his other best known Fenway appearance: Sept. 2, 2001, when, one strike from a perfect game, Mussina gave up a Carl Everett bloop single to left-center.
Martinez’s worst numbers against American League competition during his 18-year career came against the Red Sox, but everything’s relative when we’re talking about a player who hit .329 for a seven-season stretch from 1995-2001. The Seattle legend had a .870 OPS and .289 average in 134 career games against Boston, including a .299 average at Fenway Park.
As for critical hits, though, the list is largely lacking. Martinez did crack an 11th-inning, 3-run shot off Rod Beck on Aug. 14, 2001, moving the Mariners to an absurd 86-33 and the Red Sox one step closer to the abyss they’d finish the season in. (Jimy Williams was fired less than 48 hours later.) If anything, Martinez’s strongest tie to the Red Sox is what his Hall induction as a primary designated hitter means for David Ortiz’s case three years from now.
Pedro Martinez, who dominated Edgar to the tune of 3-for-25 and 11 strikeouts in 33 plate appearances in his career, was nonetheless happy to see Martinez join him in Cooperstown.
Congrats to the HOF Class of 2019! Welcome to all of you! See you this summer in Cooperstown. Felicidades a mis hermanos latinos Edgar Martínez y Mariano Rivera! Enhorabuena Puerto Rico y Panama! #yeah pic.twitter.com/i40ihlTHjz
— Pedro Martinez (@45PedroMartinez) January 23, 2019