I’ll always remember the 1998-99 Red Sox teams among my favorites. Oh, you know they were flawed ball clubs — did Dan Duquette ever bring in a presumed No. 2 starter whose shoulder wasn’t held together by duct tape, yarn, and half-chewed Dubble Bubble? — but they were feisty and fun, led by Pedro Martinez and Nomar Garciaparra, who electrified Fenway like few others before or since.
The ultimate prize eluded them, as it had so many Red Sox forebears, what with the mighty Jeter-Williams-O’Neill Yankees at the peak of their dynastic powers at the time. The ’98 club had more pure talent — former MVP Mo Vaughn, closer Tom Gordon, Dennis Eckersley in his 24th and final season — but the ’99 team advanced farther despite a vibe that often felt like Nomar, Pedro and 23 role players against the world.
I bring this up because there’s a pleasant development occurring now that reminds me of one of the unexpected joys of that ’99 season.
Nick Cafardo wrote an interesting piece earlier this week comparing Mike Carp‘s torrid recent hitting — he entered Tuesday’s doubleheader with a 1.065 OPS for the season and a ridiculous 1.303 in June — to David Ortiz‘s emergence in 2003.
To me, though, it’s much more reminiscent of Brian Daubach‘s emergence from obscurity in ’99. Carp is 27, the same age Daubach was that season. He’s never been a premier prospect but has consistently put up good numbers in the minor leagues. He was discarded by a team, the Mariners, who have struggled to find offense, just as Daubach was dismissed by the 54-win Marlins following a 1998 season in which he hit 35 homers in Triple A.
While Jose Offerman was ostensibly brought in to replace Vaughn’s on-base percentage after he left for Anaheim as a free agent, it was Daubach who did the most to replace his slugging, especially in the season’s first half, when he had a .925 OPS:
And here’s Carp so far, for comparison’s sake:
Not exactly a mirror image — Carp slumped in May, while Daubach didn’t until much later — but both were unexpected offensive forces for prolonged lengths.
It’s funny, I actually remembered Daubach having a brilliant first half and falling off the cliff in the second, but without debate August was his best month.
It was also the month in which he produced the most memorable moment during his four-plus respectable seasons with the Red Sox, a run that included four 20-homer seasons and — bet you forgot this — a World Series ring for his 86 plate appearances in ’04.
Remember it? The date was Aug. 16. Oakland led, 5-3, and the Sox had the bases full and Daubach at the plate in the bottom of the ninth. Tim Worrell was on the hill, and the A’s were one strike away from tying the Red Sox for the wild card lead.
Daubach had just missed — and I mean just missed, by a foot if that — a walk-off grand slam, the drive ducking inside the Pesky Pole rather than curling around it. Here’s Gordon Edes’s account in the next morning’s Globe of what happened next:
Daubach, after fouling off five consecutive pitches with the bases full, drove Worrell’s next pitch the opposite way, high off the Monster. Darren Lewis, who was on third base, scored. Butch Huskey, who was on second, scored. And Jose Offerman, who took off from first as Worrell released his changeup, crossed the plate with the run that gave the Sox a 6-5 win over the Oakland Athletics, one that resonated with meaning far beyond its immediate impact on the wild card race.
“It’s hard even to describe, when you think about where I came from,” said Daubach, who didn’t miss a backroads whistlestop on his long, improbable trip to the big leagues. “You do that in the minor leagues, you do it in front of maybe a thousand people. Nothing compares to winning a game in Boston, in the bottom of the ninth.”
The moment would have been special had Daubach not endured so much frustration and rejection along his journey to the big leagues. But his back story made it even better, because you knew it was savored, appreciated.
Like Carp now, he was an underdog who probably should have received a real chance well before he got one. Now, just as it was then, it’s cool to watch a deserving player seize it when it finally comes around.