Red Sox

Retro Recap, 2004 ALCS Game 7: Damon Hits Slam, Lowe Slams Door, and Heaven Breaks Loose

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Over the last few days, in appreciation of a certain anniversary, I’ve re-watched each game from the 2004 American League Championship Series, when everything about being a Red Sox fan changed. Then we’ve come here to write about all that was memorable, and all that we might have forgotten too.

Reliving this magical nine-day stretch isn’t the same as living it in real-time. But if anything in Boston sports history is worth reminiscing about at any opportunity, isn’t it this?

Especially this: Game 7, when — I don’t believe a spoiler alert is required here –the greatest comeback in the history of professional sports was completed and the Red Sox exorcised the Yankees with a 10-3 rout at Yankee Stadium.

Let’s go back to October 20, 2004 and remember the feats of Derek Lowe, Johnny Damon, and of course, Big Papi, who not only dreamed this possible dream right along with us, they made it come true …

WHAT HAPPENED, SORT-OF CONDENSED VERSION

Of course we lacked the foresight to know that everything was going to be all right, and so this one began with a bit of here-we-go-again frustration.

After singling and swiping second base against Yankees starter Kevin Brown, Johnny Damon tried score on Manny Ramirez’s single to left in the top of the first. But Derek Jeter made a perfect relay of the rag-armed Hedeki Matsui’s throw, and Damon’s hesitation rounding third was enough to cost the Red Sox a potential run. It felt like a lost opportunity. With Derek Lowe pitching on two days’ rest and both pitching staffs in tatters, every run mattered.

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Enter David Ortiz, who made us feel better on the very next pitch, rocketing a line drive into the right field bleachers for a 2-0 Red Sox lead. Then Damon redeemed himself and then some during the second inning. After Brown gave up a one-out single to Kevin Millar, then walked Bill Mueller and Orlando Cabrera in succession, he was yanked by Joe Torre, who swapped death stares with Brown.

While Brown headed down the runway to crush some light bulbs in his bare hands, Javier Vazquez arrived at the mound burdened with the hope that he could stem the tide (much like Mike Mussina in relief of Roger Clemens in Game 7 the year before) in the middle innings. But Vazquez, long coveted by the Red Sox, needed one pitch to contribute more to their cause than he ever would have if he actually played for them.

Johnny Damon lofted his first pitch into the right field bleachers for a grand slam and a 6-0 Red Sox lead. The rout was on. The only concern? There was such a long way to go.

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The Yankees got one back in the bottom of the third on Derek Jeter’s RBI single, the first New York hit. But Damon hit a second homer, merely a two-run shot, off Vazquez in the fourth for an 8-1 lead.

The only real drama came after Lowe departed following six innings of one-hit, one-walk pitching. I’ll never fault anyone for handing the baseball to Pedro Martinez, but there is no denying that he was Yankees’ fans favorite adversary to antagonize, and his presence in this game woke up the jackals, if not the ghosts.

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When Pedro gave up back to back ringing doubles to Matsui (did Pedro ever get him out) and Bernie Williams, you had to have at least had a fleeting thought: Good god, they’re not going to blow this are they? After coming back from 3-0 in the series, then taking a huge lead in Game 7 … I mean, this is just a speed bump, right? Because if they blow this, I’m out.

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As it turned out, fears were unfounded. Pedro gave up an RBI single to Kenny Lofton to make it 8-3 with just one out, but then retired John Olerud and Miguel Cairo (with Jeter lurking on deck) to escape his lone inning.

Mark Bellhorn homered leading off the eighth for a 9-3 lead. The Sox hit double digits on Orlando Cabrera’s sacrifice fly the following inning, and as Red Sox pitchers systematically crossed out another and then another of the 27 required outs, the delirious realization accompanied you to the last pitch, an Alan Embree fastball that Ruben Sierra rolled over to Pokey Reese for out No. 27.

The Red Sox had done it. They’d vanquished the Yankees in the most fulfilling and unforgettable way possible. It was real, and it was spectacular. It was worth, I believe, the wait and the suffering that came before this night 10 years ago.

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WHAT YOU REMEMBERED, WHAT YOU DIDN’T REMEMBER, WHAT YOU DIDN’T WANT TO REMEMBER … WELL, HELL WITH THAT, BECAUSE YOU WANT TO REMEMBER ALL OF IT

From the first pitch, Kevin Brown looked ready to sucker-punch a light fixture … Actually, Joe Buck’s early synopsis of the Yankees pitcher’s season included the phrases “intestinal parasite” and “punching a wall.” Those are strong indicators that it was not Kevin Brown’s most pleasant season … Fox helpfully reminds us, which noting that Terry Francona moved the about-to-get-hot Mark Bellhorn up to the No. 2 spot, that the Red Sox are 1-5 all-time in Game 7s. Like I said: Helpful. … Buck and McCarver explain that Lowe was the choice to start Game 7 because Tim Wakefield had thrown 108 pitches over the previous three games. I appreciate Wakefield’s unselfishness in this series, but I can say this knowing I would have said the same before learning the outcome. I’d take Derek Lowe in any condition over a knuckleballer in a game of this importance …

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The Yankees trotted out Bucky Dent to throw the ceremonial first pitch. He delivered a strike to the delighted howls of the Jeter-jerseyed jackals. Little did they know it was the best pitch anyone dressed in Yankees gear would throw for the first two innings … I don’t understand why Torre didn’t use Kenny Lofton more in this series, though he and Ruben Sierra were both pretty washed-up at this point at their combined age of 75 … Sneaky-good celebrator/handshake artist on the Boston bench? Ricky Gutierrez. He was to this unit what Royce Clayton would be to the ’07 champs …

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McCarver goes silent for several seconds after Damon’s homer. Maybe he was letting the moment stand. But I suspect he couldn’t believe what he just saw … Buck informs us that the Yankees had the most come-from-behind wins in baseball history in ’04 — 61 times, plus four more in the playoffs. Quiet, Buck … He’s not gonna be quiet, is he? “There’s not any Red Sox fan, in New England or anywhere else,: he says, “who is comfortable with a 6-0 lead in the second inning.” Annoying. But accurate. …

Jeter power-clapped and yelled, “C’mon!” after his RBI single in the third. Pretty sure I heard the director say “Great take, Derek. Now let’s try one with calmer eyes.” … I’ve never heard an explanation I totally believed about why Francona brought Pedro into the game. Fox started focusing on him in the bullpen in the fourth inning. When he began throwing in the sixth, Buck in particular was still skeptical that he was coming in the game at any point … But Lowe came out after six innings — and just 69 pitches. “Derek Lowe has been sensational,” Buck says, after Lowe struck out Gary Sheffield on his final pitch. “Absolutely fantastic.”

Yankees fans were absolutely giddy to see Pedro come into the game. McCarver speculates that Pedro asked to come in the game just as Matsui rockets a double to right. The “Who’s your daddy?” chants could be heard in Manhattan. When Bernie Williams followed with a double off an 87 mph fastball, the jeers became audible in Hoboken, This was suddenly terrifying. An 8-2 lead felt small. Why did Lowe have to come out again? Did a Red Sox manager actually pull a starter too soon this time? Then, amid “PAYYYY-DRO!!” mock-cheers that rocked the old building, Lofton singled to cut it to 8-3 … Ah hell, I’m not watching this anymore. Pedro got out of it, eventually, dialing up a couple of 97 mph fastballs to escape further damage ….

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You know when I knew it was really over? When Mike Timlin retired Jeter to start the eighth, Bill Mueller gunning him out by half-a-step at first base. He was done. And so were the Yankees. The only other time I’ve seen him with a similarly befuddled look on his face was just a few Sundays ago, when that singer from “The Voice” charged at him across the Fenway lawn while loudly spelling the word respect …

After the final out, after Buck said the words we longed to hear: “And there it is. …. Reese. …. The Boston Red Sox have won the pennant!,” there was one more moment captured by the Fox cameras. As the Red Sox celebrated on the Yankee Stadium turf, Alan Embree grabbed David Ortiz in a bear-hug, because that’s the only way to hug David Ortiz. Then he offered Papi the words we were thinking about the team as a whole: “I am so [expletive] proud of you.”

THE SINGLE GREATEST CLUTCH HITTING PERFORMANCE IN RED SOX HISTORY

In Game 7 on the Yankees’ home field at the peak of the rivalry and our angst, Johnny Damon hit a grand slam and a two-run home run to complete the greatest series comeback in history.

I will never understand how Red Sox fans could ever boo the guy, even after he joined the vanquished enemy a few seasons later. He struggled early in this series, entering the game 3 for 29. But he showed up when it mattered most, as McCarver actually foreshadowed in the pregame: “

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“Johnny can make those [poor numbers] all go away with a good night tonight,” he said, “in a Red Sox victory.”

THE SINGLE GREATEST CLUTCH PITCHING PERFORMANCE IN RED SOX HISTORY

In Game 7 on the Yankees’ home field at the peak of the rivalry and our angst, Derek Lowe, pitching on two days’ rest, held them mighty Yankees to one hit and one run in six innings to help the Red Sox complete the greatest and comeback in the history of baseball.

Given his quirkiness — he had the mound mannerisms of an 8-year-old who just had his Skylanders game taken away — and his miserable regular season, such a performance might have been unexpected.

But maybe it shouldn’t have been. He was an accomplished pitcher who seized the opportunity to prove he could provide so much more than his perceived worth at the time.

D-Lowe’s redemption might be at the top of my list of favorite scenes and developments from this series.

NEW ENGLAND STATE OF MIND, POSTGAME

So when it was over, when Pokey’s throw found Doug Mientkiewicz’s glove and Yankee Stadium became our playground, how did you celebrate? What was your state of mind? You had 86 years to plan for this. What did you do?

Did you stand there, staring at your television, conscious and catatonic all at once as you vowed to take it all, every little satellite celebration away from the pig-pile, since you’d waited for this for so damn long?

Did you hug the man/woman/child in the Red Sox gear to your left, and then to your right and then back to your left again?

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Did you run up and down your suburban street screaming like a fool, only to encounter others doing the same?

Did you hop on the computer and click over to the Sons of Sam Horn “Win It For” thread, an authentic, organic collection of tributes to those whom shared in your unrequited-until-now love for this franchise?

Maybe you did all of those things. Here’s what I did. I scooped my 7-month-old daughter out of her crib, held her in my arms like a Nerf swaddled in a pink cocoon, and watched what I never believed I’d see with her, so someday I could tell her she was there with me. We talked about that today .

I did not call my dad. I don’t know why. But we sure did talk about it today.

As a fledgling copy editor at the Globe in October 2004, I had no outlet to write about these games, the ones I’d always dreamed of writing about. Hell, I was barely trusted with the box score.

The Red Sox’ championship was my inspiration for starting Touching All the Bases. It’s been an incredibly rewarding decade. But I never got to explore these games until now.

Thanks for reliving them with me over the last few days.

Let’s do it again in another 10 years — maybe eight if we’re having a particularly lousy year.

* * *

Now let Mike and the Mad Dog take you back with the most entertaining schadenfreude you will ever hear in your life.

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