Until 2004, the Red Sox were that team. The one that had amazing players – Ted Williams, Yaz, Fisk, Clemens, to name a few – and plenty of money, and an 86-year World Series drought. Time and again, it was our year to win it all, and time and again, we didn’t. In a series of blunders and mishaps, Red Sox Nation suffered heartache after heartache, the feeling of almost getting there, only to have our dreams dashed.
This all changed in 2004, my favorite year since I’ve been alive. At the end of an improbable season with a goofy, yet impressive team, the Red Sox headed to the postseason to finally try and break that curse that had stopped generations of teams before them.
And it did not start off well. The Yankees quickly took a three-game lead, making Schilling look like a ruined waste of money and reminding Pedro they were still his daddy. Boston bats were virtually silent, and the mood was grim. The chill in the air seemed to say, winter is already here; your season is over.
9th inning, Game 4, the Yankees looking to sweep. Enter, Kevin Millar. With the inimitable Mariano on the mound, Millar took a walk to first. The notoriously slow first baseman was then sent to the bench, as Francona made the best decision of his managerial career: to put in Dave “Speedy” Roberts in to pinch-run for Millar.
Roberts, a former Dodger, was 38 for 41 in stolen bases at that point, and in his own words, he was just looking to keep the game alive. As Bill Mueller stepped to the plate, Mariano tried to pick Roberts off first about a million times. But when he finally turned his focus back to home, Roberts took off for 2nd like a bat out of hell. The throw from Posada came a split second too late, and Roberts was safe at second. The spark had officially turned into a flame. The Red Sox stayed alive.
A few hours later, in the early hours of the next morning, David Ortiz hit a walk-off in the 12th to catapult the Red Sox to victory. After that, it was all theirs to win. The Yankees and Cardinals never stood a chance.
Now, I’m not saying that Dave Roberts is the reason this team won their first World Series since 1918. But I’m also not not saying that. That miraculous steal was the jolt, the shock to the system that his team needed to wake the hell up and decide not to go down four straight to the Yankees.
Baseball is made up of moments. The split second when the ball hangs in the air before dropping down, a home run or a base hit. That final pitch spiraling through the air before it smacks into the catcher’s mitt, a ball or a strike to end the game. Roberts’ moment, and the other little moments – Schill’s bloody sock, Papi’s back to back walkoffs – made the 2004 postseason so special. Combined, they kept the Red Sox alive, and inspired them as they went on to make history.
Here’s to many more unforgettable moments. Is it Opening Day yet?