With the current Boston Red Sox team giving us little to cheer about, many of us fans are looking longingly to the not-so-distant championship past. And no recent Red Sox champion has been so central to postseason glory and yet overlooked in the retelling of the highlights than third baseman Bill Mueller.
In the magical 2004 season, two distinct games against the New York Yankees were looked upon as turning points for the Red Sox and their curse-busting mission.
The first significant game was the July 24 match up against the Yankees. Boston had been swept in the Bronx in a heartbreaking series earlier that month highlighted by Derek Jeter's famous leap into the stands.
In the rematch series in Boston, the Yankees won the opener despite Kevin Millar's three homers and the Yankees were on the verge of pulling away. But this was the game where Bronson Arroyo hit Alex Rodriguez and Jason Varitek started a brawl.
The Red Sox won the "A-Rod Fight Game," and the re-energized Red Sox went on to a big league best 45-20 record the rest of the way to get into the playoffs.
The second game was Game 4 of the American League Championship Series. The Red Sox were on the verge of being swept, but Kevin Millar predicted they would come back to win the series. Millar put his money where his big mouth was by walking against Mariano Rivera with the team three outs from elimination.
Then Dave Roberts pinch-ran for him and stole the biggest base in Red Sox history. He would score to tie the game. Big Papi David Ortiz would win the game on a walk off homer.
Add another extra-inning thriller, a bloody sock, a slapped glove by A-Rod and a blow out Game 7 and there was the recipe of the greatest four games in Red Sox history. And it was all sparked by "The Dave Roberts Game."
And what Red Sox player was not only vital in both the "A-Rod Fight Game" and "The Dave Roberts Game" but kept them from being irrelevant footnotes in the continued Yankee dominance of Boston? That would be Bill Mueller.
It was Mueller's two-run, bottom-of-the-ninth walk-off homer against Mariano Rivera that won the game in July.
Had he made an out, the big brawl would have looked like a bush-league tactic by an outclassed team. (Be honest, Red Sox fans. If Jorge Posada took a swing at Nomar Garciaparra while keeping his mask on like Varitek, he would never live it down in Boston.)
And it was Mueller's base hit off Rivera that scored Roberts in Game 4 to tie the game. Without that hit, the stolen base would be nothing more than an obscure footnote to a Yankees sweep.
In both instances, it was Mueller facing off against Rivera and coming through. It was Mueller who turned 2004 around twice.
And yet any compilation of highlights and shorthand terminology of 2004 would mention Roberts, Ortiz, Millar, Schilling and Ramirez ahead of Mueller.
The regular rotation of clips include the brawl, the stolen base, the bloody sock and the celebrations. Mueller tends to get shortchanged except by the truly knowledgeable fans.
Had he not come through twice against the greatest reliever of all time, the Red Sox would still be probably looking for their first title since 1918. And if the 2012 season seemed dreary now, imagine it without the comfort of the recent titles.
Thank you Bill Mueller, twice.