In continuation of the Giant Killers series, I introduce the well-worn, but always bone-chilling story of the 2004 Boston Red Sox.
After a crushing loss in the 2003 American League Championship Series via an Aaron Boone walk-off home run in Game Seven at Yankee Stadium, new Red Sox general manager Theo Epstein had great changes in mind for his 2004 club.
The first shakeup made by Epstein was the firing of manager Grady Little, blamed for the '03 ALCS loss, and replacing him with Terry Francona. In four seasons managing the Phillies, Francona's Fightin' Phils never finished above third place in the National League East, never a win percentage better than .475.
Little did anyone know, after the upcoming 2004 season, Francona would become a Boston hero after October rolled around.
Before the season, Epstein brought in two pitchers who would become key to the Red Sox as the season advanced. First was starter Curt Schilling, who quickly became co-ace with Pedro Martinez.
Shoring up a huge hole in the bullpen, Keith Foulke was brought in to be the closer that the Red Sox so badly needed.
However, the shakeups weren't done there. With fan-favorite Nomar Garciaparra's best days behind him, Epstein made another surprise move, dealing him at the trade deadline as a part of a huge four team trade.
Nomar as well as outfielder Matt Murton went to the Chicago Cubs, Brendan Harris, Francis Beltran, and Alex Gonzalez went to the Montreal Expos, Justin Jones went to the Minnesota Twins, and Orlando Cabrera and Doug Mientkiewicz joined the Red Sox.
As if that didn't shake up the team enough, in a separate trade minor leaguer Henri Stanley was traded to the Los Angeles Dodgers for speedy outfielder Dave Roberts.
After the trades, the Red Sox turned things around on a huge scale, winning 22 games of 25. They went on to qualify for the playoffs as the American League Wild Card team, weighing in with 98 wins.
The Red Sox started off the playoffs in 2004 on a high note. Making quick work of the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, sweeping them away en route to an ALCS match-up with their division-rival Yankees that will go down in history books as one of the best ever.
This time around the Fenway Faithful had high hopes for their Red Sox. The series started out with all the makings of a disaster.
They dropped Game One 10-7 at Yankee Stadium. A Yankee highlight of the game was Mike Mussina, who retired his first 19 batters, tossing six perfect innings. However, the Red Sox did get five runs off him in the seventh inning. Unfortunately it was too little and too late.
After the slugfest of Game One, the Yankees flexed their muscles on the hardware-thirsty Red Sox in Game Two, taking away a low-scoring affair. Surely it meant that they were the best team, because they could win both high and low scoring games.
After being manhandled by Jon Lieber and Yankees pitching, Mariano Rivera slammed the door on the Sox in the top of the ninth to close out a 3-1 win, sending the series back to Boston with the Sox dug into a 0-2 hole.
With Game Three being played in their own town, the Red Sox were set up to take the game that they needed to stay in this series with Kevin Brown pitching against Bronson Arroyo.
Everyone got routed in this one. The Red Sox were able to muster up eight runs and 15 hits. Not to be outdone, the Yankees came up with 19 runs and 22 hits on their way to taking a 3-0 lead on the series.
The Red Sox looked down and out in this series, and despite a vastly improved team the year before, they didn't even push the Yankees to seven games this year.
However, Epstein's offseason additions would start paying huge dividends in Boston's ultimate crunch time. In the bottom of the ninth inning in Game Four, Dave Roberts was pinch running for Kevin Millar.
After several failed pickoff attempts from Rivera, Roberts saw the daylight, taking off and stealing second. It was the stolen base that kept their season alive. Bill Mueller promptly singled, scoring Roberts and tying the game at four.
Later that game, David Ortiz blasted a monster walk-off two run to right field in the 12th inning as the Red Sox won 6-4.
Game Five at Fenway was another of the most memorable games of the series. After eight innings, the two teams were deadlocked in a 4-4 tie. The game went deep into the night, lasting over five hours and 49 minutes and going deep into the small hours of the morning.
Finally, in the 14th inning, David Ortiz ended the game with a single which scored Johnny Damon. At the swing of his bat, FOX announcer Tim McCarver said "He didn't do it again, did he? Yes he did!"
Despite this new-found momentum on their side, the Red Sox had to win two more games in the Bronx to get past this huge road bump.
Curt Schilling started the series pitching with a torn tendon sheath in his ankle, and he got shelled for six runs over a minuscule three innings of work. Based on his 21-6, 3.26 ERA regular season, the Red Sox knew he wasn't going to be pitching that way on a bad ankle.
It didn't stop Schilling from coming out in Game Six of the series.
Schilling's ankle was held together for the game with sutures that were put in place before the game in an unprecedented procedure.
Throwing seven innings, Schilling gave up just one run to the Yankees, while getting four runs of support courtesy of a Jason Varitek single and a three-run home run from Mark Bellhorn.
In the first nine inning win for the Red Sox of the whole series, Keith Foulke came in for the save. However, he gave a lot of Boston fans a healthy scare after walking Hideki Matsui and Ruben Sierra. Tony Clark came to the plate as the go-ahead run, but struck out on a 3-2 count.
With the comeback coming around in full swing, the Red Sox gathered in the clubhouse to watch Miracle, the Kurt Russell movie chronicling the miraculous victory of the 1980 USA men's Olympic Hockey Team.
Game Seven wasn't even close. At the Bronx, the Red Sox enjoyed a one-run, one-hit outing from Derek Lowe through six innings. Coming through for the Red Sox were propelled to victory by home runs from Johnny Damon, Mark Bellhorn, and David Ortiz.
After all the effort, the Boston Red Sox won the game 10-3, and became the first team in the history of Major League Baseball to come back from a 0-3 series defecit to win the series, four games to three.
The ALCS comeback for the Red Sox was great. It was beyond great. The only moment keeping this seven game marathon from being the highlight of the 2004 season for Boston was the World Series that they finally won, their first in 86 long seasons.
As the 2004 Red Sox showed by toppling the empire, it always pays to keep the faith.
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