“It’s alright son,” my dad said to me the morning of Oct. 21, 2004. “They’ll get some pitching over the winter. There’s no need to brood and be upset.”
Really? There was no need to be upset, dad? The New York Yankees, the team I absolutely worship, had just embarrassed themselves and their fans, choking and losing to the Boston Red Sox in the 2004 American League Championship Series. The Bombers had a three games-to-none lead. They needed to win just one more game and had four chances to do it.
But they didn’t. The Yankees failed. Big time. There was plenty of need to be upset. In fact, I remember thinking that I wanted to throw myself off a roof because the loss was so heartbreaking.
Yes, it was that bad.
But long before the Red Sox came back from an 0-3 deficit to make history and crush my dreams to gain entry to the ’04 World Series, we members of Yankee Universe were coming off quite a triumphant ALCS in 2003.
In the last round before the fall classic the year before, lowly Aaron Boone crushed a glorious, solo home run to left field in the bottom of the 11th of Game Seven, sticking a dagger into the hearts of the Red Sox and their Nation.
The Yankees had beaten them in a heavyweight, ALCS battle but failed to beat the Florida Marlins in the ’03 World Series. Making up for the loss during the off-season, the Yankees had made a blockbuster move signing superstar and former Most Valuable Player Alex Rodriguez to a record-breaking contract.
“This is great,” I thought. “Aaron Boone, who will never again have to buy another meal in New York City, is out for the year, and we get A-Rod to replace him?! We are going back to the World Series. If we can beat Boston with Boone, imagine what Alex Rodriguez can do!”
That was my logic. It eventually turned out to be distorted logic, however.
The 2004 regular season featured some unbelievable games between the Red Sox and Yankees. A thrilling battle on July 24, complete with a fight between Boston captain Jason Varitek and Rodriguez. Boston rallied back from five runs behind to beat the Yanks 11-10 on a walk-off home run by Bill Mueller.
About three weeks before that on July 1, John Flaherty came up in the bottom of the 13th inning at Yankee Stadium and crushed a game-winning, ground rule double to give the Yanks a 5-4 win and a three-game sweep of their most hated rivals.
All of the regular season dramatics came to a head in game one of the 2004 ALCS. The Yankees rocked Curt Shilling, who was suffering from tendonitis in his foot, en route to a 10-7 win. Game one is so important because it usually sets the tone of the series.
In game two, Jon Lieber out-dueled Pedro Martinez and the Yankees won, 3-1. Really the only difference in the game was a home run by John Olerud. I didn’t care, I took it.
After game two, Johnny Damon, Boston’s centerfielder, said to the media that game three was a must-win because “the Yankees really do not lose four in a row.” The Red Sox knew they needed to win or else they were cooked.
But that must-win became a certain loss for Boston. One that defied logic.
I remember the announcers’ words during game three; “The rout is on; a relentless assault of epic proportions unleashed by Joe Torre’s New York Yankees.” It was indeed a beat down. The Bombers won the game 19-8, completely pummeling the Red Sox and humiliating them in front of their own fans on their home diamond.
Red Sox players were so convinced they were going to be eliminated that some of them approached a number of Yankee players telling them, “good luck in the World Series.” Even the Red Sox counted themselves out.
Just looking at the faces of all their fans was enough for me; the sad, depressed, broken-hearted look I would soon become very familiar with.
Game four looked to be over. The Yankees had a 4-3 lead going into the bottom of the ninth. Mariano Rivera, the all-time postseason saves leader, took the hill. He issued a leadoff walk to Kevin Millar. Then Dave Roberts, a pesky little speedster, came off the bench to pinch run for him.
Roberts, or should I say “The Flash,” quickly swiped second base to give Boston a runner in scoring position with no outs and Mueller at the plate. Boston manager Terry Francona later said it was the biggest play in the series. “If he didn’t steal that base, we were going home,” he remarked.
And that’s when Rivera’s cutter didn’t cut.
Mueller lined a single right up the middle as Roberts raced around third to score the tying run. What a disaster. That was the only way to describe it. Carrying past nine innings, the game went into the bottom of the 12th.
And when you play the Red Sox for a certain amount of innings, you are bound to face David Ortiz one too many times. 12 innings is too many.
Ortiz launched a long, two-run home run deep into the Boston night, giving the Red Sox a 6-4 win over the Bronx Bombers in game four. A crushing defeat. But I didn’t let it get me down too bad because we had another chance at the World Series the very next night.
But unfortunately the Yankees did not get the job done in game five, either.
Heading into the bottom of the eighth inning, the Yanks were clinging to a 4-2 lead. Ortiz once again swung his bat, deep to left field and over the Green Monster. Not only was it a two-run homer, the ball traveled so far that it hit the Volvo sign positioned high over the wall.
I’m not exactly sure if the ball has landed yet, but when I saw it bank off the billboard I could only say one word as I shook my head: “Volvo.” We were tied, 4-4.
Ortiz once again played the role of Superman, smacking the game-winning single to score Damon in the bottom of the 14th inning. Another night, another extra-inning Red Sox walk-off.
Now up three games to two, we were coming home. Back to the Bronx; Yankee Stadium, the Cathedral of Baseball where the ghosts live. The site where the Yankees won the first two games of the series. “They will never beat us twice in a row in our house,” I thought. “Game Six is the night we shine and we win the pennant.”
I was wrong again.
Schilling, sporting a bloody sock and taking the mound like a wounded warrior, was the only one who shined that night. The Boston ace shut the Yanks out for seven innings and the Red Sox went on to win 4-2. A brilliant performance when the Red Sox were facing elimination.
The unprecedented show Schilling put on led the ALCS to the two most important words in all of baseball: game seven.
From the moment the final game started it was over. Boston jumped out to a quick, 2-0 lead in the top half of the first. But Damon then padded that lead with a grand slam in the bottom of the second, putting the Red Sox ahead 6-0.
I was so annoyed, I pulled the Yankee hat I was wearing off my head and threw it at the TV set. Threw it at Damon circling the bases and threw it at the smiles on the Red Sox’ faces and the perplexed look on the Yankees’ faces.
“Are you kidding me? What is happening? How? Why?” All of these questions were running through my mind as the game moved along. The Yankees were about to be history as the Red Sox made it.
I turned the game off. I went to sleep. I could not bear watching what was transpiring at Yankee Stadium. When I woke up the next day I turned on ESPN to watch the Red Sox celebrate the pennant on the Yankees’ infield.
The headline in the morning paper read, “Curse Reversed?”
I of course received comfort from my dad the morning after the Yankees choked and at school most of my friends were just as upset as me. The gloomy and downtrodden faces of my fellow students were just like the faces of the Yankee fans that were shown on TV the night before.
I hoped the curse of the Bambino would live on. But the Red Sox did indeed snap the 86-year losing streak, beating the Cardinals in the 2004 World Series.
The World Series victory just added insult to injury. What a horrible waste of a season.
It wasn’t until November of 2006, more than two years after the Yankee collapse, when I found out what was happening in the Boston locker room before the ALCS games.
I attended a speech/question-and-answer session with Brian Cashman, the Yankees’ General Manager. Cashman stated that he wanted the Red Sox to win the World Series for their fans; he wanted the Boston fans to experience what the New York fans had been through so many times: a World Title.
But Cashman also said he was not happy with the questionable things the Red sox were doing before each game, a la taking shots of Jack Daniels before they took the field.
I don’t see that as something to look up to. It does not set a good example to the younger, impressionable children who play Little League and even High School players.
The Red Sox may have taken shots before the ALCS games but after expressing his disgust over the drinking, Cashman took a parting shot of his own at the Red Sox. He said he “didn’t like how some of their players dressed like softball players.” I still feel to this day, although he didn’t mention him by name, Cashman was referring to Manny Ramirez.
It was upsetting to hear about the Red Sox’ drinking before the games and I thought less of them after I heard about it. Drinking before a game is such a “non-Yankee” thing to do. I know Mickey Mantle had his problems and played games drunk, but in this day and age under Torre and George Steinbrenner, it would never happen.
Drinking before the games doesn’t say much about the character of that team.
It was refreshing to see the Yankees make up for the lack of pitching after 2004, signing former World Series MVP and Cy Young Award winner Randy Johnson before the beginning of the 2005 campaign. Even though “the Big Unit’ wasn’t what the Yankees had hoped for and did not work out in the long run, he helped the Yankees recapture the American League Eastern Division.
Johnson gave sort of an edge back to the Yankees and took the attention off the reigning World Champions. Not to mention he pitched brilliantly against the Red Sox when he faced them.
Barring another catastrophe in the future, the 2004 ALCS will always stand out in my mind as the worst feeling I have ever had as a sports fan. The Red Sox crushed me that year. They made history, yes, but keep in mind that they didn’t come back in an honorable fashion.
I don’t think there is any other way I could have had my heart broken, except maybe by a girl. But girls come and go. I’ll always remember the 2004 ALCS. Unfortunately.