"They are down, 3-0, after last night's 19-8 rout, and, in this sport, that is an official death sentence. Soon it will be over, and we will spend another dreary winter lamenting this and lamenting that." -Bob Ryan, Boston Globe, 10/17/04 after Yankees def. Red Sox in Game 3 of ALCS, taking a 3-0 lead
That quote was written on October 17, 2004, one day following the one-year anniversary of the most crushing, agonizing and painful defeats I've ever experienced, my beloved Boston Red Sox were back in the postseason against the Yankees in the A.L. Championship Series.
Only this time, they faced insurmountable odds. The Sox were staring in the face of a three games-to-none deficit and in the history of baseball, NOT ONE team facing that deficit has come back to win the series. Red Sox fans at Fenway and all over the world could feel it, the prospect of another Yankees championship was staring them in the face and unless the Old Towne Team pulled out a miracle, it would be another long winter.
I was a sophomore in college at the time and watching the game on FOX, regardless of how much I can't stand Tim McCarver. Joe Buck opened the Red Sox's half of the inning with the following words:
"The Red Sox are three outs away from being swept out of the American League Championship Series for the first time since 1990."
My heart was just pounding, almost about to jump out of my chest. To make matters worse, Mr. Playoffs himself Mariano Rivera was on the mound. Kevin Millar was at bat and Bill Mueller was on deck............and it was at that EXACT moment that I had a feeling we could win that game. I realized that if Millar could get on base, Mueller could have a chance to do it again to Rivera. If you remember the famous A-Rod/Varitek fight in the regular game on July 24 that ended with a walk-off homerun, guess who hit it? You guessed it.
My thinking was all Millar had to do was just get on base. Just get on base without getting out and we had a shot to tie. He ended up walking and he came out of the game for pinch-runner Dave Roberts, one of the men acquired in the blockbuster trade deadline deal for Nomar Garciaparra. Roberts' role was simple: steal second base to get into scoring position. Rivera threw over about five times before even delivering a pitch to Mueller. When he did throw his first pitch to home, Roberts took off and the world slowed down. I gripped the sides of my TV with my eyes closed tight, unable to stand the tension. Posada's throw was on line but Roberts was safe and I pumped a fist in hope. All Mueller had to do now was just get a hit as I knew the Yankees in the outfield did not have the best arms to throw him out at home. Right on cue, he ripped a single into centerfield to Bernie Williams. His throw wasn't even close to homeplate and Roberts slid into home, tying the game sending Fenway into a frenzy and I went bonkers as did a few people in other buildings on campus. The game was sent into extra innings but we had done the damage and put a chink into the Yankees armor, putting their potential celebration on hold.
In the 12th inning, I took note of who was coming to bat: Ramirez, Ortiz and Varitek. I started thinking how many times the Yankees could escape jams. After Manny singled to put the winning run on, I just knew Big Papi would end it with one big fly. I'll remember the pitch as if it were yesterday- a 2-2 two-seam fastball that caught a little too much of the plate. He crushed it and my joy would not be silenced, I knew it was gone the minute it left the bat. Joe Buck's words brilliantly summarized the moment:
"Ortiz into deep right field! Back is Sheffield and we'll see ya later tonight!"
Buck's call was reminiscent of his late father Jack's call of Kirby Puckett's game winning homerun in Game 6 of the 1991 World Series. The game ended after midnight as Game 5 was to be played that afternoon. Fans stayed an hour after the game was over just to celebrate, knowing in the back of their minds it was just one game.
Of course, the Sox would end up winning the next three games en route to their first world championship since 1918.