"Title-Town" --- How Boston Became the City of Champions (Part 2: Red Sox)

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A four-part series recounting the success of Boston pro sports during the 2000s

In Part I, we talked about the New England Patriots' rise to dominance. Now let us look at how the Boston Red Sox followed their example.

Part II: Keep the Faith; Red Sox Redeemed at Last (2004 and 2007) 

October 2003; Game 7 of the American League Championship Series. The Red Sox are six outs away from winning their first American League pennant since 1986. With ace Pedro Martinez on the mound, Boston was clinging to a 5-2 lead over the New York Yankees. In what became an incredibly controversial move, manager Grady Little left his starting pitcher in the game to protect a three-run lead in the eighth inning.

The implications of his decision were disastrous. Martinez allowed four straight hits to Derek Jeter, Bernie Williams, Hideki Matsui and Jorge Posada, ultimately tying the game at five heading into the ninth inning. In the bottom of the 11th, Aaron Boone led off the inning against Tim Wakefield. On the first pitch he saw, Boone crushed the ball to deep left field, capping a dramatic comeback and Game 7 victory for the New York Yankees. For the Red Sox, it was the all too familiar ending of “so close, but not quite”.      

During the offseason, the Red Sox revamped their roster by acquiring Curt Schilling and Keith Foulke. Both would play integral roles in the 2004 season.

On July 24, the Red Sox took on the Yankees in the second game of a three-game set at Fenway Park.  In the third inning, starting pitcher Bronson Arroyo beaned Alex Rodriguez with an inside fastball. Not pleased, Rodriguez yelled towards the mound as he walked to first. In an attempt to protect his pitcher, Jason Varitek intervened and ended up shoving his mitt in Rodriguez’ face. This sparked a bench-clearing brawl in which both players were ejected and later fined and suspended for four games.

The Red Sox rallied and ended up winning on a walk-off home run by Bill Mueller. To many Boston baseball fans, sportswriters and analysts, this was one of the most iconic games in Red Sox history, and it served as a turning point in the season. 

Red Sox GM Theo Espstein made a gutsy move at the trade deadline, dealing All-Star shortstop and fan favorite Nomar Garciapparra to the Chicago Cubs. In exchange, the Red Sox received veteran shortstop Orlando Cabrera from the Montreal Expos and first baseman Doug Mientkiewicz from the Minnesota Twins. Epstein later acquired a speedy outfielder named Dave Roberts from the Los Angeles Dodgers.

The Red Sox went on to win the AL Wild Card after a successful 98-win season, securing their third straight playoff berth. After sweeping the Anaheim Angels in the American League Division Series, they met the New York Yankees in a rematch of the previous year’s ALCS.

Once again, it looked like the Red Sox would be out muscled by the Yankees, with New York taking the first three games, outscoring Boston 32-21. Facing elimination in Game 4, the Red Sox turned to Derek Lowe, who last pitched during the clinching game of the ALDS. Lowe went five and one third innings while allowing three runs on six hits.

With the game tied at three in the top of the sixth, Mike Timlin came on in relief. He was ineffective, allowing a run on three hits and three walks over one frame. New York carried its 4-3 lead to the bottom of the ninth, three outs away from the series sweep and their second straight appearance in the Fall Classic.

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With a sense of déjà vu quickly setting in, it almost seemed like the Red Sox’ sole purpose was to serve as a doormat for the Yankees to wipe their feet on before advancing to the World Series. Boston would not go down without a fight, though, with Kevin Millar drawing a leadoff walk off Yankees closer Mariano Rivera. He was lifted for pinch runner Dave Roberts. In what became one of the most famous plays in Boston sports history, Dave Roberts stole second base, getting into scoring position with nobody out.

With the tying run at second, Bill Mueller singled back up the middle, scoring Roberts to tie the game and force extra innings. Both bullpens provided solid relief, with neither team scoring for the next two innings. Then, in the bottom of the 12th, with a runner at first, David Ortiz came to the plate. Yankees reliever Paul Quantrill threw an inside, belt-high fastball and Ortiz did not miss it. He crushed it to deep right field, over the visitors’ bullpen, securing the Red Sox comeback victory in Game 4. “Big Papi”, who made a name as one of the most clutch hitters in baseball, had his second walk-off homer of the 2004 postseason.

A little over 24 hours later, the Red Sox and Yankees once again found themselves in a battle in extra-innings. With the game tied at four in the bottom of the 14th inning and Johnny Damon on second, David Ortiz got a chance to collect his third walk-off hit in the eight postseason games. He came through, fighting off an inside fastball from Esteban Loaiza for a bloop single to centerfield, scoring Johnny Damon from second for the winning run.

With the victory, the series shifted back to New York, where Curt Schilling took the hill just days after undergoing a procedure to surgically repair a torn tendon in his right ankle. Schilling turned in a gutsy performance in what became known as the “bloody sock game," going seven innings and allowing just one earned run on four hits while striking out four and walking none in the 4-2 victory. He pitched through apparent pain, in which his right sock was clearly soaked with blood, hence the name. Considering the magnitude of the event and the circumstances surrounding it, Curt Schilling’s Game 6 performance at Yankee stadium obtained legendary status.

After trailing 3-0 in the series, the Red Sox did something unprecedented: they staved off elimination by winning three straight games, forcing Game 7. Games 4, 5 and 6 were each decided by two runs or more, but in the rubber match of the seven-game series, the Red Sox controlled the tempo right from the first inning.

Johnny Damon, who had been struggling in the series, led the charge by going 3-for-6 with two home runs (the second being a grand slam) while driving in six runs. Boston won the game 10-3, punching the ticket to their first World Series appearance since 1986. In doing so, the 2004 Red Sox became the first team in the history of the four major sports to come back and win a seven-game series after trailing 3-0.

Well, the rest is history. The Red Sox met the St. Louis Cardinals in the 2004 Fall Classic and never gave the team from the Senior Circuit a chance. The Cardinals were winners of 105 games during the regular season, but they couldn’t muster a victory when it counted. The Red Sox swept the series and won their first World Series title since 1918, breaking the 86-year-old curse of the “great Bambino."

The Red Sox made a return trip to the World Series after another comeback in the 2007 ALCS. Boston trailed 3-1 to the Cleveland Indians, but after a dominant performance by Josh Beckett, they won Game 5. They did not look back, taking Game 6 and Game 7 at home and winning their second AL Pennant in four years. The Red Sox took on the Colorado Rockies in the World Series, a team that had won 20 of their last 21 games. With several members of the 2004 squad still on the roster (Ortiz, Varitek, Schilling, Wakefield, Mirabelli, Timlin), the Red Sox infused new faces (Beckett, Pedroia, Papelbon, Ellsbury), ultimately garnering the same result. Once again, Boston swept its opponent in the World Series, becoming the first team in baseball to win two titles in the new millennium. They also became the second Boston based team (New England Patriots) to win two titles in the decade.

For years, the Red Sox were looked upon as the lovable losers. They were perceived as the team that lived in the shadow of the New York Yankees in the AL East. After the Red Sox won their second title in four years, it became clear that they had evened the score, at least for the time being. Yes, New York has almost four times as many titles as Boston, but this marked the beginning of a new era for Boston baseball. The Red Sox winning a title was no longer considered a far-fetched idea. The common phrase “maybe next year” which was uttered throughout New England for decades finally came true. “Next year” was finally here.

Part III coming soon: Glory is restored on the parquet

A native of Wellesley, Massachusetts, Aashish is a lifelong fan of the Red Sox, Patriots and Celtics. He graduated Wellesley High School in 2008, and is currently a senior at the University at Buffalo in Amherst, New York. You can follow him on Twitter @aashish1989.

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