To many older Boston Red Sox fans, the September collapse was a vivid reminder of being a fan during their childhood.
The Red Sox look great for the first half of the year and then things slowly begin to fall. The heartache is nothing new to fans. They lived through it many times. Whether it was during the Bucky "$!@%&*$" Dent fiasco, the 1986 World Series...I need not go on.
But for the newer fans, the ones who joined the Fenway faithful after the 2004 or 2007 World Series championships, the fans born in the latter part of the 90s, the September collapse was something new. Something they never experienced before; heartache brought upon by the Red Sox.
I have been a Red Sox fan for my whole life, I've breathed the fresh air of Fenway Park more times than I can count. Its a second home, a sanctuary. A place where all other problems that you face can be forgotten as the beloved Red Sox take the field at America's most beloved ballpark. I have had my share of heartaches but none worse for me than the 2003 ALCS.
I shutter thinking about it. The very mentioning of the name of Aaron Boone makes me quiver. It was a fateful October evening that it all came falling down.
Let me set the scene.
The Boston Red Sox were facing the New York Yankees in American League Championship Series. The series was tied 3-3 entering game seven on Thursday,October 16th, 2003. Pedro Martinez was on the mound against Roger Clemens, a rematch of Game 3 that was won by the Yankees.
The Red Sox jumped off to a early 4-0 lead. Emotions where riding high at Yankee Stadium as the Yankees season was looking to be in peril. Clemens was out of the game in the 4th inning, which brought joy to Red Sox fans nationwide. Mike Mussina entered the game in his first relief appearance and had three shutout innings. Jason Giambi kept things alive for the Bronx Bombers with two home runs putting the score at 4-2.
The 8th inning comes, and this is where it all falls down. Pedro Martinez is still in the game, tired and taxed, Grady Little makes the decision to stick with his trusted pitcher. Mike Timlin is in the bullpen (he hadn't given up a run all postseason) but Pedro continues on. Derek Jeter steps to the plate and hits a double which is followed up by a single to Bernie Williams.
Little comes back to the mound. Most people finally where thinking, "Yes! Pedro is finally coming out!"
Pedro stays in the game as Grady Little returns to the dugout. Red Sox nation gasps. Hideki Matsui steps up to the plate and smacks a double. 5-4.
Jorge Posada steps up to the plate, another double ensues and the game is tied 5-5. Extra innings is on the way.
Tim Wakefield came in the 10th and pitched a scoreless inning. He returned at the bottom of the 11th inning in which time begins to slow down.
The score is still tied 5-5. Aaron Boone steps to the plate, having come into the game prior as pinch runner, gets comfortable in the box and awaits the first pitch from Tim Wakefield. The wind up comes and the pitch is on its way and the crack of the bat echoes.
It echoed across the nation, a sound I will never forget.
The ball soars towards the left field bleachers as Yankee Stadium stands and erupts. Game over. Fin.
The feeling that engulfed me that night I will never forget. I sat there in awe of at what just unfolded. My hopes dashed in a single heart beat, my dreams of seeing the Red Sox win the World Series dashed yet again in historic fashion.
I sat on my couch for 20 minutes watching the TV, watching Mariano Rivera be carried off the field, watching Aaron Boone celebrate his most triumphant moment. All while I sat there aghast.
Nothing to say, not knowing how to feel. I flicked off the TV and walked to my bedroom with a very somber mood.
Why did Grady Little leave Pedro in? Why did he allow this to happen? These questions are asked still even today. Grady Little lost his job after that and Terry Francona stepped into the box and Red Sox nation never looked back.
The 2003 ALCS was my worst experience as a Red Sox fan. It is something that will never leave my mind and even the very thought of it brings heartache and stress to me. I can see it clearly. The home run is ingrained in my head forever. I experienced first hand what the Red Sox can do to people, and I learned that things can get better.
My advice to all fans, young and old, is to keep your head up. The Red Sox will bring you pain, but they will also bring you many joys. It is all part of the experience that is Red Sox Nation.