Yankees gain inspiration from ... '04 Red Sox?

October 23rd, 2022

NEW YORK -- It was 18 Octobers ago that Red Sox infielder Kevin Millar prowled the Fenway Park infield during batting practice for a seemingly decided American League Championship Series, warning anyone who would listen: “Don’t let us win tonight.”

Within the Yankees’ clubhouse walls, that could have easily happened this morning, because it did. A video recapping Millar’s speech, Dave Roberts’ stolen base and Boston’s comeback from an 0-3 ALCS deficit to topple, yes, the Yankees, was distributed among New York players and coaches before Sunday’s ALCS Game 4 at Yankee Stadium.

“We watched that video today,” manager Aaron Boone said. “We sent it out to all our coaches and are getting it out to all of our players. I think [the message is] just the belief that they had. They had confidence; you see Millar, ‘Don’t let us win one.’ Look, we still have time. We’re obviously now as far up against it as you can be and not in a great spot, but you can’t get ahead of yourselves, either.”

Boone said that the brief video was sent by Chad Bohling, the Yankees’ director of mental conditioning.

With talk of the ’04 Red Sox thick in the air, ESPN broadcaster Eduardo Perez placed a pregame FaceTime call to Hall of Famer David Ortiz, who offered Boone a few words of wisdom.

“He said, ‘Just keep the energy, one game at a time,’” Perez said. “That’s what [Ortiz] told [Boone], but with his passion, which I definitely cannot replicate. But he just said, ‘Hey man, just go play and have fun.’ So what, basically.’”

Perez said that the call lasted only about a minute. Ortiz wore a Philadelphia Eagles jersey on television Sunday, and Boone is a diehard Eagles fan (a Brian Dawkins jersey hangs in his Yankee Stadium office). That prompted Perez to buzz Ortiz’s cell phone.

“[Ortiz] answered and he was like, ‘Dude! You guys have got to do what we did back then,’” Perez said.

Yes, adversity makes strange bedfellows. After the Yanks’ 5-0 loss to the Astros in Game 3, Johnny Damon tweeted: “Down 0-3 … it’s been done before.”

Damon was the center fielder on that Boston club, which went on to sweep St. Louis in a curse-reversing World Series. He won another championship with the Yankees in 2009.

Thirty-nine teams have fallen into an 0-3 hole in a best-of-seven postseason series; the ’04 Red Sox are the only example of a club that rallied to win the series. Boston outscored New York 25-13 in the final four games of that series, pounding them in a 10-3 Game 7 win at Yankee Stadium before going on to sweep St. Louis.

The history lesson could come in handy, considering most of the Yankees’ roster was in grade school or high school when the Red Sox pulled off the comeback. Matt Carpenter, the oldest active Yankee at 36, was a second-team High School All-American that year. Oswald Peraza, the youngest active Yankee, had celebrated his fourth birthday that June.

Former Yankees pitcher David Cone had retired by 2004, but he played with key members of that club, such as Derek Jeter, Jorge Posada, Bernie Williams and Mariano Rivera. Drawing upon the ’04 Red Sox for inspiration probably wouldn’t have gone over well in that clubhouse, Cone said.

“I know there’s some people in Red Sox Nation laughing right now,” Cone said. “I understand rallying the troops and the intent. There’s not a lot of examples down 3-0. I think there’s some irony there that’s not to be missed.”

Boone played a minor supporting role for New York that postseason. The hero of Game 7 of the 2003 ALCS, Boone injured his left ACL playing pickup basketball in January of ‘04 and missed the entire season, returning to action in ‘05 with the Indians. Instead, in February of ‘04, the Yankees traded for Alex Rodriguez, who was their third baseman during the ALCS collapse.

“Honestly, I don’t remember it that well,” Boone said. “Obviously, I know what happened, Doc’s steal. And I remember Game 7, the Damon homer. So maybe I do remember a little better than I’m letting on. But obviously, the [Curt] Schilling game in Game 6. I can hear Millar: ‘Don’t let us win one.’ Why not us?”