BOSTON -- Thirteen years ago, it was a sunny and pleasant Mother’s Day at Fenway Park. A crowd of 36,379 was on hand, and plenty of mothers were basking in a day at the ballpark with their sons and daughters.
The only problem was that the Red Sox were going to lose. Manager Terry Francona had pretty much resigned himself to that fact, he now admits. So, too, had Joe Castiglione from his perch in the broadcast booth.
Even when you’re in the midst of a magical season like the Red Sox were in 2007, there are just days over a long season when a team doesn’t have it.
This was one of them -- or so it seemed.
The Red Sox were down 5-0 heading into the bottom of the ninth, and Orioles righty Jeremy Guthrie was working on a three-hit shutout.
“I just remember there being no hint that they were going to get close,” said Castiglione. “There was no reason to think they could come back.”
But then, from out of nowhere, came that furious bottom of the ninth which led to the thrilling 6-5 win that will always be referred to as the "Mother’s Day Miracle."
“From our side of it, it’s like you stole one that you had no business winning,” Francona said.
Here is a look back -- with help from some who were there -- at the moments that led to one of the wildest ninth-inning comebacks in Red Sox history.
When Julio Lugo stepped in to lead off the bottom of the ninth and grounded out against Guthrie, there seemed little to no way that he would end the day as the walk-off hero. Usually when a miracle comeback occurs in the final inning, the leadoff man nearly always reaches base.
“You know, it’s one of those things, you can talk to the statisticians all you want and they always tell you, ‘Hey, relax, you’re never going to give up five in the ninth,’” said Francona. “But every manager, every coach, you have that in the back of your head that it can happen. That’s why when you get that first out, you always take like a big breath, a big sigh, ‘OK, we got the first out.’ Because it’s really hard to put together that much of a rally once you get the first out.”
Red Sox's win expectancy (as calculated by Baseball Reference): 0 percent
Here is where the unraveling started in the most innocent fashion imaginable. Coco Crisp hit a popup that catcher Ramon Hernandez somehow dropped in fair territory for an error. The Red Sox had at least some semblance of life.
“And you know, at the time it looks harmless, but 20 minutes later, it’s not,” said Francona.
“There was no hint that the Red Sox were even threatening the whole game until that popup dropped,” remembers Castiglione.
Instead of nobody on base and two outs, the Red Sox had a runner on with one out. At that point, Orioles manager Sam Perlozzo took out Guthrie despite having thrown just 91 pitches.
Was there a sense of relief from Boston’s standpoint when Guthrie came out?
“Just speaking honestly, most of the time, it’s just like, ‘This has been a tough day.’ You’d like to see your guys play until the final out, which that team did, because you just never know,” Francona said.
Red Sox's win expectancy: 1 percent
Righty Danys Baez was first out of the bullpen and it isn’t surprising who got the first impactful hit of the day for Boston. That would be David Ortiz, who smoked an RBI double that allowed Crisp to score from first. That made it Orioles 5, Red Sox 1.
“It’s a long way to go, but it’s just so much better when you don’t put up cosmetic runs but you actually put up runs to win a game,” said Francona. “That’s what’s really cool.”
Red Sox's win expectancy: 2 percent
Who among you remembers that Wily Mo Pena was part of a championship-winning Red Sox team? You’d have to be a pretty avid fan to recall that, because Pena was dealt on Aug. 17, 2007, for a player to be named later. At any rate, Pena, who hit .218 in 73 games that season for Boston, kept the unlikeliest rally of the season going with a single to left. That put runners at the corners.
“I forgot about Wily Mo,” Francona said with a laugh when reminded of his key hit.
That was all for Baez, as Perlozzo then went to closer Chris Ray.
Red Sox's win expectancy: 6 percent
J.D. Drew always had a good eye, and in that moment, he used it to work the count full and then walk to load the bases with one out.
Red Sox win expectancy: 12 percent
From Baltimore’s perspective, this was about the worst possible time for Ray to lose the strike zone. He walked Kevin Youkilis to force in a run. Ray walked 18 batters in 2007, and those two in back-to-back fashion probably stung more than any of the others. Boston now trailed, 5-2, with two outs left.
Red Sox's win expectancy: 22 percent
Without question, the biggest hit of this miracle rally came off the bat of captain Jason Varitek, who hammered a two-run double to right-center. Suddenly, the Red Sox were down, 5-4, with the bases loaded and still just one out.
“But you’re almost scared to engage now, because it’s like, ‘God, we came so close, now it’s getting real. Don’t break my heart now,’” said Francona.
Red Sox's win expectancy: 56 percent
On a stacked Red Sox team, this was one of the 68 games that solid veteran Eric Hinske would start all season. Mike Lowell had been given the day off. When Hinske strode to the plate, he was 0-for-3 on the day. He didn’t want to mess up this riveting rally. With first base open, Perlozzo then took the pressure off of Hinske by calling for an intentional walk.
“I don’t think I was getting any hits that game,” said Hinske. “And I remember thinking, ‘Now it’s up to me.’ I almost remember feeling like, ‘Oh they’re walking me, now I’m off the hook.’ I was like, ‘Cool, I’m on, let’s keep this thing going.’”
Red Sox's win expectancy: 55 percent
Dustin Pedroia wound up winning the American League Rookie of the Year Award in 2007. But at this point of the season, he was still in a platoon situation with Alex Cora. And it was the red-hot Cora who had a chance to win the game with one swing. Instead, he hit a grounder to second and his average dropped to .417. Youkilis was forced out at home. For perhaps the only time in that ninth inning, Perlozzo’s strategy had worked out perfectly.
“I remember going from having no hope and they load the bases and then they get the second out, you figure, 'Well, they’re not going to do it now,'” Castiglione said.
Red Sox's win expectancy: 29 percent
Suddenly, it was all up to Lugo, who didn’t want to be remembered as making two of the three outs in a scintillating rally that fell short. With a 3-2 count, the game was about to be decided one way or another. It’s just that nobody could have guessed it would end this way. Lugo hit a grounder between first and second base. Orioles first baseman and former Red Sox Kevin Millar had a propensity for positioning himself far off the bag and towards the hole between himself and the second baseman.
In fact, when Millar fielded the grounder, second baseman Brian Roberts wasn’t far behind him. At that point, it was a footrace to the bag between the speedy Lugo and Ray. In his haste to get there in time, Ray dropped the throw to first just as Lugo was sliding into the bag. Not only did Varitek score the tying run, but Hinske roared home right behind him to end the game. Fenway Park felt like it was shaking from its foundation. It was ruled a hit by Lugo and an error by Ray, allowing the winning run to score.
“We used to remind the pitchers [when Millar was with the Red Sox], 'He’s covering that hole, so get ... [to the bag],'” Francona said. “Like you said, Millar was way off the line. From our dugout, you actually had a decent view. And I don’t know if it’s begging, but as he’s running down the line, what ended up happening, you’re kind of willing it to happen.”
Red Sox's win expectancy: 100 percent
“I came in behind Tek and then it was party time,” said Hinske. “I totally remember Sam Perlozzo reacting in the dugout after. I remember how he was blowing the dugout up. He was so mad, he was hitting the phone and all this stuff.”
“And that’s probably the way we win, because if that game stays tied, who knows,” Francona said. “The craziness of that inning, you want to win and get out of there. That’s one of those where you steal one and let’s go home.”
The 2007 season is like few others in Red Sox history. Boston took sole possession of the AL East on April 18, then stayed there the rest of the season. Without a dramatic pennant race that year, the Mother’s Day Miracle easily stands out as the defining game from that regular season. It also symbolized the character of the team.
“That was part of our story,” Hinske said. “That season was like that. We had that vibe. Everything was great. What a year. I don’t think that team ever had a doubt that we were going to win every game we played that year. Those guys, the leadership on that team, the young and the old mix was one of the best I’ve ever been a part of. That team was awesome.”
Things weren’t so awesome in 2007 for Perlozzo and his Orioles. One month and six days after the Mother’s Day Miracle, Perlozzo was relieved of his duties. Perhaps the sting of such a crushing defeat lingered. The ’07 Orioles went 69-93. And it isn’t hard to figure which of the 93 defeats likely hurt the most.
“That loss might have cost the manager his job,” Castiglione said.
Meanwhile, the Red Sox swept the Angels in the AL Division Series. In the AL Championship Series against the Indians, Boston took a page out of its Mother’s Day comeback spirit by rallying from a 3-1 series deficit to win in seven games. The World Series was no contest, as they swept a Rockies team that had been scorching hot coming in. It was Boston’s second championship in four seasons after not winning one for 86 years.