2004 ALCS recap

Red Sox defeat Yankees, 4 games to 3

September 30th, 2022

With the best rivalry in sports on high flame, the Red Sox beat the Yankees in the regular season series, 11-8. But the Yankees beat Pedro Martinez twice in September, and when they met again, the memories were fresh from the 2003 ALCS -- when Martinez threw Don Zimmer to the ground, when Red Sox manager Grady Little stayed with Martinez too long, when Aaron Boone hit a walk-off homer to clinch it for the Yankees in Game 7.

Now they were back in the same setting, and once again the Yankees had home-field advantage, having finished three games ahead of Boston in the AL East. The Yankees won both of the first two games at home, beating Martinez yet again in Game 2, 3-1. Chants of "Who's Your Daddy?" now followed Martinez whenever he faced New York. When the Yankees ran away with a 19-8 victory in Game 3 at Fenway Park, another pennant obviously was in store for New York.

Boston fans obviously would have their hearts broken again.

But something funny happened on the way to the forum. The Red Sox, a bunch of scruffy "idiots" (Johnny Damon's term), didn't seem to care about the 3-0 series predicament. No MLB team had come back from that decifict to win a best-of-seven series, and only two major sports teams had -- most recently the 1975 New York Islanders. But so what? New Red Sox manager, Terry Francona assured his players that the only important thing was the next pitch. And then the next pitch after that.

It worked. The greatest comeback in pro sports history started on a Sunday night, Oct. 17, 2004. The Yankees had a 4-3 lead in the bottom of the ninth, they had the best closer in baseball, Mariano Rivera, on the mound, and they would be on their way to another World Series if he could retire the side without allowing a run.

Seven Red Sox batters proceeded to come to the plate in that ninth inning. It started when Rivera walked Kevin Millar. Dave Roberts pinch-ran for him, and after Rivera threw over to first a few times, Roberts took off for second -- beating Jorge Posada's throw to Derek Jeter. Bill Mueller then singled, tying the score and forcing extra innings. In the bottom of the 12th, with the game more than five hours old, ALCS MVP David Ortiz homered off Paul Quantrill and kept Boston's hopes alive.

Rivera blew another 4-3 lead the following night, allowing a Jason Varitek sac fly to score Roberts from third with the tying run. Fast-forward to the 14th inning, and Big Papi did it again, this time with a walk-off single against Esteban Loaiza, scoring Damon. The Yankees now had a 3-2 series lead, which still seemed safe. A common theme was emerging, as FOX continually showed Red Sox fans in clear agony, bracing for the worst, hating the Yankees, but still believing in the impossible dream.

Game 6 was played at Yankee Stadium, and this was the "Bloody Sock" game. Curt Schilling, who had vexed the Yankees during Arizona's triumphant 2001 World Series, started for Boston despite having a torn tendon sheath in his right ankle, sutured in place by Boston team doctors. Mark Bellhorn's three-run homer (initially ruled in play by umpire Jim Joyce, then overruled by his crew) gave Boston a 4-0 lead in the fourth inning, and Schilling pitched seven strong innings, his sock stained in blood. The Red Sox held on for a 4-2 win, and suddenly the series was tied with one game remaining.

It was never in doubt after that. The Comeback was complete. Ortiz hit a two-run homer in the top of the first off Kevin Brown, and Damon drilled a grand slam in the second, for a quick, 6-0 lead. The Red Sox clinched with a 10-3 victory, becoming the first MLB team to overcome a 3-0 series deficit.

The Red Sox went to their first World Series since 1986, hoping to reverse the "Curse of the Bambino," dating back to Babe Ruth's sale from Boston to the Yankees. Could they finally win it all for the first time since 1918? To Boston, it didn't seem to matter that a St. Louis powerhouse was due up next.

Path to the ALCS
ALDS: Boston over Anaheim (3 games to 0); New York over Minnesota (3 games to 1) 

Managers: Terry Francona, BOS; Joe Torre, NYY

MVP: David Ortiz