In October 2004 my life changed forever.
I was 25 years old and at a major crossroads in my life for a number of different reasons. After flitting about from girl to girl for several years I had been dating MJ for six months. We were at that point in our relationship where we were serious, but if it was truly going to turn into anything we both had to really commit and decide to make a go of it. But even though we needed to have that serious conversation, there were other pressing matters at the moment that also demanded my immediate attention.
Namely, the Red Sox playing the Yankees in the American League Championship Series.
I know what you’re thinking: “Oh great, another sports post.” Well, yes and no. This is about sports but it’s also about my life. ESPN is celebrating its 30th year in business by making a film series named “30 for 30.” One of those short films is called “Four Days in October,” and it details the four unforgettable nights when the Red Sox came back from a 3-game deficit to beat their arch rivals and eventually go on to win the World Series. Check out the trailer:
As you all know, I’m psychotic about my sports. And this was the first baseball season MJ and I had spent together so she wasn’t used to my craziness. She had never been with someone who canceled plans to watch important games. She wasn’t used to being around someone who went into mini-depressions when the Sox blew a late-inning lead. And it’s safe to say she was ill-prepared for her first Red Sox playoff experience with a fanatic.
To properly understand everything, you need to rewind a year.
In 2003, the Red Sox lost Game 7 of the ALCS to the Yankees in the most heart-breaking fashion imaginable. Tim Wakefield giving up a walk-off homerun to light-hitting Aaron Boone as Yankee Stadium went completely bonkers. It was the dick punch of my generation. I went into my room and cried afterward. I didn’t come out for two days. I didn’t watch SportsCenter or read the sports section for weeks. I wasn’t myself for a good month until the Patriots were heading toward a Super Bowl.
So a year later, when the Sox and Yanks were back in the exact same spot, my anxiety was already too high.
The first three games were a friggin disaster. The Yankees cleaned our clock, and I was beside myself because I just felt so hopeless. If you aren’t up on baseball history, at that point the Red Sox hadn’t won a World Series in 86 years. They came close, tantalizingly close actually, but never closed the deal. And I know some of you think I’m nuts, but that feeling crept into my personal life.
I fell in love a couple of times and I dated a bunch up to that point. And just like in ’86 when the Red Sox were up two runs with two outs in the 9th inning of the World Series against the Mets, years earlier I was positive I had met “the one.” She was the end-all-be-all for me up to that point, and I had no doubt she was the one with whom I was going to spend the rest of my life. But just like the Red Sox, everything fell apart in unprecedented fashion and nothing was ever the same.
But in 2004 the Red Sox seemed to change their mindset. They were the “Idiots” and they didn’t worry about the past. Pedro Martinez traveled with a midget from the Dominican Republican because he thought he was good luck. Kevin Millar took shots of Jack Daniels before games. Johnny Damon grew his hair out to look like Jesus and Curt Schilling was our ace in the hole who already beat the Yankees in the World Series when he was with Arizona.
Likewise, after several years of coming up short and settling for second best, my personal life seemed to mirror the Sox turnaround.
I had spent my time dating either skanks, girls I wasn’t truly interested in or girls I liked but didn’t like me back. And all the while I was living in the past, thinking of the one who got away. Pining for her, comparing everyone else to her and otherwise not allowing myself to move on to a healthy relationship. So while Schilling, Millar and Damon were the Sox antidote to despair, MJ represented my best shot at happiness.
But after Game 3, a horrifying 19-8 home loss, all hope had vanished.
It was one of the most humiliating losses in Red Sox playoff history. It meant the Sox were down three games to none, and in order to win they’d have to rattle off four straight victories. Not only against the Yankees, our arch-rival, but also against history. Because no team in the entire history of baseball had ever come back to win a series after being down 3-0.
I’d love to tell you I kept the faith and never stopped believing. But I’d be lying through my fucking teeth. And just as I had given up hope regarding the Red Sox, MJ and I seemed to be fighting more and things weren’t looking so great. So a promising season, as well as a relationship, were on the line as MJ and I trudged despairingly out of an Allston sports bar.
And that’s when fate showed up for an intervention.
Me: “I want to jump off a fucking bridge and end it all.”
MJ: “You know, it’s not over yet. The Red Sox could still win.”
Me: “I know you’re just trying to make me feel better, but you don’t know what the hell you’re talking about.”
MJ: “Why? All they have to do is win the next four games.”
Me: “Oh sure, no problem. The Red Sox don’t beat the Yankees when it counts. Ever. There’s no way they win four in a row against the Yankees. No team in history has ever done it. It’s over. Done. We fucking lose again. My life sucks!”
MJ: “I’m just saying, it’s possible.”
Me: “Oh it’s possible huh? You know what, I’ll make a deal with you. If the Red Sox come back and beat the Yankees and end up winning the World Series I will ask you to marry me. I will buy the biggest goddamn diamond I can afford and we’ll get engaged. But that shit is never happening.”
The next four nights were an ordeal the likes of which I am certain I will never experience for the rest of my life.
There’s a reason no team in history had ever come back from a 3-game hole. Because to do it, some flat out crazy shit needs to happen. You don’t just need Lady Luck on your side to do that, you need her to be under the table blowing you and allowing you to reach up her skirt whenever you feel like it. Case in point:
GAME 4, OCT. 17, 2004
Red Sox are losing by a run in the 9th inning and facing not only the best closer in the league, but arguably the best closer in the entire history of the sport in Mariano Rivera. Kevin Millar draws a walk and Dave Roberts pinch runs. Now everyone — and I fucking mean EVERYONE — knew Roberts was going to steal second base. It’s hard enough to steal a base in baseball, but when the pitcher, catcher, fielders and everyone else on the planet knows you’re going to steal, it’s almost impossible. Yet Roberts did it, barely beating Posada’s throw and Jeter’s tag. Bill Mueller ended up singling him in to tie the game and send it to extra innings. That stolen base by Roberts, more than any other play, ended up being THE most important moment in the history of the Boston Red Sox.
Then, in the bottom of the 12th inning, David Ortiz hit a home run to right field to win it.
You might not believe this, but I was pissed. I was happy the Sox redeemed themselves but I still didn’t think there was any way they could win the series. And I was pissed because after giving up all hope there was now this sliver on the horizon. It’s so much easier when you resign yourself to defeat, both as a sports fan and in a relationship.
GAME 5, OCT. 18, 2004
Because the previous game ended after midnight, the next game actually took place on the same day. And just like the last one, it’d be a rollercoaster.
The Yankees led the Red Sox again in the 8th inning, 4-2, when David Ortiz hit a solo shot to make it a 1-run game. After a walk and a single, Roberts (again) scored on a sacrifice fly by Jason Varitek to give Mariano Rivera his second blown save in as many tries.
Perhaps one of the most important, yet forgotten, moments in this series was in the top of 9th inning with two outs when the Yankees had runners on base and Tony Clark (a former Red Sox player) came up to bat. Clark hit a ball to deep right toward Pesky’s Pole and for a moment all seemed lost. But the ball took a trajectory I will never understand, and somehow hopped over the wall and into the stands for a ground rule double. That kept the Yankee runner at third instead of scoring on the play. If that ball is an inch lower or bounces differently so it stays in the park, that would’ve given the Yankees the lead and likely the win.
But into extra frames it went once again.
In the 12th inning, Tim Wakefield came into pitch and Varitek was catching. More than any other moment during this series, I remember this being the single most stressful moment because Varitek cannot catch knuckleball pitchers. With runners on base, Varitek allowed THREE passed balls in a single inning. But miraculously (and with Lady Luck offering herself up for a gang bang to the entire Red Sox organization) no runners scored and the game continued.
Until Ortiz struck again in the 14th inning.
Two must-win games, two extra inning games, two of the most memorable wins in history and a 36-hour experience that raised anxiety levels and the collective blood pressure of an entire region.
GAME 6, OCT. 19, 2004
This is known as the Bloody Sock Game.
Curt Schilling hurt himself earlier in the playoffs and had a torn tendon sheath in his right ankle. Most players would never have considered pitching in such pain, but Schilling knew if he didn’t step up the Red Sox were going down. The only problem was no one knew how to get Schilling to a place where he could pitch through the pain.
I shit you not, what I’m about to write is the truth. Red Sox team doctor Bill Morgan sutured the tendon in place, an unprecedented surgery he had to practice on a cadaver shortly before trying it out on Schilling. No one knew if it would work, but Schilling recognized the moment and knew that in order to bring salvation to us all, he had to take extraordinary measures. Eric Neel from ESPN says it best here, but this part was nothing short of accurate:
You take the ball after two of the greatest games in team history. You take the ball after David Ortiz slapped it around the yard. You take the ball after a season considered nothing but a prelude to precisely this kind of moment. You take it after Grady left it in Pete’s glove, Buckner let it get by, Spaceman gave it up, and George Herman took it and went home.
This is the game that makes you an icon, if you’re up for it. Forget Yankee Killer or Big Game Pitcher. Try Redeemer on for size. Slip into Deliverer.
I think Curt Schilling is an obnoxious, conservative blowhard. His personality and political views drive me batty. But what that man did that night was something I will always remember. And appreciate. The man was bleeding through his sock yet pitched seven innings of 1-run ball in the gutsiest performance you will ever see.
But what makes Game 6 so special for me was the fact that I knew everything had changed.
You see, the Red Sox historically had no luck. To the point an obnoxious columnist opined there was a hex on the team called the Curse of the Bambino, stemming from when Boston traded Babe Ruth to the Yankees in 1918. And since then, nothing seemed to go our way. And for a few minutes in Game 6, it looked like that was going to be the case again.
In the top of the 4th inning, Mark Bellhorn hit a 3-run homer into left field. The only problem was the umpires didn’t call it a home run. The ball bounced off the chest of a fan in the front row and came back onto the field, and the umps thought it went off the wall. Terry Francona, Red Sox manager, went out to argue but all the real Sox fans knew this was just our luck. Foiled again. Screwed and abused as usual.
Until they reversed it. We got our 3-run homer and the lead. And then, we got another break.
With a 2-run lead in the 8th inning, Sox pitcher Bronson Arroyo took the mound with Derek Jeter on second base and Alex Rodriguez at the plate. A-Rod hit a little grounder up the first base line which Arroyo fielded. He then tagged A-Rod but A-Rod reached out and smacked the ball out of Arroyo’s glove (which is not allowed). The ball popped loose allowing Jeter to score and suddenly it was a 1-run game with the tying run in scoring position. The play is best pictured here:
But thankfully the umps saw that pussy, cheating A-Rod slapped the ball like a bitch and they called him out. Jeter’s run didn’t count and he had to go back to second. The Sox got out of the inning without any further damage. But more importantly, it was clear to me that something fundamental had shifted and the gods were now on our side.
GAME 7, OCT. 20, 2004
This was pure redemption for Sox fans everywhere. The game was never really in question and we confidently but quietly counted down the outs until we could celebrate.
But please know we were not just celebrating the outcome of a baseball game. We were celebrating freedom. All our lives obnoxious Yankees fans would throw their 26 world championships in our face and chant “1918” at us. We tried to fight back but really we had nothing. But not anymore. We had made history. The Sox pulled off the greatest comeback in the history of professional sports while the Yankees — the greatest franchise in sports history — would have to suffer with the biggest choke of all time. And we were dancing on their lawn. It happened in front of them, on their own turf. It was cathartic. I’ve never been in prison, but it must be like when DNA evidence proves your innocence after decades in jail.
And of course, that led the way to a Red Sox World Series victory of which I recorded the final out. I want you to look at this video. I keep the focus on my dad because he was 48 years old at the time and convinced he was going to die before this team won. He was going to etch that on his gravestone. And if you look to the right, during the celebration, you’ll see my dad hug MJ, his future daughter-in-law.
Less than three months later we were engaged.
Those four October nights were unbelievably important to me in so many respects. Just as I spent my life rooting for a team that seemed mired in emotional baggage and failure, I had also wasted the last few years weighed down by a girl who broke my heart and never really cared about me at all. And while the Red Sox could’ve easily conducted business as usual and just continued to fail and wait for next year, I could’ve blown my shot with MJ and simply moved on to the next nameless, faceless woman.
Those four nights, while memorable now, were not fun. Watching those games and having everything hinge on them like that was terrifying. It was gut-wrenching and I was so anxiety-ridden I actually threw up from nerves at one point. But I knew I had to hang in there because the Red Sox are my team. That’s where my heart is and where my loyalties lie. And during that span, I realized MJ was worth fighting for as well. It suddenly dawned on me you can’t institute change without putting in the effort. And that effort, while terrifying to think it might not work out, is completely necessary. And worth it.
Would I still have married MJ if the Red Sox hadn’t made history that year? Probably. I’d like to think so anyway. But I’m a big believer in signs and as dense as I am at times, this one was pretty clear.
Besides, think what the sports gods would’ve done to me if I hadn’t followed through on my promise to marry her. 😉