October 20, 2004: The Red Sox–Yankees ALCS

First there was the shocking World Series loss in 1946 to the underdog St. Louis Cardinals. Then there was the one-game playoff loss in 1948 to Cleveland that deprived Boston of a unique intra-city World Series between the Braves and Red Sox. The following season the AL pennant was lost on the last weekend to the hated New York Yankees. The 1967 “Impossible Dream” team fell a mere game short of winning it all as did the 1975 Red Sox. The horrific collapse in 1978 and the unfathomable events of Game Six in 1986’s World Series had many Red Sox fans convinced that fate was terribly against them and their team. The 2003 season was especially cruel. Five outs away from a World Series berth, the Red Sox unraveled in Yankee Stadium and lost the pennant, yet again, to the team that plucked Babe Ruth from the Red Sox roster way back in January 1920.

The Red Sox remained substantially the same in 2004 as the team that had ripped their fans’ hearts out the previous October. There were two noteworthy changes, however. Manager Grady Little—who was widely blamed for allowing starting pitcher Pedro Martinez to remain on the mound far too long in Game Seven of the 2003 ALCS¬—had been unceremoniously axed. (A vitriolic, fan-inspired website called FireGradyLittle.com could not have helped Little’s prospects of returning in 2004.) Terry Francona, most recently of the Philadelphia Phillies, was his replacement. Curt Schilling had been picked up in the offseason as an expensive acquisition. Never one who was short on confidence, the right-handed pitcher claimed he was the man destined to lead the Red Sox out of their 86-year funk. Schilling had been one of the Arizona Diamondback pitchers who had toppled the favored Yankees in the 2001 World Series. The Texas Rangers’ free-agent shortstop Alex Rodriguez had been courted by Boston as well, but he chose to sign with the Yankees and become their third baseman.

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Early in the season the Red Sox looked to be capable of living up to Schilling’s heady promise, but a June and July swoon put them in trouble. By mid-July they were closer in the AL East standings to the bottom-feeding Tampa Bay Devil Rays than to the front-running Yankees. A nationally televised Saturday afternoon game between Boston and New York on July 24 was the momentum turner. A fight between BoSox captain and catcher Jason Varitek and the despised Alex Rodriguez sparked Boston to an improbable 11-10 comeback win. The Red Sox then embarked on a fantastic August run to put them comfortably in the AL’s wildcard slot. They could not muster enough wins to overtake New York (101 victories), but with MLB’s newfangled wildcard system, a close second (98 victories) was good enough. The Red Sox had a postseason berth versus the Anaheim Angels.

Destiny seemed to de drawing the Red Sox and Yankees to a meeting in the ALCS. New York ousted Minnesota three games to one. Boston beat Anaheim in three straight games despite not having home-field advantage. A walkoff homer by David Ortiz in the third game added a touch of drama and panache. An ALCS rematch from 2003 was indeed going to happen.

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