On Friday, Oct. 16, it will be five years to the day the Yankees bludgeoned the Red Sox 19-8 in Game 3 of the 2004 ALCS to take a 3-0 series lead. On Saturday, Oct. 17, it will be five years to the day that Dave Roberts stole second, and the mother of all comebacks began.
Oct. 17 will also be the five-year anniversary of Kevin Millar (in his Red Sox hoodie) yammering during batting practice to anyone who would listen – including an enthralled Dan Shaughnessy – that the Yankees would be wise not to let the Red Sox win Game 4, or “Pow! Red Sox Nation rises up!”
Millar’s “Don’t let us win today!” routine was the “Don’t tread on me” motto of the Idiots. Pressure? What pressure? In retrospect, the loosey-goosey nature of the 2004 Red Sox served them quite well in the face of a mission impossible.
Five years later, the Red Sox find themselves in a similar quandary. The Angels have taken the first two games of the division series. Coming back to Fenway Park for Sunday’s Game 3, the Red Sox have the same margin of error as their 2004 (and 2003 and 2007) predecessors: none.
So what was David Ortiz’s rallying cry to the Nation after the dispiriting loss in Game 2?
“Nothing,” Ortiz said. “Just support us like always.”
Perhaps Clay Buchholz will go out and spin a gem Sunday afternoon. Perhaps the bats will come to life and force a Game 4 on Monday. Perhaps the Red Sox will fulfill their destiny one more time and send the series back to Anaheim for an epic fifth game.
But these are not your father’s Red Sox. More importantly, they’re not your goofy uncle’s Red Sox either, and that does not bode well for potential comeback mojo.
It has all been by design. Almost from the moment the duck boats hit the River Charles that delirious Saturday afternoon in 2004, general manager Theo Epstein began the process of de-Idiotizing the team.
Pedro Martinez, gone. Orlando Cabrera, see ya.
Johnny Damon, Trot Nixon, Millar.
Even Manny Ramirez, who established, in his own Manny Being Manny way, the mindset for the 2007 comeback against the Indians – “If it doesn’t happen, so who cares? There’s always next year. It’s not like the end of the world or something.” – is gone.
Now it’s Jason Bay, J.D. Drew, Alex Gonzalez. Jacoby Ellsbury. All fine players. All as inspiring as a Senate health care debate.
Kevin Youkilis has the fire and the talent, but is not a true leader. Jason Varitek is a true leader, but is no longer able to lead on the field. Dustin Pedroia, Mike Lowell and Ortiz all have the right combination, but are a combined 1-for-23 in the series. But in fairness, it was essentially the same cast of characters that pulled the wildest single-game comeback in postseason memory last October, rallying from 7-0 down in the seventh inning to force a Game 6 against the Rays, nearly pulling off yet another series victory after being down 3-1.
So even though the Red Sox played like dead men walking in Games 1 and 2, it would be wise for the Angels to not let them win Sunday.
“I think that’s how we always feel,” Red Sox manager Terrry Francona said. “I’d rather not be down 0-2, because the team we’re playing is really good. If you put yourself in a position where you make a mistake, it can really cost you. But until they tell us to go home, we’ll take our team and keep going. That’s how we always feel.”