BOSTON — Keith Foulke could never understand why anyone would shrink from taking the ball in a big moment in the World Series — and not just for the glory.
“Well, first of all, the pay is better,” said the man who closed out the Red Sox’s 2004 World Series title. “That was part of it.”
When Foulke signed with the Red Sox before the fateful 2004 season, he had the World Series on his mind. At least, that is what he claimed Wednesday, when he was back at Fenway Park to celebrate the 10th anniversary of that curse-busting team.
Foulke’s decision to sign with the Red Sox cemented his place in history as the player who closed out the game that ended an 86-year title drought. But he wasn’t the only player whose legacy was altered that season.
Another was the then-25-year-old rookie who eventually became one of the best hitters in baseball, but at the time was just trying to figure out how to be a major leaguer.
“For me, it changed my life,” Kevin Youkilis said. “I went from making minor league money to all of a sudden making major league money, then getting a full share in the World Series. My life was changed dramatically.”
Youkilis was living paycheck to paycheck in the minors until he struck the equivalent of baseball oil that season. He invested his newfound funds directly back into his game by training at Athletes’ Performance in Phoenix. The exposure to big leaguers like Manny Ramirez and David Ortiz also instilled in Youkilis an appreciation for the preparation necessary to excel in the show.
Three All-Star games, one Gold Glove, three seasons batting above .300 and another World Series later, Youkilis still sees 2004 as a turning point.
“Everyone says it was 86 years of heartache,” said Youkilis, who banked $56.2 million in big league salary in his career, according to Baseball Reference. “It was, like, four months for me. I thought, this is great. Are we going to do this every year? Then you do it in 2007 and you realize later down the line, it’s special. It’s hard to do.”
Youkilis’ big break was just one of many for the Red Sox that season. Foulke said he still has trouble believing all the times the ball happened to bounce the Red Sox’s way en route to him fielding Edgar Renteria’s bouncer back to the mound in St. Louis.
“This organization’s had great teams forever,” Foulke said. “Look at all the pennants hanging out there. It’s just, in order to win a World Series, you have to have a lot of things go right. Fortunately for us, a lot of those things went in our favor. We could have very well been another disappointment, but we were able to take advantage of stuff. We had a lot of breaks go our way.”
Had Foulke not signed with the Red Sox, maybe the 2004 season would have gone differently. Had the Red Sox not won it all, maybe Youkilis’ career would have taken a different turn. But what happened happened, and for both players, it paid off.
In their cases, literally.
Photo via Twitter/@JoeGiza