The Boston Red Sox, much like they were 15 years ago, are searching for something to turn around their season.
The defending World Series champions currently are trying to build some momentum in a playoff push amid a crucial 14-game stretch against the Tampa Bay Rays and New York Yankees. Back in 2004, the Sox were in a similar spot, staring at a potentially lost season.
The Red Sox sat just eight games above .500 on the morning of July 24, having lost to the surging Yankees at Fenway Park the night before. Crappy weather made its way through the Hub, pushing back the start time of the nationally televised FOX game, and the game was even on the verge of being postponed. But Red Sox players famously petitioned their bosses to get the game in, and the Yankees — who had started the team bus and started showering to leave — had no choice but to play.
“We heard and we gathered as a team and said we want to play, no doubt about it,” Red Sox first baseman Kevin Millar told reporters after the game. “We didn’t want anybody to make decisions for us. Ultimately, it should be the players’ decision. We wanted to play regardless. This is a battling clubhouse.”
The Yankees jumped out to a 3-0 lead when Alex Rodriguez stepped into the batter’s box to face Bronson Arroyo in the third inning. The Red Sox starter got Rodriguez to swing and miss at the first pitch. He came inside with an 88 mph fastball that straightened up Rodriguez. The next pitch, an 87 mph fastball, plunked Rodriguez in the left elbow.
And, well, you know where things went from there.
Somehow, after all that, only Rodriguez and Varitek were ejected from the game.
The two teams spent the rest of the afternoon battling, with the Red Sox coming back to take the lead before New York used a six-run sixth inning to go ahead 9-4. But Boston staged another comeback, scoring four in the bottom half of the frame. Ultimately, however, the Yankees were able to push across a run in the top of the ninth to build a 10-8 lead entering the bottom half of the ninth.
With Hall of Fame closer Mariano Rivera taking the mound in the ninth to protect a seemingly infallible three-run lead, the game appeared over. But the Red Sox battled back again. Third baseman and reigning American League batting champion Bill Mueller came to the plate with two on.
Three hours and 54 minutes after the game began following a 54-minute delay, Mueller ended the game and sent the home crowd home happy.
“I hope we look back a while from now and we’re saying that this brought us together,” Red Sox manager Terry Francona said. ” … I hope a long time from now we look back and say this did it.”
The win did serve as a springboard for the Red Sox, who went on to win 45 of their final 65 games en route to eventually winning the 2004 World Series — by erasing one more Yankees lead in the process.
“I think it’s going to take this rivalry to a new level,” Rodriguez told reporters after the July 24 game, having no idea what would come three months later. “The intensity is something I’ve never really seen before.”