Over 15 years later, it still is hard to believe.
The Boston Red Sox completed the greatest comeback in baseball history without a 10-3 blowout win over the New York Yankees in Game 7 of the American League Championship series. After falling in a 3-0 series hole, the “idiots” stormed back and eventually celebrated on the field at Yankee Stadium, a year after Aaron Boone broke hearts all across New England. Somehow, someway, the Red Sox clinched their first World Series berth since 1986.
The Red Sox made their fans incomprehensibly nervous in Games 4, 5 and 6, but Game 7 was a relatively stress-free affair. Of course, there was no such thing as an “easy” Red Sox win back in those days, no matter the score.
Johnny Damon gets all the glory for his second-inning grand slam (rightfully so), but there were many noteworthy moments in what was one of the most satisfying victories in Boston sports history.
NESN’s latest “Red Sox Encore” series continues at 8:30 p.m. ET on Monday night with Game 7 of the 2004 ALCS against the New York Yankees. Here’s what you might have forgotten about that game:
1. David Ortiz’s early heroics
Everyone remembers Big Papi’s late-night heroics in Games 4 and 5, but one of his biggest hits from the 2004 World Series run came in the first inning of Game 7 against the Yankees. Damon led off the game with a single and stole second, but eventually was thrown out at home after a single by Manny Ramirez. It would’ve been a deflating moment for Boston had Ortiz not stepped to the plate and ripped a two-out, two-run homer off Yankees starter Kevin Brown. The Red Sox never looked back.
2. Derek Lowe was excellent
The biggest performance of Lowe’s career wouldn’t come until the World Series clincher against the St. Louis Cardinals — no big deal — but what he did against the Yankees in Game 7 nevertheless was incredible. The sinker-balling right-hander gave up one run (an RBI single from Derek Jeter, of course) on one hit and one walk while striking out three over six dominant innings. It’s easy to say all the pressure was on the Yankees after blowing a 3-0 series lead, but try telling that to a Red Sox pitcher tasked with finishing off the Evil Empire and leading his team to the Fall Classic. Lowe was sensational and rightfully has been remembered as one of the greatest postseason heroes in Red Sox history.
3. Damon’s other big hits
When you factor in the situation, this was Damon’s greatest game with the Red Sox — by far. Though he eventually was thrown out at the plate, Damon’s leadoff single in the first inning helped set the table for Ortiz’s homer. The bearded center fielder then hit a grand slam in the second inning followed by a two-run blast in the fourth — both off Javier Vazquez. The second homer doesn’t get as much love as the grand slam, but it was huge in its own right, as an 8-1 lead feels much different than a 6-1 lead. Damon finished the game 3-for-6 with a whopping six RBIs.
4. Pedro was not
It seems crazy in hindsight, but it was hard to feel confident while watching Martinez enter the game in the seventh inning with an 8-1 lead. And, honestly, Martinez justified those fears over the course of his one shaky inning. Serenaded with “Who’s your daddy?” chants and memories of the nightmare from the year prior, the Red Sox co-ace gave up two runs — RBI base hits from Bernie Williams and Kenny Lofton — on three hits while striking out one. For whatever reason, the Yankees just had Martinez’s number toward the end of his Red Sox career.
5. Red Sox padded the lead late
The Yankees captured some momentum after scoring a pair of runs against Martinez, but the Red Sox took it right back. Mark Bellhorn led off the eighth inning by homering off Tom Gordon, and Orlando Cabrera salted the wound by scoring Trot Nixon on a sacrifice fly in the ninth. Yankee Stadium never has been quieter.