Ray Duckler: These days, Red Sox Nation fears nothing
Top: In Game 3 of the 2004 World Series, Boston Red Sox pitcher Pedro Martinez points to the sky as he walks off the field in St. Louis after retiring the Cardinals in the seventh inning. Middle: Relief pitcher Junichi Tazawa runs during practice yesterday in Boston. Above: Jacoby Ellsbury (left rear) celebrates with Dustin Pedroia after scoring on a grand slam by Shane Victorino in the seventh inning of Game 6 of the American League Championship Series against the Detroit Tigers on Saturday in Boston. (AP photos)
At Fenway Park on Oct. 17, 2004, everything in New England changed.
Hope, one of humanity’s greatest treasures, soared like a David Ortiz blast into the night. People around here knew, or suspected, they had something to embrace, and not just for the moment.
For all time.
The Red Sox beat the Yankees that night in Game 4 of the American League Championship Series. They won again three days later, for the fourth straight time, completing the biggest turnaround in baseball playoff history and exorcising more demons than the team in Ghostbusters.
Thanks to that best-of-seven series win, and Boston’s ensuing sweep of the St. Louis Cardinals in the World Series, Red Sox fans can enjoy this year’s postseason without attaching life-and-death meaning to it.
The World Series, which opens tomorrow at Fenway against those same Cardinals, remains important, a vital piece of the culture here.
But it’s different.
It’s a game.
And it’s fun.
I’m not a native, as some of you may know. In fact, I’m the enemy, born 25 miles outside New York City. My family still lives there, and my heart still belongs there.
With the Yankees.
Which is why that game on the 17th nine years ago still stings. I was writing a deadline column about the game that night, which was really Oct. 18 because the game crept past midnight.
I had it written, nearly finished, a column about the Yankees once again beating the Red Sox in a big moment.
Just like they had the year before, when Aaron Boone hit a home run to win Game 7. And just like in 1978, when Bucky Dent hit a home run to win a one-game playoff.
The eternal metaphor was the story about falling in love, giving yourself to someone, trusting someone, then having that person break your heart.
This time, following a 19-8 win in Game 3, the Yankees held a 4-3 lead in the ninth inning and needed one more win for the sweep.
Heartbreak had returned. Real heartbreak, painful and crushing.
But my column soon changed, as did the baseball vibes around here.
Yankees star closer Mariano Rivera walked Kevin Millar on four pitches. Then outfielder Dave Roberts pinch ran for Millar and stole second. Then Bill Mueller singled to center, tying the game at 4-all.
That’s when the change began to evolve. That evolution continued when David Ortiz socked a walk-off home run in the 12th inning, giving the Sox an improbable 6-4 win, and lifting Big Papi to legendary status.
Seven wins later, a curse had been rubbed out, 86 years without a World Series championship, and no one could deny that it had been accomplished in the right manner.
After all, what better way to end this drought of not winning a World Series and always coming up short against the Yankees than by beating the Yankees for the American League pennant, and doing it after dropping the first three games of the series?
No team had ever risen from the 0-3 ashes, until then.
Fast forward, and this is Boston’s third World Series appearance in the past 10 seasons. The Red Sox won it all in 2007 as well, opening the pressure valve even wider.
The players don’t have to answer dumb questions from the media about the Curse of the Bambino, the alleged hex that hovered over the team after it sold Babe Ruth to the Yankees in 1920.
Instead, the Red Sox can play carefree baseball, allowing them to reach their potential, let their hair down, as well as their beards.
Who doubts the Red Sox against the Cardinals?
Who believes something awful, a booted ground ball or a wild pitch or a home run by a mediocre player, awaits them, lurking in the shadows like a mugger on an abandoned street?
Those days are gone.
General Manager Ben Cherington, a New Hampshire native, showed great foresight when assembling the 2013 Red Sox, adding players named Victorino and Nava and Carp and Napoli and Gomes and Drew (Stephen, not J.D.).
The best move by far, however, occurred Dec. 6, 2012, when reliever Koji Uehara signed a one-year contract.
He became the team’s Most Valuable Player.
Things like that happen to the Red Sox these days. Decent players come aboard and get clutch hits. A player whose surname takes awhile to learn becomes a star.
Once, that sort of good karma was unthinkable for this team. Once, fans here were excited on the outside, terrified on the inside.
A walk, a stolen base, a single and a home run changed all that.
Oct. 17, 2004.
Where were you that night?