A series win over N.Y. would be satisfying, but not like it was in ’04

  • Boston Red Sox pitcher Curt Schilling tends to his right ankle during the third inning of Game 6 of the ALCS against the New York Yankees in New York in 2004. AP file

Monitor sports
Published: 10/4/2018 6:13:33 PM

When the Red Sox and Yankees begin their American League Division Series on Friday night at Fenway Park, it will be the first time the two archrivals have met in the playoffs since 2004.

Even though the rivalry has returned to the playoffs, it has not returned to the emotional frenzy of 2004. That’s just not possible.

Still, it’s Boston vs. New York, a blood feud that has fermented for generations. Maybe it won’t reach the highs, or lows, of previous incarnations, but it has already started to stir up some of those old emotions for Red Sox Nation, especially after this season.

Boston fans who lived through the ’04 saga will never forget it. We were still carrying fresh scars from the previous year, when New York’s Aaron Boone hit an 11th-inning home run in Game 7 of the American League Championship Series to send the Yankees to the World Series and add another heartbreaking chapter to the Red Sox’s 86-year-long tale of woe.

The wounds from ’03 were quickly reopened in ’04 when the teams met again in the ALCS and New York jumped out to a 3-0 series lead. There was a familiar feeling of hopeless despair in New England, a feeling that the Yankees would always be, as Pedro Martinez put it, our daddy.

Then the impossible happened. Dave Roberts stole a base, David Ortiz became Big Papi, Curt Schilling pitched in a bloody sock and Boston became the first team in baseball history to overcome a 3-0 deficit. Seven days later, the Sox beat the St. Louis Cardinals to win their first World Series title in 86 years.

That 2004 baseball postseason was transformative for New England. Yes, it’s only a game, but it felt like so much more. It felt like we could end our old way of thinking – the weather will always be crappy, the traffic will always be heavy and the Red Sox will always lose in heartbreaking fashion – and become optimistic, hopeful that any of our dreams might actually come true.

Full disclosure: I haven’t looked at baseball the same way since.

I hung on every pitch in October 2004. After that, the Red Sox in particular and the sport in general became less interesting. There was less at stake. The demons had been exorcized, the prize had been won.

Sure, I watched and cheered in 2007 when Boston won another Series. Yes, I was pulling hard for the 2013 team of beards that lifted up a city coping with the Boston Marathon bombing. But it never felt the same. The magic of ’04 could never be recaptured.

But when the Sox won 17 of their first 19 games this year, I was pulled back. Not only was this team good, it was compelling and likable. It had young and charismatic stars like Mookie Betts, Andrew Benintendi and Xander Bogaerts. It had an engaging new manager in Alex Cora. It had a veteran proving he was worth the money and capable of performing on the big stage in J.D. Martinez. It had a Martinez-like must-see pitcher in Chris Sale.

And they kept winning. And winning. And winning ... all the way to 108 wins, the most in the franchise’s 106-year history.

Breaking that record broke the seal on the old emotions. Before 2004, the Red Sox always seemed to be playing against or for or with (pick whichever preposition works for you) history, and that’s what added the extra layers of importance and emotion. Some of those layers returned with the historical 108 wins.

When New York beat Oakland in the AL Wild Card game on Wednesday night to set up this postseason renewal of the rivalry, more layers returned. The crowd at Yankee Stadium drove the point home when it started chanting “We want Boston, we want Boston.” The rivalry’s high stakes had returned.

It won’t be transformative or feel as satisfying as beating New York in ’04, but it will still feel pretty good to quiet those Yankees fans with an ALDS win. And it won’t be as painful as Bucky Dent’s home run in 1978 or Boone’s dinger in 2003, but it’s going to hurt if this Red Sox team, the one with the most regular-season wins in franchise history, gets knocked out by the hated Yankees.

And make no mistake, New York can definitely beat Boston in this series, which adds that familiar layer of dread for Sox fans.

The Yankees had the third-best record in baseball, 100-62, and their 100 wins are more than any Wild Card team before them. The Red Sox have concerns surrounding their top two pitchers, Sale and David Price, and a bullpen that is nothing but question marks. Boston won the regular-season series, but just barely, 10-9.

Maybe we can never go back to 2004, but some familiar feelings have returned. Get ready for long nights, white knuckles and the old mix of anxiety, excitement, hate and love that only the Red Sox and Yankees can deliver.

(Tim O’Sullivan can be reached at 369-3341 or tosullivan@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @timosullivan20.)




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