In October 2004, I hated Johnny Damon more than any other athlete. If I had made an All-Animosity Team back then, Johnny Damon would have been the team captain the way Josh Beckett has been for the last three years.
Damon was the founding father of the “Idiot” culture of the 2004 Red Sox and he stood for everything that wasn’t the New York Yankees. Aside from Red Sox ownership he played the biggest role as a player in turning Fenway Park into a social scene, attracting pink hats and a crowd whose primary concern seems to be making sure they use the bathroom before “Sweet Caroline” so they can be at their seat to sing along and sway back and forth. Damon became the face of the Red Sox, personifying the change the franchise underwent by transforming the losing mentality the team and its fans exemplified. I hated Johnny Damon.
By stealing Johnny Damon away from the atmosphere and environment he helped create, in the winter of 2005, the Yankees did more than just acquire their rival’s leadoff hitter and center fielder. They acquired the heart and soul of their rival and at that time – outside of winning another championship – it was the next best thing to making the pain 2004 hurt a little less.
I didn’t think I could ever forgive Johnny Damon for Game 7, but I did. And I’m prepared to forgive Derek Lowe too after already doing the same for Doug Mientkiewicz, Mark Bellhorn, Alan Embree and Mike Myers on much smaller scales.
For someone I have hated for the last 15 years of my life and hated a great deal for nearly the last eight, I feel weird rooting for Lowe, who was the bad guy. It’s almost like I’m rooting for Coach Dan Devine to not put Rudy in for the final seconds of the Georgia Tech game or for the puck to roll on end for Charlie Conway and for him to lose control of it during his triple deke on the penalty shot against the Hawks.
Some Yankees fans don’t like Derek Lowe on the team or anyone from that 2004 Red Sox team, and they will like him less if he gets lit up while with the Yankees. But if he pitches the way he pitched on Monday night and he turns into the guy he was from April 8 to June 1 (7-3, 3.06) and not the guy he was from June 7 to July 31 (1-7, 8.77), those fans will like him too. Then again, if the Rangers had rocked Lowe at the Stadium on Monday night, maybe I wouldn’t be forgiving him. Actually I know I wouldn’t be forgiving him.
There’s nothing that will ever erase those four consecutive October nights from my memory even though I have tried. I have never re-watched any of the games from that series, and aside from each game’s starters throughout the series, I have tried to black out what happened from the ninth inning of Game 4 until the final out of Game 7. When I think back to that series now it certainly doesn’t feel like it could have all unfolded over four consecutive nights. Those four nights felt like 40 while they were happening and the months leading up to Opening Day in 2005 (really Opening Night for the Yankees and Red Sox) felt like an eternity.
I watched Games 1, 2, 3 and 4 from my dorm room in downtown Boston, and I remember the hysteria and chaos following the Red Sox’ Game 4 win that felt like a minor speed bump on the way to the World Series. I actually took the Game 4 loss surprisingly well and shrugged it off because no one blows a 3-0 series lead.
For Game 5, I went to the then-Fleet Bank ATM across from the Park Street T stop on the Boston Commons, and withdrew nearly all of the money I had worked for over the summer to use for spending money that semester. I folded it up and put it in the left chest pocket of my fleece and rode a packed T to Kenmore with my hand over the pocket and the money. I had called my friend, Jim, just a couple hours earlier and told him about some guy I found online who was selling tickets to Game 5. Jim was training for hockey at the time and didn’t think he would be able to get to Boston in time, but I sold him on the idea of watching the Yankees win the pennant at Fenway Park. He got off the ice early, skipped taking a shower (there is nothing in the world that can compare to the stench of a post-hockey skipped shower), loaded up on the deodorant and Axe spray in his glove compartment and turned I-95 North into the Brickyard.
With Jim en route to Fenway, I went from the five-stop T ride to meeting a stranger in his Ford Explorer down a side street near Fenway Park. I was 18 years old and knew Boston as well as I know what Eddie Vedder is saying in “Yellow Ledbetter.” It was 2-to-1 that I would have the money in my left chest pocket taken without receiving tickets and 5-to-1 that the Channel 7 news in Boston was going to lead their broadcast that night with a story about a college freshman wearing a Yankees hat who was last seen trying to buy tickets from a scalper in a Ford Explorer down a Fenway side street rather than the result of Game 5. Actually what am I thinking? A college freshman wearing a Yankees hat in Boston pre-2004 World Series? The Boston Police would have helped cover it up. I probably would have been held captive by a Boston Police Captain like Amanda in Gone Baby Gone.
Jim made it to Boston in record time, but we didn’t get into Fenway until we heard the crowd roaring as Pedro Martinez retired Hideki Matsui to end the top of the first. The Red Sox scored twice off Mike Mussina in the first, but Bernie Williams answered with a solo shot in the second. It remained 2-1 Boston until Derek Jeter hit a two-out, bases-clearing double in the sixth. We were sitting right next to the Pesky Pole in right field (where the Yankees should have won, but Fenway’s short fenced caused a ground-rule double later in the game) and we watched the ball roll into the corner as the Yankees took a 4-2 lead and Jeter ended up on third on the throw. We all know what happened over the next eight innings.
I spent five hours and 49 minutes and 14 innings at Fenway Park that afternoon into night. I spent nearly all of my spending money (who am I kidding with “spending?” … it was for beer and Domino’s, which I still know the number to by heart) on the chance to see the Yankees win the pennant at Fenway Park and for the chance to see the monumental look of devastation on the face of Red Sox fans in their home. I think we can chalk that one up as a bad investment and maybe my worst investment unless we’re counting when I bought the Chumbawamba album “Tubthumper” in sixth grade just for the song “Tubthumping.” We’ll call it a tie.
The next night the Yankees let Curt Schilling shut them down on one ankle and failed to make him move off the mound with bunt attempts. I remember one time in the game when Schilling had to become part of a play at first and he ran like Chien-Ming Wang running home in Houston on the day that changed his career. For all of the great decisions Joe Torre made in his 12 years with the Yankees, not having the team drop downs bunts in Game 6 was one of the Top 5 worst decisions of his Yankees tenure. The other four would be starting Kevin Brown in Game 7 of that series, brining the infield in in the ninth inning of Game 7 of the 2001 World Series, bringing Jeff Weaver in in Game 4 of the 2003 World Series with Mariano Rivera sitting in the bullpen and not removing the team from the field while the midges attacked Joba Chamberlain in Game 2 of the 2007 ALDS.
The night after that, Kevin Brown took the Yankees out of the game before Tim McCarver could say anything nonsensical (yup, it happened that quickly). Torre called on Javier Vazquez to put out the fire and instead he brought gasoline and matches with him by ending the game on his first pitch. Derek Lowe shut down the Yankees and won the game on three days rest, and I have hated him since. Well, until Monday night.
To me, Derek Lowe on the Yankees puts a little dent into what happened on those four nights. No, it doesn’t erase it because nothing ever will, but it helps to cope with what happened. Johnny Damon shaving his head and pointing during Roll Call and becoming a Red Sox killer and stealing third base against the Phillies and getting doused in champagne in the Yankees clubhouse put a massive dent in it.
The only key pieces left of that Red Sox team still in the league are Lowe and David Ortiz, and I don’t think Ortiz will ever put on pinstripes and take a sledgehammer to the 2004 legacy, but I wouldn’t want him to anyway (though it would be a nice way to get some closure). And with those two being the only remaining active key members of that team, I can say my body is filled with joy knowing that Red Sox fans have to watch the guy who clinched all three 2004 postseason series for them pitch for the postseason-bound Yankees while they watch a losing Boston team playing out the string like the Royals, Twins and Mets.
Derek Lowe is 39 years old and might be at the cul-de-sac of his career, but he wants another chance to win. He proved on Monday night for four innings against the best offense in baseball that he still knows how to.