Here’s an excerpt from my book, The Next Yankees Era: My Transition from the Core Four to the Baby Bombers.
On the morning of Oct. 18, 2004, I woke up in my Beacon Hill dorm in Boston and didn’t really care and certainly wasn’t worried about what had unfolded just a few hours earlier.
The Yankees had come back in Game 4 of the 2004 ALCS, erasing a 3-2 deficit in the sixth inning. Tanyon Sturtze pitched a perfect sixth and seventh to hand the ball to Mariano Rivera for a two-inning save. The Yankees were six outs away from sweeping the Red Sox and returning to the World Series for the seventh times in nine years.
Rivera worked around a Manny Ramirez leadoff single in the eighth, striking out David Ortiz and getting Jason Varitek and Trot Nixon to ground out. Rivera threw 15 pitches in the inning and had moved the Yankees within three outs of the pennant.
In the ninth, holding on to a 4-3 lead, Rivera walked Kevin Millar to begin the inning, and Dave Roberts pinch ran for Millar. After three straight throws to first, Roberts took off on the first pitch to Mueller, successfully stealing second. Two pitches later, Mueller singled to center and Roberts came around to score to tie the game at 4.
Sure, it sucked. To be three outs away from World Series and to have that happen wasn’t ideal. But I wasn’t threatened by it. The Red Sox had extended a game they still might lose, and if they were to win, they would still be trailing 3-1 in the series. At worst, I thought this was just a minor nuisance in what would be an eventual series win.
In the 11th, still tied at 4, the Yankees missed out on their best chance to take the lead. Miguel Cairo singled off Alan Embree to lead off the inning, and Derek Jeter bunted him over to second for the first out. Alex Rodriguez, who had hit a two-run home run in the third, jumped on Embree’s 0-1 pitch and hit a line drive that Orlando Cabrera had to dive to his right to make an incredible catch on. (After his third-inning home run, if Cabrera doesn’t come up with an amazing catch, Rodriguez’s entire career and legacy are different.) The Red Sox intentionally walked Gary Sheffield and Hideki Matsui walked to load the bases for Bernie Williams, but Williams would fly out to end the inning.
At 1:22 a.m. — five hours and two minutes after the game started — Ortiz crushed a 2-1 pitch from Paul Quantrill to give the Yankees their first loss of the series.
When I woke up, I had missed some of my classes and certainly wasn’t going to go to any that day. Game 5 was scheduled for a 5:05 start time, not even 16 hours after Game 4 ended and I had to focus on that. Instead of going to class I went on eBay and found two tickets to Game 5 down the first-base line. I decided I was going to go to Game 5. All it would cost me was nearly an entire summer of working for first-semester spending money. To get the tickets, I would need to meet the owner of the tickets down a side street near Fenway Park and exchange cash for the tickets shortly before the game. Certainly not an ideal situation to put yourself in, but this was Game 5 of the 2004 ALCS and a chance to see the Yankees win the pennant and eliminate the Red Sox at Fenway Park.
I left my dorm and walked to the Fleet Bank ATM outside the Park Street T stop and withdrew a summer’s worth of work and pushed every last bill into the left-chest pocket of my fleece. It was 58 degrees in Boston, but I thought a fleece over a Yankees T-shirt would be enough to feel comfortable for the night.
I got on a jam-packed Green Line train at Park Station headed for Kendall Square. Pushed up against the T door with more and more people trying to pack in at each stop, I folded my arms across my chest to hide the fact that there was a bulging wad of 20s as big as a baseball covering my heart.
When I got off the T, I called the number of the ticket owner and he directed me toward a side street not far off Beacon Street. I slowly walked down the street, which was more like an alley, and came upon a parked Ford Explorer. Best-case scenario, the ticket owner was a nice man, who was going to make a small fortune off me wanting to see the Yankees clinch the pennant on the Red Sox’ home field. Worst-case scenario, I was going to have my bank account taken from me, or the tickets I was given wouldn’t scan at the gate.
A large, Red Sox-hat wearing man, who looked like he was on his way to his job as a bouncer, emerged from the driver’s side of the Explorer.
“Here you go.”
I took the baseball-sized roll of 20s out of my pocket and handed it over. I walked away looking down at the tickets, hoping they were real and imaging what my father, who had strongly disagreed with me paying that much to go the game, would say if they turned out not to be. The tickets were real and I walked into Fenway Park just as Hideki Matsui was flying out to center to end the top of the first.
When Jeter’s sixth-inning, bases-clearing, three-run double landed in front of me down the right-field line and rolled into the corner, I could feel the World Series. Like always, the Yankees had gotten to Pedro Martinez, and Jeter’s two-out double, gave them a 4-3 lead.
Beginning in the bottom of the sixth inning, with Mike Mussina on the mound, I started to count the outs remaining in the game, and in turn, the series.
Nixon lined out to center. Eleven.
Varitek grounded out to third. Ten.
Mueller flew out to left. Nine.
My counting came to an abbreviated halt in the seventh when Mussina allowed a leadoff double to Mark Bellhorn and was taken out of the game for Sturtze, who had pitched those two perfect innings in Game 4.
Sturtze got Johnny Damon to pop up to short. Eight.
Cabrera walked and Joe Torre went to Tom Gordon with Ramirez coming up. Gordon induced a 5-4-3 inning-ending, double play. Six.
Gordon returned for the eighth, and two pitches into the inning, he was greeted by an Ortiz home run to shrink the Yankees’ lead to 4-3. Millar walked, as he had done the night before, and Roberts pinch ran for him, as he had done the night before. Nixon singled to center, allowing Roberts to move to third. Gordon had faced three batters in the eighth and didn’t retire one, so Torre called on Rivera, who he should have called on to begin the inning.
Rivera got Varitek to fly out to center, but Roberts scored on the sacrifice, tying the game and handing Rivera a “blown save” to show how ridiculous and dumb that stat is. Mueller grounded out and Bellhorn struck out swinging. Rivera had retired all three batters he faced in the inning, but would be forever credited with “blowing” it. The Red Sox had scored twice, the two-run lead was gone and my counting the remaining outs had stopped.
The Yankees didn’t score in the ninth, but they should have. Ruben Sierra drew a two-out walk and Tony Clark hammered a 1-2 pitch from Keith Foulke to right field. In nearly any other stadium or park in the league, Sierra scores, the Yankees take a 5-4 lead, and once again, move within three outs of the World Series. But at Fenway Park, where the right-field wall comes up to only the waist of most grown men, the ball bounced into the stands, and Sierra was forced to hold up at third on the ground-rule double. Cairo popped up to first in foul territory and that was that.
Up until a few seasons ago, there was a scoreboard to the right of the Green Monster at Fenway Park that would display both team’s lineups and it would place an asterisk next to the batter that was up in the game and an asterisk next to the batter that would be up next inning for the team currently in the field. Beginning in the bottom of the ninth, I became obsessed with that scoreboard, counting how many names the asterisk had to go before reaching “Manny Ramirez” and “David Ortiz”.
Rivera worked around a Damon infield single in the ninth after Damon was caught stealing second, Cabrera grounded out and Ramirez flew out. If Torre was willing to pitch Rivera two innings — and why wouldn’t he be with the pennant on the line — then why didn’t Rivera start the eighth with a plan for him to pitch the eighth and ninth? He would have entered the game with a clean inning and a two-run lead, and by this time, I would be celebrating an AL championship.
The game was headed to extra innings, and with the Red Sox facing elimination for the second straight night, every arm would be available, including Game 6 starter Curt Schilling. So before the 10th inning began, Schilling along with the other members of the pitching staff that hadn’t been used in the game, walked from the Red Sox’ dugout to the bullpen as “Lose Yourself” blared throughout Fenway Park. I don’t know if I will ever see an ovation like that or hear a stadium as loud as that ever again.
Bronson Arroyo pitched a perfect 10th, getting Jeter to fly out, and striking out Rodriguez and Sheffield swinging. Felix Heredia replaced Rivera and struck out Ortiz swinging, which gave me a a sense of relief, knowing it would be at least a few innings of that asterisk making its way through the rest of the Red Sox’ order. A Doug Mientkiewicz one-out double chased Heredia and Game 4 loser Quantrill came in to get the last two outs of the inning.
The Yankees didn’t score in the 11th and neither did the Red Sox. The 12th went the same way. In the 13th, things got interesting for the Yankees.
Tim Wakefield, on for his second inning of work, struck out Sheffield to begin the 13th, but Sheffield reached first on a passed ball. Then Matsui hit a ground ball to Bellhorn that forced Sheffield out and Williams flew out. A passed ball with Posada at the plate sent Matsui to second and led to Posada being intentionally walked. With Sierra at the plate, a third passed ball in the inning moved Matsui to third and Posada to second. The Yankees had the go-ahead run 90 feet away and a much-needed insurance run in scoring position. This was it. Wakefield would be the losing pitcher in the Yankees’ pennant clinching win for the second straight season.
On the seventh pitch of the at-bat in a full count, Sierra struck out swinging.
The Red Sox went down in order in the bottom of the 13th and the Yankees did the same in the top of the 14th.
In the bottom of the 14th, Bellhorn struck out, Damon walked, Cabrera struck out and Ramirez walked. With two on and two outs, the asterisk had found Ortiz.
Ortiz immediately fell behind 1-2, fouled away the next two pitches, took a ball to even the count at 2, and fouled away three more pitches. On the 10th pitch of the at-bat, he hit a line drive back up the middle, and sometimes when I close my eyes, I can still see it hanging in the air, wondering if Williams is going to get to it in time. He never does get to in time, just like he didn’t that night, and as Damon rounded third and headed for home, my heart sank.
Damon touched home at 11:00 p.m — five hours and 49 minutes after first pitch — in what was the longest postseason game in history at the time. I looked to my right where a fellow Yankees fan wearing a “1918” shirt stared out at the field in disbelief. I walked out of Fenway Park where Red Sox fans kindly let me know the result of the game as my emotional state was given away by my Yankees hat.
I headed back to my dorm, regretting my decision to blow through a semester of spending money on a baseball game, in which the worst possible outcome had occurred. The Yankees didn’t just lose. They had blown a late lead for the second time in 22 hours with some bad managing, poor pitching and an inability to add on to their lead or score in extra innings. Somewhere in Boston, that large bouncer-looking man was enjoying my summer of working or planning a vacation on my dime. Meanwhile, I was in my dorm room trying to fall asleep, while replaying the events of the last two nights over and over.
The Yankees are headed home and they only have to win once before the Red Sox win twice. That was what I told myself as I tossed and turned in bed trying to clear my mind. It was now the early hours of Tuesday morning, I was wide awake, and thanks to a rainout between Games 2 and 3, an off day had been erased from the series, and both teams were on their way to New York with Game 6 later that night.
I watched from a foldable camping chair in my dorm room with the only light in the room being that emitted by the TV as the Yankees never bunted and never made Schilling move or really work on a surgically-repaired ankle in Game 6. I was in the same spot for Game 7 when Ortiz set the tone in the first inning with a two-run home run off of Kevin Brown and Damon essentially ended it with a grand slam in the second off Javier Vazquez.
A few hours after that grand slam, when Sierra grounded out to second to end the game and the series, like that guy wearing the “1918” shirt and staring out onto the field, I stared over my TV and out my 11th-floor window as chaos began in my dorm and the horns and sounds from outside on the street rose like heat into the Boston night.
The Red Sox had become the first team in history to erase a 3-0 series deficit, coming back in Games 5 and 6 at home and winning at Yankee Stadium in Games 6 and 7, all of it happening in four consecutive nights.