Baseball-Almanac.com's World Series section
Chapter 10: The 2000's
2000: New York Mets (1) vs. New York Yankees (4)
After a 44-year absence (1956) the "Subway Series" finally returned to the "Big Apple" matching the ever-present New York Yankees against their cross-town rivals, the Mets. The American Leaguers had continued to dominate the post-season, winning 3 out of the last 4 titles, and the Nationals were determined to finally end their reign. While manager Joe Torre's Yankees were focused on becoming the first team in 26 years to win 3 titles in a row, Mets skipper Bobby Valentine was spending time at St. Patrick's Cathedral looking for some divine intervention.
Game 1 opened in the "House That Ruth Built" with Andy Pettitte taking on Al Leiter. The contest remained scoreless (with two outs in the sixth) when the first break of the Series occurred. With Timo Perez on first, Todd Zeile drilled a 0-and-2 pitch to deep-left but it ricocheted off the top of the fence and was fielded by David Justice - who relayed to Derek Jeter - who pegged home plate to retire the runner. More of an offensive blooper than a defensive gem, Perez's inexperience on the base path clearly cost his team a prime run scoring opportunity. Aware that they had just "dodged a bullet", the Yankees responded with Justice launching a two run double to the left-centerfield gap (in the bottom of the inning) for the go-ahead score. The Mets' Benny Agbayani and Jay Payton answered back with singles in the seventh and Todd Pratt walked. Then Bubba Trammell hit a clutch, two run pinch-single that tied it up at three-all. Three innings later, Jose Vizcaino's single to left against Turk Wendell with two outs in the twelfth ended the longest game ever in the World Series (four hours, fifty-one minutes). The second meeting found the Mets still trying to catch up to their counterparts and they would come close - very close. Clemens started strong and threw two hit shutout ball for eight innings, striking out nine and walking none, but the Nationals threatened to comeback with a five run rally in the ninth. Ace closer Mariano Rivera struggled initially (surrendering a homer) but managed to regain his composure long enough to seal a clutch, 6-5 win that sent the heartbroken Mets crawling back home.
In Game 3 the Mets went ahead quickly (on Robin Ventura's leadoff homer in the 2nd), but the visitors didn't stay behind for long. They tied it against Rick Reed in the 3rd as Derek Jeter hit a 2-out single followed by a Justice double to the right-field corner. Then they sprinted ahead in the 4th as Paul O'Neill tripled to right-center driving home Tino Martinez. The Mets surged ahead and tied it at 2 in the 6th on a Todd Zeile double. Rick Reed (6 innings, 6 hits, 2 runs, 8Ks) did his part to keep up with Orlando Hernandez who had always struggled at Shea Stadium. "El Duque" struck out 12 in 7 1/3 innings and was at the top of the game when he got out of a bases-loaded, none-out jam in the 6th without allowing another Mets run to score. However, the home team managed to add 2 more in the 8th and emerged with a clutch, 4-2 victory.
Both rotations earned their paychecks in Game 4 as a combined 9 pitchers went at it on the mound. The night had a promising start and finish for the Yankees, who set the pace with Derek Jeter's homer on the 1st pitch and ended it with 2 scoreless innings by Rivera. Scott Brosius made it 2-0 with a sacrifice fly that drove home Paul O'Neill in the 2nd and Jeter led off the 3rd with a triple to right-centerfield and came home on Luis Sojo's groundout. When the Mets Mike Piazza came up again (with 2 on and no outs in the 5th) Torre lifted the left-handed Denny Neagle in favor of the right-handed David Cone. The surprising move proved brilliant as the Yankees ace forced the All-Star catcher to pop-out. The AL champs bullpen continued to shine while holding the Mets quiet for 4 1/3 innings. The result was 3-2 decision that pushed the Nationals to within 9-innings of elimination.
Pettitte, Mike Stanton and Rivera ended the Mets' misery in Game 5 allowing a meager 2-hits that resulted in 2 runs. Bernie Williams and Jeter both hit homers as the Yanks netted their 3rd consecutive World Series and their 4th in the 5 years. A 2-out single in the 9th by Luis Sojo, was the deciding factor and led the Yankees to celebrate their 26th world championship. Only 3 times in major-league history has any club won as many in a row (the Yankees won 5 straight between 1949 and 1953 and 4 straight from 1936 to 1939; the Oakland Athletics won 3 in a row from 1972-74). And only 2 other clubs won as many championships in as short a period of time; the Yankees won 5 of 6 from 1936 to 1941 and 6 of 7 from 1947 to 1953.
2001: Arizona Diamondbacks (4) vs. New York Yankees (3)
Baseball in 2001 will always be remembered not for the games that took place during the regular season, but for the patriotism and heroic tributes that took place in the wake of the 9/11 terrorists attacks. It somehow seemed fitting that the city of New York, led by Mayor Rudy Giuliani, would show immeasurable strength and host the event after suffering such devastating loss a few months earlier. As usual, the Yankees remained on top of the American League as baseball's most storied franchise prepared to face one of its newest as the National League's Arizona Diamondbacks had just won their 1st pennant in their 4th year of existence. Many fans felt that this was the year to beat the perennial champions and as a banner hung at Arizona's Bank One Ballpark stated; Yankees = History - Diamondbacks = Future. The simple, yet bold statement was well written and foretold the future as the youngest expansion team in major-league history would come from behind during the 9th-inning to de-thrown the "kings of baseball".
Midway through Game 1 it was difficult to tell who were the 3-time defending champions and which was the franchise making it's Classic debut. Arizona ace Curt Schilling continued his remarkable postseason with 7 superb innings and Luis Gonzalez homered, drove in 2 runs and scored twice as the Diamondbacks stunned the Yanks, 9-1. Taking advantage of a rough start by New York's Mike Mussina and some sloppy defense, the Diamondbacks seized the opening advantage that resulted in titles nearly 60 percent of the time. Nothing changed the following day as Randy Johnson tossed a 3-hitter and Matt Williams added a 3-run homer in the 7th for 4-0 victory. "The Big Unit" was dominant from the start, allowing just a walk and a single over the first 7-innings. He struck out 11 and improved to 3-1 in the postseason. In his last 3 outings, he allowed just 2 runs and 13 hits in 25 innings.
New York finally bounced back in Game 3 as Roger Clemens and Mariano Rivera combined on a 3-hitter and Scott Brosius snapped a 6th-inning tie with an RBI single for the 2-1 triumph. Leading 2-games-to-none, Arizona had a chance to put a stranglehold on the series with a win. The Diamondbacks got a great outing from starter Brian Anderson but committed 3 crucial errors, 3 wild pitches and ran themselves out of the opening inning. Despite the win, the Yankees continued to struggle offensively. They got only 7 hits, including a home run by Jorge Posada in the 2nd, but the 1-2 combo of Clemens and Rivera prevented an Arizona attack that scored 13 runs in the first 2 games. Shutdown by the return of Schilling (on 3 days' rest), the defending champions were staring at the possibility of a 3-games-to-one deficit in Game 4. With 1 out, Paul O'Neill shot an opposite-field single in front of left fielder Luis Gonzalez and after Bernie Williams struck out, Tino Martinez hit the first pitch he saw from reliever Byung-Hyun Kim over the wall in right-center field. As the ball cleared the outfield barrier, the hometown crowd of 55,863 erupted as the invigorated Yankees spilled out of the dugout. The stadium that had fallen deadly silent after the Diamondbacks scored 2 runs (in the 8th) was deafening now and would not stop celebrating until Martinez came out on the deck for a curtain call. Rivera (1-0) cruised through the 10th and improved to 2-0 with 5 saves and a 0.71 ERA in 9 postseason appearances. Derek Jeter completed the cycle in what had evolved into one of the most memorable games of all time by lining a 3-2 pitch over the right-field wall for the game-winner.
Game 5 looked to go the distance as well with Mussina returning to save face against Miguel Batista. The veteran right-hander improved greatly and allowed only 5 hits (including a pair of solo homers in the 5th) while walking 3 and striking out 10. One of the 2 solo homers hit in the 5th came off the bat of little-used backup Rod Barajas (a .160 hitter in the regular season) who was in for starter Damian Miller (a late scratch with a strained calf). With the Diamondbacks holding a 2-0 lead, Arizona manager Bob Brenly returned to Kim to start the 9th. Jorge Posada opened the inning with a double but the Korean sidearmer easily retired the next 2 batters. With 1 out to go, things finally appeared to go in Kim's favor, but Scott Brosius begged to differ with a clutch, 2-run blast that tied the game at 2 apiece. Despite the setback, the repentive reliever managed to hold the Yankees scoreless for the first 2 extra-innings and appeared to be on the road to recovery. Unfortunately, it was not meant to be as Game 4's finale was replayed after Alfonso Soriano singled (with 1 out in the 12th) scoring Chuck Knoblauch with the 3-2, game-winning run. After sprinting to a 2-game lead, the NL champs were now forced into a do-or-die situation for Game 6. Once again, Johnson returned for Arizona to extend the race and responded with a brilliant 6-hitter that was sweetened with 7 strikeouts. At the plate, Johnson's teammates dominated as well, scoring 15 times over the first 4 innings for a shocking 15-2 massacre.
Game 7 looked to extend the Yankees consecutive-win streak, but the "never-say-die" Diamondbacks rose to the challenge and put together one of the greatest late-game comebacks in World Series history. After Kim had surrendered the trio of heartbreaking home runs in New York, the Diamondbacks returned home and rallied against the incomparable Rivera who had converted 23 straight postseason saves and had struck out the side in the 8th (with a 2-1 lead). As Luis Gonzalez stepped up to the plate in the bottom of the 9th, the Yankees infield moved in to prevent base-runner Jay Bell from scoring. The positional strategy proved disastrous as "Gonzo" connected for a shallow looping single (that just cleared the infield in center) sending home the winning run and sealing the World Series title. The Diamondbacks (many of them veterans getting their first taste of the World Series) exploded from the dugout as the "neighborhood bully" Yankees had finally fallen to the "new kids on the block".
2002: San Francisco Giants (3) vs. Anaheim Angels (4)
It was no surprise that an American League team had once again dominated the 2002 race with powerful hitting, great defense and outstanding pitching on the mound. It was a surprise however, that the team left standing at the end of the marathon was not the New York Yankees. The Anaheim Angels had shocked the world by knocking off the defending champions 3-1 in the divisional playoffs and rolling over the Minnesota Twins 4-games-to-1 in the championship series. Their opponents, the San Francisco Giants had battled to the top of the National League (with a 95-66 record) after defeating the Atlanta Braves and St. Louis Cardinals in a close post-season race. Both line-ups featured "top of the line" sluggers but the Nationals boasted the newest all-time single season homerun champion in Barry Bonds, who reset the total at 73.
Game 1 featured the Giants' Jason Schmidt going up against the "Halos" Jarrod Washburn. Neither pitcher (or their bullpens) stood out as San Fran belted 3 homers (Bonds, Reggie Sanders, and J.T. Snow) and Anaheim's Troy Glaus launched 2 in the Giants' 4-3 win. Game 2 continued to favor the hitter as 9 combined pitchers were taken for an astounding 28-hits. 4 separate Giants dented the seats again (Bonds, Sanders, David Bell and Jeff Kent) while Tim Salmon matched teammate Glaus's opener with 2 blasts of his own. In the end, the Angels Troy Percival (who was closing in on the Yankees Mariano Rivera as the games favorite closer) hung on for the 11-10 decision in what looked more like the All-Star Game's home-run derby and less like the World Series. The 3rd outing once again found the American's "taking batting practice" but the Nationals were unable to match them against Ramon Ortiz and company. Despite hitting no homers (to the Giants' 2), Anaheim managed to cross the plate 10 times to San Fran's 4. Bonds added a 3rd home run to continue his consecutive 3-for-3 performance and wasn't done swinging for the bleachers yet.
Game 4 evened the contest as the Giants' Kirk Rueter topped John Lackey in a 4-3 triumph that continued to go to the bat. Once again, both rotations had combined to give up double-digits in the hit column (22) and many felt that the "new dynamic" of "pitching winning championships" was no longer accurate. Little did they know that pitching (closing that is) would become the major contributing factor as the Series continued. The 5th contest turned the tables as it was San Francisco embarrassing the Angels with a 16-4 debacle in which every Giants hit resulted in a run. Kent followed Bonds' lead and added 2 more blasts to his scorecard (for 3) and Rich Aurilia hammered his 2nd. The Angels were down once again (3-2) in the pivotal Game 6 and set the stage for the now world famous "Rally Monkey" to turn the tide. The postseason mascot had become the signature of Anaheim fans everywhere and the "10th man" (as it was referred to) was waved throughout the crowd and splashed on the "JumboTron" screen. The monkey had gone 27-11 during the season in games when the Angels trailed and its lifetime record was 57-41. The simian idol wouldn't disappoint as the AL champs rallied themselves for 3 runs in the 8th for the 6-5 comeback.
As both teams took the field for the decisive Game 7, Angels rookie John Lackey kept San Francisco "at bay", allowing 1 run and 4-hits in 5 innings while pitching on just 3-days' rest. Only Reggie Sanders' sac-fly in the 2nd kept Lackey (1-0) from blanking the Giants in the biggest game in San Francisco's history. In the 9th, the Giants "rallied themselves" off of Percival to once again bring the tying run to the plate, but the Angels' closer earned the save by striking out Tsuyoshi Shinjo and getting Kenny Lofton to hit a fly ball to Darin Erstad in center field. After taking a 3-2 lead in the Series at home and a 5-0 lead into the 7th inning of Game 6, the Giants were outscored 10-1 in the final 12 innings of the contest. As the "Cinderella" Angels captured their first world championship, it was the 8th consecutive time that a 7th game had been won by the home team dating back to 1982.
2003: Florida Marlins (4) vs. New York Yankees (2)
The biggest story of the 2003 World Series may not have been the actual Fall Classic, but more so the dramatic pennant race that led up to the Series itself. After years of less-than-stellar ratings, record audiences finally tuned in to the Major League Baseball postseason, making it the most-watched playoffs ever on cable. Fans also flocked to the ballparks setting a new attendance mark with over 1,858,979 tickets sold. Many attributed this renewed interest to the playoff's storybook backdrop that featured two of baseball's most beloved underdogs, the Boston Red Sox and Chicago Cubs. Both teams had surprised the experts by making the post season and each continued to shock their opponents by battling back in their respective leagues time and time again. After surviving the Divisional round, generations of long-suffering fans from both ball clubs reveled in the possibility that the curse of both "The Bambino" and "The Goat" was finally coming to an end. The baseball god's apparently had other plans and both teams fell just five heartbreaking outs short of making it to the Series.
Unlike the similarities shared between their tragic opponents, both league champions were as diametrically opposed as two teams meeting on the same diamond could be. On the American League side, the New York Yankees, recently nicknamed "The Evil Empire", surprised no one after posting the best record in baseball en route to their 39th Fall Classic. The National League champion Florida Marlins however, had managed to sneak undetected under everyone's "radar" after falling ten games under .500 on May 22. Amazingly, the moderately popular Florida franchise was making its second Fall Classic appearance in only it's tenth year of existence. After the emotionally exhausting playoffs, in which almost every game literally came down to the final pitch, many fans believed that the Series was a foregone conclusion and could not possibly live up to the drama of it's predecessors. Little did they know that another battle of "David vs. Goliath" was about to unfold and that neither team would ever be the same again…
In Game 1 the Yankees opened the Series in the same fashion that they had opened both the American League Divisional Series and AL Championship - with a loss. The 3-2 decision snapped the Yankees' ten-game-home winning streak (in the World Series), dating back to Game 2 of the 1996 Fall Classic. Despite the setback, the pinstripe faithful refused to panic, as the Bronx Bombers were 7-1, in which they had lost Game 1, under manager Joe Torre. Starting pitcher David Wells had surrendered a run in the first inning after Florida's Juan Pierre laid down a perfect bunt single that was followed by Luis Castillo's flare single to right, putting runners at the corners. Ivan Rodriguez lifted a sacrifice fly to center, scoring Pierre and giving him a playoff-best 17 RBIs. The Yankees tied the game in the third against Brad Penny after Derek Jeter came up clutch with a RBI single to center, scoring Karim Garcia from second and injecting some life into the crowd of 55,769 that was still suffering from an ALCS "hangover". Pierre later put the Marlins back on top in the fifth with a two-run single to left, giving Florida a 3-1 lead, but Bernie Williams answered back with a solo home run with one out in the sixth. It was the 18th post-season homer of his career and tied him with fellow Yankees Mickey Mantle and Reggie Jackson for the most round-trippers in Major League playoff history. Taking no chances, Florida pulled Penny in favor of closer Ugueth Urbina, who struck out Jorge Posada and Alfonso Soriano before inducing Nick Johnson to pop out to center, nailing down the win.
Game 2 evened the score as Andy Pettitte brought the Yankees back to life (for the third consecutive series) with a near-perfect 6-1 outing. Pitching on three days' rest, Pettitte allowed only one unearned run over 8 2/3 innings for his ninth consecutive win. Japanese import Hideki Matsui gave the pitcher all of the offensive support he would need, belting a three-run homer in the first inning. Alfonso Soriano, who had been struggling at the plate throughout the playoffs, added a two-run shot in the fourth that sealed the deal. Marlins right-handed prodigy Josh Beckett was given the start for Game 3 and the 23-year-old Texan worked through a lengthy rain delay and an imposing lineup, striking out 10 while giving up three hits and two runs. However, Yankees starter Mike Mussina proved better giving up a single run in seven innings. After 108 pitches through 7 1/3 innings, Beckett was pulled in favor of the left-handed Dontrelle Willis who struggled with his control due to the wet weather. Once again, Matsui came up big at the plate snapping a tie with a two-out RBI single in the eighth. From there, ALCS Game 7 hero Aaron Boone and Bernie Williams both added home runs in the ninth capping off another 6-1 decision over the Marlins.
The fourth game in the Series held a special significance as the fans in attendance witnessed the final appearance on the mound by one of baseball's greatest pitchers, Roger Clemens. The future Hall of Famer came on strong sitting down the first two Marlins in the opening frame. However, things quickly turned sour after Ivan Rodriguez's two-out single sparked an early Marlins rally. Following Rodriguez's lead, Miguel Cabrera, a 20-year-old rookie, drilled a 2-2 pitch the opposite way from the 41-year-old Clemens deep into the right-field seats, giving Florida a 2-0 lead. Jeff Conine and Mike Lowell followed with singles, putting runners at the corners. Derrek Lee then scored Conine putting the Yankees in a three-run hole after only one inning. Taking their turn, New York rallied around their struggling pitcher and responded by loading the bases with three singles to open the second. Aaron Boone kept their drive alive with a sac-fly to center that scored Bernie Williams cutting the lead to 3-1. Determined to "save face" for his 42-pitch first-inning debacle, "The Rocket" settled in needing just 54 pitches to get through the next five innings. Clemens returned for the seventh to face Luis Castillo as flashbulbs began to pop with each pitch. Falling behind on the count 1-2, Castillo battled the Yankee ace for five more pitches before looking at strike three on a fastball that tailed over the inside corner. The 65,934 in attendance gave Clemens a standing ovation as he walked off the field for the last time, honoring him for his 20 seasons of pitching supremacy. As the Marlins took the field to start the eighth, some of their classier players tilted their caps to the Yankees dugout. Clemens, who came back on to the field for a curtain call, returned the gesture by waving to the fans and to his opponents. Once again, Ugueth Urbina was summoned from Florida's bullpen but the Marlins reliever stumbled and surrendered 2 tying runs after Ruben Sierra lined a pitch down the right-field line for a triple, scoring both Williams and pinch-runner David Dellucci. Jose Contreras tossed two scoreless innings of relief for New York, while Florida's Chad Fox, after getting through the 10th, ran into trouble in the 11th. With runners in scoring position, and Juan Rivera sent in to pinch-hit for Contreras, Braden Looper took the mound. After intentionally walking Rivera, Looper proceeded to strike out Aaron Boone and force John Flaherty to pop out to third leaving all runners stranded on base. As the Yankees prepared to take the field, Torre made a call to his own bullpen that would prove both controversial and costly. The Yankees skipper elected to go with Jeff Weaver in the 11th, despite the fact that he had not appeared on the mound in 28 days. Weaver, who had been demoted as a starter to a relief role, held the Marlins at bay with a series of well placed fastballs. After Looper tossed a scoreless top of the 12th, Alex Gonzalez worked the count full to lead off the Marlins' half of the 12th. Swinging for the bleachers, the shortstop drilled the payoff pitch down the left-field line, barely clearing the 330-foot sign on the wall, nailing a 4-3 win and setting off a celebration both on the field and in the stands. In retrospect, many fans felt that Torre's gamble on Weaver had not only cost the Yankees Game 4, but in the end, the Series.
New York caught another bad break in Game 5 after losing starting pitcher David Wells to a "freak" back injury after just one inning. Florida went on to hit reliever Jose Contreras for four runs in three innings, after clearly taking control in the second. Things then went from bad to worse as the Yankees struggling bullpen allowed six runs from the second through the fifth. Marlins starter Brad Penny took care of the rest while holding the Bombers to only one earned run over seven innings. Once again Florida had defeated the mighty Yankees and moved within one win of a second World Series championship. Game 6 maintained the Marlins' momentum as Josh Beckett, starting on three days' rest for the first time in his young career, dominated the Yankees with a complete-game, five-hit shutout. His rival, Andy Pettitte, who had won 11 consecutive games following Yankees losses, gave New York a valiant effort, holding the Marlins to two runs (one earned) over seven innings. Pettitte sat down the first two Marlins in the fifth, but Alex Gonzalez and Juan Pierre put together consecutive singles to keep the inning going. Pettitte got ahead of Luis Castillo, 0-2, but the second baseman worked the count to 2-2 before lining a single to right field. Outfielder Karim Garcia fielded the hit and went for home, but his throw was slightly up the first-base line, allowing Gonzalez to score with a heads-up slide, avoiding the tag and touching the plate with his left hand. Beckett remained focused and sat the Yankees down in order in the sixth, striking out Bernie Williams (looking) and Hideki Matsui (swinging) to put the Marlins nine outs away from the championship. Jorge Posada led off the seventh with a double to left, but Beckett got Jason Giambi to ground out to third before striking out Garcia and pinch-hitter Ruben Sierra. As a testament to Florida's defensive play, New York remained 0-for-7 on the night with runners in scoring position. After Yankees closer Mariano Rivera came in to prevent any additional runs, Beckett returned to the mound to finish the job, forcing both Williams and Matsui to fly out to left. He then got Posada to squib an inside pitch down the first-base line, which he appropriately, fielded himself tagging the catcher for the final out.
The "routine play" almost seemed anti-climatic as one of baseball's most dramatic post-seasons abruptly came to an end. While Marlins players mobbed each other on the field in celebration, the stands of Yankee Stadium remained silent as fans were coming to grips with another World Championship lost. Much like the 2001 Arizona Diamondbacks, Florida had managed to beat the odds AND the favored Yankees to become the best in baseball. Unlike the '97 franchise of free-agent "mercenaries", the '03 Marlins boasted a young team that looked to remain intact for future seasons. Things did not look as bright in the Big Apple however where a dynasty was about to see several changes - and a lot of pink slips.
2004: St. Louis Cardinals (0) vs. Boston Red Sox (4)
The 2004 Major League post-season witnessed perhaps the greatest comeback in the history of professional baseball. Down three-games-to-none in the American League Championship Series, baseball's perennial "bridesmaids", otherwise known as the Boston Red Sox, stood three outs from elimination courtesy of their hated rivals, the New York Yankees. With the game's greatest post-season closer on the mound, Mariano Rivera, Boston miraculously rose to the occasion to win the final 4 games and become the first team ever to comeback from a three-games-to-none deficit to take the league title. It had been 100 years since the Red Sox had last won a pennant in New York with a 3-2 victory in a doubleheader opener at Hilltop Park in 1904. For decades, New York had repeatedly dashed the hopes and dreams of the Red Sox faithful and many considered their so-called "rivalry" to be a "one-sided" affair. In 1949, the Yankees overcame Boston by winning the final two games of the 1949 season at Yankee Stadium. They also won a historic one-game playoff for the American League East in 1978 behind Bucky Dent's three-run homer at Fenway Park. More recently, Aaron Boone had hit an 11th-inning homer to win Game 7 of the 2003 ALCS for the newly christened "Evil Empire."
Adding to the historic backdrop and impending drama were two epic Boston wins in extra-innings, as well as a clutch performance by newly-acquired pitcher Curt Schilling, who essentially started two games on one ankle. In retrospect, the spectators (on both sides) deserve credit as well. Throughout the entire series Red Sox fans were often shown praying and holding up signs that said "We Believe", "Manny-fest Destiny" and "Please God - Don't Let Us Get Swept By The Yankees." In the Bronx, the Bleacher Creatures responded with deafening chants of "Who's Your Daddy" (referring to an embarrassing post-game comment made by Pedro Martinez) while holding up signs of their own depicting Babe Ruth's face, with "1918" and "The Curse Lives On."
After what many considered to be the most intense week of baseball ever witnessed, the Red Sox persevered four games to three, granting them a ticket to their first World Series since 1986 and possibly their first Championship title in 86 years.
Unfortunately, due to the magnitude of the American League contest, the National League version, which was equally compelling, took a far back seat in the ratings. The St. Louis Cardinals boasted the top offensive stats in the National League during the regular season as well as the game's most expensive player, Albert Pujols, who had signed a franchise record $100 million, seven-year contract earlier in the year. In Houston, the biggest story of the Astros' season was the return of "hometown hero" Roger Clemens. After enjoying a brief, seventy-eight day retirement, Clemens returned to pitch with friend and former teammate Andy Pettitte on their hometown team. For more than a year, "The Rocket" had insisted that 2003 would be his final season, but all bets were off after the Yankees lost the World Series and Pettitte left New York. Remarkably, the forty year-old, six-time Cy Young winner, returned better than ever becoming a Cy Young candidate en route to the National League Championship Series.
Like their American League counterparts, both teams went head-to-head for a seven game classic in which the Redbirds managed to emerge victorious. Most amazingly was the fact that heading into the decisive Game 7, both teams had exactly the same batting average at .246, the same number of runs scored at 29 apiece and the exact same ERA at 4.80. In the end, the Card's clutch, 5-2 win brought the World Series back to St. Louis for the first time since 1987.
Going into the Fall Classic neither team stood out as a statistical favorite. Both had put up the best offensive numbers in their respective leagues (Boston: 949 runs, St. Louis: 845 runs) and featured a strong line-up, inspired pitching staff and dependable bullpen.
Game 1 opened at Fenway Park as the euphoric "Red Sox Nation" cautiously waited the fall of the dreaded "Curse of the Bambino" (an 80+ year-old superstition based on the infamous trade of Babe Ruth to the New York Yankees following the 1919 season). As expected, the two highest-scoring teams in the Major Leagues combined for the highest-scoring Game 1 in World Series history as the Red Sox edged the Cardinals, 11-9. The 20 runs scored were two more than the previous record holders; NY Yankees (12) and Chicago Cubs (6) had scored on September 28, 1932 and there were also a remarkable 14 walks and 5 errors. The opener presented the first Fall Classic duel between these two teams since 1967, when the Cardinals won in seven games. Time had definitely changed though, as there were 21 total runs scored in the first four games of that series by both teams combined.
The second outing also went in Boston's favor (6-2) as starter Curt Schilling continued to add to his mythical post-season performance. Many fans stated that what he accomplished in Game 2 of the World Series belonged in a special class and was the kind of story that would be told (and retold) for generations to come. Originally slated to be unavailable in the American League Championship Series (due to a serious ankle injury) the 37-year-old right-hander compromised his own career by electing to "go" after receiving both shots and sutures. With blood staining his right stocking, Schilling tossed an unbelievable masterpiece against the Yankees. The following week, he repeated the effort in Game 2 and left after pitching six innings of one-run, four-hit ball. Before the game, The Associated Press reported that Boston team physician Bill Morgan said the procedure to stitch Schilling's torn tendon to the ankle might be too dangerous to repeat a third time. Regardless of no chance at a "hat-trick", the two outings Schilling had given his team quickly became inscribed in the books of Boston's ever-growing folklore.
Game 3 shifted to Series to Busch Stadium, but unfortunately for Cardinals fans, so shifted the momentum of the Red Sox as they crept closer and closer to a sweep with a 4-1 road-win. Boston ace Pedro Martinez faced pitcher Jeff Suppan for what was originally billed as a "pitchers duel." The three-time Cy Young Award winner responded with his most dominant performance of the postseason. On the day after his 33rd birthday, Martinez shut down the usually prolific offense of the Cardinals, holding them to three hits over his seven shutout innings, striking out six and retiring the last 14 batters he faced. In doing so, the Sox came just two outs shy of notching their first World Series shutout since Bruce Hurst and Calvin Schiraldi had combined in Game 1 against the Mets in 1986. It was also Boston's seventh win in a row and put them 27 outs from total vindication.
Down three-games-to-none, St. Louis received widespread criticism for not playing "fundamental baseball" in key situations. The Cards showed promise going against Martinez in the bottom of the first, loading the bases with one out. But on a shallow fly out to left by Jim Edmonds, Larry Walker surprisingly tried to score. He was tagged out by catcher Jason Varitek, who easily handled an accurate one-hopper. In the third inning, St. Louis had another golden opportunity after Suppan got things going with a single down the third-base line. Edgar Renteria followed with a double to right, but the Cardinals stung themselves again with shoddy base running. A grounder to second by Walker should have scored Suppan. However, Mark Bellhorn methodically fielded the ball and eased the throw to first, essentially giving away the run for the sure out. A confused Suppan somehow got hung up on the third-base line as first baseman David Ortiz (playing defense for just the second time since July 22) alertly fired a laser to third baseman Mueller, who tagged Suppan out.
Now just with one win to go, the buzz about the New England area (as well as the rest of the country) continued to rise to monstrous proportions. One quote by sports writer Mike Bauman from Baseball Perspective summed up the miraculous rebirth of the Boston mystique. He wrote: Victory over the Yanks has changed the equation. And it has changed the emotion, from frustration and perennial disappointment to buoyant anticipation and optimism. For the first time in decades, the Fenway Faithful felt real promise as the Cardinals fell further and further away from bringing the title back to "America's greatest baseball town."
Game 4 started with a bang as Boston's Johnny Damon led-off with a homerun courtesy of Cardinals' starter Jason Marquis. Derek Lowe took the mound for the Red Sox pitching a 7-inning masterpiece with three hits, one walk and four strikeouts. It was Lowe who had come up huge in two critical playoff games in the American League Championship Series. Despite having a terrible September, the right-hander rose to the occasion and redeemed himself with a magnificent start in New York for the deciding Game 7. In retrospect, he was only given the opportunity for these masterful performances (ALCS 4 and 7, and WS 4) due to the disruption of Boston's starting rotation resulting in manager Terry Francona relying on would-be starter Tim Wakefield for several innings of relief in Games 1 and 3. Things continued to favor Boston in the third when Trot Nixon stepped in (with the bases loaded and two outs) and came out swinging on a 3-0 pitch, clocking a two-run double off the wall in right-center, putting the Sox ahead by three runs. And that was it. For the next 6 innings both teams left multiple base runners stranded as neither was able to add to the scoreboard.
St. Louis came close in the fifth after Edgar Renteria tagged a double to left-center and moved to third on a wild pitch with just one out. Lowe however managed to regain his composure striking out John Mabry and getting Yadier Molina on a grounder to short. In the eighth, Boston loaded the bases, but Cardinals' closer Jason Isringhausen ended the inning, giving the offense a chance to rally back. Unfortunately, baseball's most winningest team in 2004 (105 regular season victories) was unable to generate any offense as Boston relievers Bronson Arroyo and Alan Embree combined with closer Keith Foulke to finish the job for the 3-0 win. In the end, the Red Sox pitching staff was masterful in the final three games of the series, holding St. Louis' line-up to three runs over 27 innings.
And with that the entire culture of the Boston Red Sox changed as the self-proclaimed "idiots" franchise won its sixth World Series championship, but first since 1918. Finally the so-called "curse" had been broken after breaking so many hearts generation after generation. As the team mobbed each other at home plate, loyal members of the Red Sox Nation from Boston to Baghdad raced into the streets in jubilant celebration. GM prodigy Theo Epstein, the pride of Brookline, Massachusetts (who built the team at the age of 30) summed up the historic significance of the victory by stating, "This is what we've all been waiting for. We can die happy. I just hope everyone out there who has been rooting for the Red Sox the last 86 years is enjoying this as much as we are. We're coming home to see you soon."
On the other side, Cardinals' skipper Tony LaRussa echoed the obvious disappointment in both himself and his players. Not only had the team who scored the most runs and allowed the fewest in the National League been swept, but they were also shutout in the process. In addition, the win for Boston was sweetened, as it had been the St. Louis Cardinals who previously shattered the Red Sox dreams of a championship title in both the 1946 and 1967 World Series.
The date: October 27th, 2004, a day that will live on in infamy and a day that Boston, and "The Babe," could finally rest in peace.
(more to come)
© 2002-2003-2004 Pinstripe Press. All Rights