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Thursday, October 21, 2004

The Greatest (Baseball) Story Ever Told

The headline writers will have a field day tomorrow morning in Boston and New York and all over the United States. You can guess that some New England paper will have a photo of the BoSox celebration with the huge headline, "Who's Your Daddy?" And you probably can bet that some columnists in Houston and St. Louis will lament that while the BoSox and Yankees got all the attention, they have a pretty good series of their own going on down in Houston. (And you also can venture that political pundits are hoping for a Houston-Boston series, with the victor proving, so they would hope, to be an omen for their party's candidate).

Yes, there was drama in St. Louis tonight, and yes, that's been a great series. But all of the focus has to be on what happened in New York the past two games, last night with Curt Schilling's inspiring pitching performance, and tonight with the redemption of Derek Lowe, who going into the game had a 9.75 ERA against the Yankees and who tossed as wonderful a gem as Schilling -- 6 innings, 1 run and 1 hit. The BoSox went out early and hammered the Yankees. First it was David Ortiz hitting a 2-run homer in the first stanza, and then it was The Johnny Damon Show.

Damon, who went into the game hitting 3 for 29 and had some fans wondering whether the BoSox would lift him for the fleet Dave Roberts, had his redemption too, knocking in 6 runs and helping the BoSox leave no doubt about which team in the AL was the best this year, which team had the most grit, which team was greater than the sum of its parts. In Alexandria, Virginia, I am sure that they will always remember their Titans, but in all of New England the fans will remember these Red Sox and their gutty performances for decades to come.

And the Yankee fans will take a long time to digest this bitter pill, the first time in the history of the national pastime that a team has come back from 3 games down to win a series. Ever. Even the jinxed BoSox had never managed to lose a series after being up three straight. You would have figured that the Cubs or BoSox would have beaten the Yankees to this milestone, but, alas, even the baseball titans fall from grace every now and then.

After going down 3-0, they wondered about whether the BoSox had any pitching left, whether they could hit in the clutch, whether their bullpen had any gas left in the tank, and whether their manager knew what he was doing. It turned out, they had plenty left, their manager was steady in the cockpit, their role players rose to the occasion when they had to, and their stars helped lead the way. Even if tonight's game lacked the drama of the past two and was, in fact, anticlimactic for the average fan, for the Red Sox fans it was the exclamation point on a dramatic comeback and an amazing series.

Derek Lowe, who had a great season a year ago, struggled this year and battled with the media who covered the Red Sox, pitched the best game of his life. Terry Francona trusted his relievers, and Pedro Martinez, after a shaky start, Mike Timlin and Alan Embree rewarded his confidence in them. Papi, David Ortiz, played the Pops role that Willie Stargell did so majestically for the Pirates of the 1970's, setting the tone early with a four-ply swat. And Mark Bellhorn, the defensively challenged, strikeout prone 2B, helped pad the lead with a jack off the screen next to the right-field foul pole.

No, the Red Sox just didn't come back against the Yankees, they didn't eke out a narrow victory tonight to edge the Bronx Bombers, they sprinted past them down the home stretch and left the Yankees scratching their heads as to why the best team money can buy simply couldn't push a button and win games 7 as they have done many times in their history. The Sox won Game 7 in a style befitting a champion, and in so doing they ignited a fire in New England that the loyal Red Sox rooters haven't seen in almost two decades.

I'm a big baseball fan, and there lots of memories I carry with me. Reggie Jackson's hitting 3 HRs in the '78 World Series. Kirk Gibson's HR off Dennis Eckersley in the 1988 Series. The wonderful 1991 Series between the Braves and Twins, Luis Gonzalez's bloop hit to win the 2001 World Series, home runs by Dent, Lawless, Fisk, Joe Carter and many, many others. Year-in and year-out, memories are created. Some stay with you, some get erased and replaced with subsequent events. That's the way memories are. Some stay, some go.

And while memories are an individual thing, while the Mad Dog on WFAN might remember pitch counts while you might forget who was even on the mound, there is one thing that will stand, indelible, in the memories of baseball fans everywhere.

No matter where you live, no matter whether you watched the game tonight, no matter whether you're a National League fan or an American League fan, a Yankee fan, a Red Sox fan or a Chattanooga Lookouts fan, you will remember, for a very, very long time, the 2004 Boston Red Sox.


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