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Monday, October 27, 2014

Ten years ago today, Cards and the Curse were both put to rest

Red Sox prove Al Gore right.

Excerpted from "Miracle at Fenway"

It is hard to imagine how winning a World Series could be anticlimactic for a team, especially a team that had not won one in 86 years. But that was absolutely the case for the 2004 Red Sox. They had completed the greatest turnaround in sports history and had exorcised the demons of their past all in one week, and nothing they did against the National League champion St. Louis Cardinals was going to top it.

Of course if they lost to the Cardinals, well, that might be another story. If they fell short again in the World Series, as they had in 1946, 1967, 1975, and 1986 – always in seven games – wouldn't Yankee fans still be able to taunt them about 1918? People still remembered the '67 Impossible Dream Red Sox fondly, as well as the '75 team led by rookie phenoms Fred Lynn and Jim Rice. But those teams hadn't gone all the way, so the Red Sox were still thought of as the franchise that couldn't win the big one.

If St. Louis won, this would be Hendu 2.0.

In the end, there would be no need to worry about such possibilities. The 2004 World Series was one of the most one-sided in history.

The Red Sox won four straight games and never trailed for a single inning. St. Louis had a 105-57 record during the regular season, the best in baseball, and had a Hall of Fame manager in Tony LaRussa. They had two 40-homer sluggers in Albert Pujols and Jim Edmonds, a deep starting pitching staff with four 15-game winners, and a strong bullpen anchored by closer Jason Isringhausen and his 47 saves. Three Cardinals – center fielder Edmonds, catcher Mike Matheny, and third baseman Scott Rolen (who also hit 34 homers) – won Gold Gloves for their fielding brilliance.

Against the Red Sox, this group looked like the 1962 Mets.

There were two times in four games that the Cardinals had an opportunity to make the 100th World Series a real contest. In Game 1 at Fenway Park, the Red Sox took a 4-0 lead in the first inning thanks to another David Ortiz home run, off Woody Williams, and by the end of the third inning had a 7-2 advantage Then St. Louis battled from way back, much as Boston had done in the ALCS opener at Yankee Stadium. They chased Boston starter Tim Wakefield with three fourth-inning runs, and in the sixth tied the game, 7-7, with two more against Bronson Arroyo.

A powerhouse club -- until it counted.

Boston went back ahead, 9-7, in the seventh on RBI singles by Ortiz and Manny Ramirez, but the Cards struck again in the eighth, getting two runs on a pair of errors by Ramirez in left field. They had men on first and second with only one out in a 9-9 game, and the heart of their order coming up in Pujols, Rolen, and Edmonds. But just as Curt Schilling was brought to Boston to beat the Yankees, Keith Foulke now did what he had been acquired to do. After intentionally walking Pujols to load the bases, he got Rolen to pop out to third and struck out Edmonds.

In the bottom of the eighth, after an error by usually sure-handed shortstop Edgar Renteria, Mark Bellhorn stepped in – batting under .200 in the postseason, but with home runs in two straight games – and made it three in a row with a two-run blast off Julian Tavarez and the Pesky Pole in right. Foulke set St. Louis down in the ninth, and Boston had dodged a big bullet with an 11-9 win.

When Curt Schilling woke up at sevenon the morning of Game 2, he told reporters after the game, he couldn't walk or even move. “I honest to God didn't think I was going to take the ball today,” he said. “I didn't think I could.”

He did, and what he did with it further sealed his legend.

A champion's salute.

Jason Varitek, perhaps fueled by one of his regular visits to Trutony's Deli in Newton before heading into the ballpark, hit a 400-foot triple to deep center in the first inning to give Boston a 2-0 lead. Schilling made the advantage stand up, throwing six innings of four-hit baseball and allowing just one unearned run. The Sox showed patience at the plate, drawing six walks to go with eight hits, and won, 6-2, to take a 2-0 lead in the Series heading to Missouri for Game 3.

St. Louis was a much friendlier environment for Boston fans than New York. Folks could wear their Red Sox hats and shirts and jackets and not worry about being ridiculed or challenged to a fight. Lynne Smith, known back home as “The Fenway Hat Lady” because she literally wore the ballpark – or a miniature model of it, complete with Green Monster and lights – on her head, was asked numerous times by fans at Busch Stadium to take photos with them, and was happy to oblige.

Suppan's blunder was costly.

The third inning of Game 3 marked the second and last opportunity the Cardinals had to make this a competitive series, and once again they couldn't take advantage. Starter Pedro Martinez, making what would turn out to be his last appearance in a Red Sox uniform, got early support on a Manny Ramirez home run in the first inning, and had a 1-0 lead into the bottom of the third. Then St. Louis showed some life. Pitcher Jeff Suppan (yet another former Red Sox faced by Boston in the postseason) managed an infield single, and Edgar Renteria hit a ball to right field that Trot Nixon misplayed into a double.

With men on second and third, and nobody out, the Cardinals had a chance to do some major damage against Martinez, who had already endured some tough moments in the playoffs. When Larry Walker hit a ground ball to second base, Boston's strategy was to concede the run and get the sure out at first base. Bellhorn, playing deep at second for this reason, threw to first to get Walker.

But Suppan, seeming confused, stopped midway to home plate – and then tried to go back to third. David Ortiz, playing first base because of the lack of a designated hitter in the National League ballpark, spotted Suppan in no man's land and gunned the ball across to third baseman Bill Mueller, who tagged Suppan to complete the unusual double play. Pujols grounded out, and the game – and effectively, the series – was over. Martinez wound up pitching seven shutout innings, and Boston won, 4-1.

Pedro did his part...

Derek Lowe, like Martinez a free agent who was unsure if he would be with Boston in 2005, got the start in Game 4. This gave him the unique possibility of winning the deciding game of all three playoff rounds after being demoted from the starting rotation before the postseason. A victory would be the ultimate way of both proving his full worth to the coaching staff and setting himself up for a big payday.

Johnny Damon helped Lowe on his way by homering in the first inning, Boston's fourth straight game scoring in the opening frame. Trot Nixon added a two-run double in the third, one of his three doubles on the night, and the 3-0 lead stood up. Lowe wound up going seven three-hit innings (the exact line turned in by Martinez the day before), and Arroyo, Embree, and Foulke held St. Louis at bay the rest of the contest. did Lowe.

Back in Boston, fans watched or listened to the final innings in living rooms, bars, bedrooms, and anywhere else they could. Parents kept their kids up or woke them for the ninth inning, among them Ken and Shelley Leandre. Their son, Jordan, was the four-year-old cancer survivor who had delighted the crowd with his National Anthem rendition before Game 5 of the ALCS.

“I felt like Jordan had been a good-luck charm,” says Ken Leandre. “He used to sit in front of the TV and point at the screen and say he was 'throwing out magic' and the next thing you know, Manny or Ortiz would hit a home run. We loved that he had something he loved and could have a good feeling about instead of the hospitals and needles.”

Leandre was lucky (again).

The good luck charm within the Red Sox team itself was Johnny Pesky, the shortstop-manager-coach-legend who had been employed by the Boston organization for most of his 65-plus years in baseball. The Sox made sure Johnny got to St. Louis for Game 4, which he watched from the stands with Dr. Charles Steinberg and Pam Ganley Kenn, who helped him with his public appearances and looked at him like a grandfather. When the game moved into the late innings with the Red Sox ahead, the trio got up to make their way down to the visitor's clubhouse at Busch Stadium.

Then, as they were leaving their section, fans began politely clapped for Pesky as they would a war hero. It meant a tremendous amount to him, because in a way he was an old warrior here. After all, it was in this city in 1946 where he had been accused of “holding the ball” and costing the Sox a World Series title. He now felt all was being forgiven.

St.Louis fans gave Pesky his due.

By the ninth inning, Pesky was in a small room off the main visitor's clubhouse watching the last moments of the game unfold on a video monitor. And Keith Foulke, who in 11 games and 14 innings pitched during the postseason allowed just seven hits and one run, was getting the chance he had joked with Francona about back in Yankee Stadium [to get the final out of a big series].

After Pujols singled to lead off the ninth, Foulke retired Rolen and Edmonds. Edgar Renteria stepped in and took the first pitch for ball one. Up in the booth, Joe Castiglione got ready to make his call:

Swing and a ground ball, stabbed by Foulke. He has it, he under-hands to first...and the Boston Red Sox are the World Champions! For the first time in eighty-six years, the Red Sox have won baseball's world championship! Can you believe it?

On the field, Jason Varitek leaped into Foulke's arms for a hug. In the visitor's clubhouse, Johnny Pesky stood up, raised his arms in triumph, and hugged Pam Ganley Kenn. “If I was 50 years younger, I'd have probably been jumping up and down like a crazy man,” he said later. When the players made their way into the clubhouse, moments later, Schilling, Millar and others embraced Pesky as well.

A hug for the ages.

Jeff Idelson, president of the Baseball Hall of Fame, was also in the clubhouse – seeking artifacts that fans could enjoy for years to come at Cooperstown. His wish list was to get something from Curt Schilling, Manny Ramirez – named MVP of the World Series with a .412 average – Orlando Cabrera, David Ortiz, and Derek Lowe.

“There’s a tempo to it, because you want to let people celebrate,” Idelson explains. “ It’s about understanding people and getting them at the right moment. You don’t want to say something like, “Hey, take that champagne out of your hand and go get this for me.”

Idelson already knew Curt Schilling from when he had visited the museum with his kids, so he went up and asked if he could have the cleats that he had inscribed with “KALS” to raise awareness about Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), or Lou Gehrig's Disease. Schilling said sure.

“Then he said, 'Do you want the sock too' – meaning the bloody sock,” recalls Idelson. “I said sure, we'd love the sock. He didn't have it there, so his in-laws drove it up to the museum a few weeks later.”

Hall of Fame hosiery. 

Next Idelson got a hat from Martinez, and a bat from Ramirez. He asked Cabrera for his glove, and got that too – along with a hug. “Cabrera's whole family was there,” recalls Idelson. He couldn’t believe I was asking him for his glove, and he was so proud. 

"He said it was one of the great moments of his life.”

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

In rewriting history, the 2004 Red Sox-Yankees ALCS also rewrote a Hollywood script

Peter and Bobby Farrelly were in a bind.

The Red Sox had just beaten the Yankees in Game 5 of the American League Championship Series at Fenway Park, their second straight extra-inning win -- both courtesy of walk-off David Ortiz hits, The two teams headed back to Yankee Stadium for the sixth contest, and while Boston still trailed the best-of-seven series three games to two, momentum was shifting their way.

Excerpted from "Miracle at Fenway"

Up in Toronto, brothers Peter and Bobby Farrelly were thrilled to see Ortiz deliver yet again, but also a bit nervous.

Huge Red Sox fans who grew up in Rhode Island, the Farrellys had risen to fame after moving to Hollywood and writing and directing such blockbuster films as Dumb and Dumber and There's Something About Mary. In the spring of 2004 they had been sent the script for a movie called Fever Pitch, written by Babaloo Mandel and Lowell Ganz, about an obsessed Red Sox fan who has to choose between the team and the girl he loves.

"It was the first time I read a script that I felt was perfect, and I didn't want to rewrite," recalls Peter Farrelly, who played high school baseball and was a Carl Yastrzemski fanatic as a kid growing up in the 1960s and '70s. "We lived and died with the Sox, so we knew it was something we had to do."

The cast included Jimmy Fallon as the overzealous Red Sox fan, Lenny Clarke as the beloved uncle who bequeaths him terrific season tickets, and Drew Barrymore as the workaholic, baseball-phobic girlfriend. Although much of the filming took place in Toronto, the directors and their production team -- led by producer Kris "Mudd" Meyer, a former security guard at Fenway -- spent several weeks in Boston shooting in and around Fenway.
Jimmy trying to get Drew into the game.

It was one of the best times of their lives. Friends and family seemed to come out of the woodwork, stopping by the trailers on a nightly basis to party with the Farrellys, Meyer, and the crew. The Red Sox offered their full cooperation, even allowing the brothers to film with players including Johnny Damon, Jason Varitek, and Trot Nixon. 

For the scenes when Fallon is seated at the ballpark talking with his fellow fans, they recruited local actors, including Jessamy Finet and Erin Nanstad -- two East Boston girls who carried 1918 pennies to every game for good luck -- to add to the authenticity. Finet was one of the game's highlights as the wisecracking blonde who gave Drew Barrymore hell for not knowing about the Curse of the Bambino.

"Everybody was great, from Terry Francona to the players to the fans," says Peter Farrelly. "We shot a few times right after games, including the big scene when Drew jumps down from the stands, right beside Johnny Damon, and then runs across the field to Jimmy's seats. We wanted the stands to be full for filming, so I walked out to home plate during the seventh-inning stretch, got on the microphone, and said, 'We're filming a movie for 10 minutes after the game. If you can stay just that long, you'll be in the movie.' Almost everybody stayed."
As Drew runs from Damon...

...30,000 extras cheer on.

Now, however, the brothers had a problem.

"When we started filming, the original script was that the Red Sox didn't win but Jimmy gets the girl," explains Peter Farrelly. "They lose to the Yankees, but he's grown as a guy and he's learned to have a relationship with someone other than the Red Sox. His life is better, and so is hers.

"But then when we were shooting in Toronto, things started changing," he continues. "All along, we were thinking, What if they win? Babaloo and Lowell wrote an alternate ending when the Red Sox made the playoffs. But then when we started to come back against the Yankees, that's when we started thinking, we're going to have to get back to Fenway and start reshooting some of this stuff."

The brothers' fears were realized as the Red Sox completed their historic comeback with victories in Games 6 and 7 at Yankee Stadium to clinch the pennant. When Boston beat the Cardinals in the first three games of the World Series, the Farrellys knew they had to act.
Decision time.

The morning of Game 4, the Farrellys made a decision. They were already planning to fly back to Boston to film a new ending for their movie if the Red Sox won the World Series, but they knew a perfect ending would include having the stars of the film and team all celebrating at the end. The Farrellys specialized in comedies, but they wanted this to be real.

They chartered a plane for St. Louis, and made sure their production team, film crew, and stars Fallon and Barrymore all got to Busch Stadium. Appealing to Major League Baseball for on-field access, they were given the okay based on their previous access at Fenway -- provided they did not interfere with the player celebration in any way. Their stage was not set for a perfect ending; they just needed the Red Sox to hold up their end. 

The Sox did, winning Game 4, 3-0, and touching off a massive party on the field. St. Louis team officials graciously let Boston fans stay behind to cheer while their team's players, coaches, and front office staff soaked up the moment. This was Peter and Bobby's chance.
The moment had come -- to film.

As the players and their families celebrated all around them, the Farrellys managed to film the final scene to Fever Pitch -- a lover's embrace by Fallon and Barrymore right down on the field amid the festivities. Peter Farrelly also scooped up some dirt to save, and got photos of his son Bob with the World Series trophy set up by the pitcher's mound.

A few hours later, Jessamy Finet and Erin Nanstad were walking back to where they had parked their car at a downtown St. Louis hotel. On a whim, the two East Boston girls had decided to fly to Chicago, rent a car, and drive to St. Louis for Game 4. They didn't have tickets, but managed to get some in the second-to-last row of the upper deck. They also brought their lucky pennies.

Now, with no extra money left for lodging, they planned to sleep in their rental car before heading back to O'Hare Airport the next morning.
Good-luck girls Finet (left) and Nanstad

Suddenly, they heard a scream from behind them. "JESSAMY! ERIN! What are YOU doing here?" It was Drew Barrymore, Finet's on-screen nemesis. The girls had no idea that the cast and crew from Fever Pitch had been at the game, and didn't notice them filming the on-field embrace. But it turned out that they had parked their rental car at the same hotel where the filmmakers were staying, and the Farrellys insisted that Finet and Nanstad party with them and spend the night.

It sure beat sleeping in the car.

A short while later, the girls were sipping champagne, courtesy of Red Sox traveling secretary Jack McCormick, when Jimmy Fallon called them over. "I know you girls are big fans," he said, and put something from his pocket into their glasses.

It was dirt from the mound. They drank it. It tasted gritty but good.

Now that's a perfect ending.

Premiere Night at Fenway, 2005

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Lackey, Beckett take different routes since chicken and beer

Beckett and Lackey -- partners in crime 

Three years ago, they were the poster boys for bad clubhouse behavior while with the Red Sox. This week, John Lackey and Josh Beckett were both in the headlines again -- and for dramatically different reasons.

On Monday, Lackey pitched seven stellar innings for the St. Louis Cardinals in Game Three of the NLDS, picking up the victory in a 3-1 Cardinals triumph over the Los Angeles Dodgers. St. Louis clinched the series the next evening, setting up an NLCS date with the Giants in a series that starts tomorrow night in San Francisco. 

Then, on Wednesday morning, as his Dodgers teammates were still lamenting the abrupt end of their season at the hands of Lackey and the Cards, Beckett announced he was retiring from the major leagues after 14 seasons. He faced surgery and months of rehab for a torn labrum in his left hip, and at age 34 figured enough was enough.

Things never came together in LA (USA Today)

It was a sad end to a rough few years for Beckett, who has struggled with injuries since his trade to the Dodgers in August 2012. Although he did pitch a no-hitter earlier this season, he made just 35 starts in his three seasons in LA.

It is hard to imagine two players taking more disparate paths than Beckett and Lackey have since the summer of 2011. In August of that year, Beckett was among the AL leaders in earned-run average while Lackey was at the other end of the Boston rotation -- with an ERA north of 6.00 and status as perhaps the most reviled athlete in New England with his bloated contract and hound-dog face.

In 2011, Lackey couldn't look

As long as the '11 Red Sox were cruising along in first place with the best record in the league, which they were as late as Sept. 1, Lackey's problems were confined to the back-burner. But when Boston had its monumental collapse in September with a 7-20 mark that left it out of the postseason, Big John was seen as one of the key causes for the meltdown. Beckett, after all, still finished 13-7 with a 2.89 ERA.

Then the news got worse. A few days after the season ended, a story by John Tomase of the Boston Herald broke that Boston starting pitchers had spent their off-days during the season hanging in the clubhouse scarfing down beers and fried chicken rather than sitting in the dugout. Beckett, Lackey, and lefty Jon Lester were eventually tabbed as the top offenders, and were raked over the coals by media and fans in a wave of bad publicity that helped cost manager Terry Francona his job.

After the secret (sauce) got out

Beckett never really recovered. He went 5-11 for last-place Boston in 2012 before being traded to the Dodgers along with Carl Crawford, Adrian Gonzalez, and Nick Punto in a salary-dumping move that would help both teams. Away from the boo-birds and pressure-cooker atmosphere at Fenway, Beckett pitched much better in Los Angeles, but could not stay healthy. Shoulder injuries wrecked his 2013 season, and hip problems put him on the disabled list three times this year -- including for the postseason. 

Lackey, in contrast,enjoyed a dramatic resurgence after Chicken-Gate. When it was revealed just how hurt he was during 2011, and that he had pitched a full season in constant pain and without complaint, it won him back some respect. Things were so bad, in fact, that he needed to have Tommy John Surgery and sat out the entire 2012 campaign.

Nobody knew what to expect from Lackey in 2013, but he emerged as one of Boston's top starters during that championship summer with a 1.157 WHIP and 3.52 ERA that went down to 2.77 in the postseason -- when he went 3-1 and became the first man in MLB history to win a World Series clinching game for two different franchises (having done so with the Anaheim Angels as a rookie in 2002).

In 2013, jeers turned to cheers USA Today)

It was more of the same for Big John this year, when he pitched with better velocity and better results than at any time in his Boston tenure before being dispatched to St. Louis for Joe Kelly and Allen Craig as part of John Henry's trade deadline fire sale. Now he's back working his magic in the playoffs, and may even get a crack at a third world championship ring.

Neither Josh Beckett or John Lackey will make the Hall of Fame, but both were All-Star pitchers and key starters on two World Series champions -- Beckett getting his rings with the Florida Marlins in 2003 and the Red Sox in 2007, when he went 20-7 during the regular season and then 4-0 with a 1.20 ERA in October.

They made their mistakes in Boston, to be sure, but they should be remembered for the joy they helped bring to Yawkey Way -- not the buckets of extra-crispy breasts.
Thanks for the (good) memories (Getty Images)