Throwback Thursday: Boston Red Sox 2004 World Series Champs

ImageTo start this Throwback Thursday off right we must first go back a bit before the 2004 World Series, and relive “The Comeback” that was the 2004 ALCS.

The Boston Red Sox finished the 2004 season in second place in the American League East Division behind the New York Yankees to earn a wild card birth. The season was riddled with uncertainty as injuries plagued the roster, young gun general manager at the time Theo Epstein made bold trades at the deadline (shipping Nomar Garciaparra away for Orlando Cabrera and Doug Mientkiewicz, later trading a minor leaguer for Dave Roberts) and they had a terrible mid-season slump falling more than eight games back of the Yanks at one point.

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However, despite things looking dreary, the 2004 Boston Red Sox turned things around just in time to make the post-season as they won 22 of their last 25 games. Cabrera, Roberts and Mientkiewicz all played crucial roles in the Red Sox clubhouse during that stretch, and would continue to contribute in the postseason as well.

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After sweeping the then Anaheim Angels in the ALDS the Sox looked poised to finally overthrow the “Evil Empire” as they entered the ALCS against their arch nemesis. As you might remember the series didn’t exactly start the way we had hoped. Boston fell into a 3-0 hole the size of the Grand Canyon and it looked like there was no way out.

But just when the Fenway Faithful thought all hope was lost…something miraculous happened. The Boston Red Sox came to life and roared back into the series. Over the next four games minds were blown, sports writers and analysts were baffled, history was being written right before our very eyes, but no one could even begin to believe it.

Game 4 had the Sox season all but over. Going into the bottom of the 9th Boston trailed 4-3 and The Bronx Bombers had star closer Mariano Rivera on the mound. After Rivera walked Kevin Millar, Dave Roberts came in to pinch run and made the steal that would start the improbable comeback. Roberts would score on a Bill Mueller single to tie the game, and an extra innings two-run blast by David “Big Papi” Ortiz would clinch the first of four victories for the Sox.

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Game 5 was long and grueling, and was again capped off by Papi as he hit an extra innings RBI to score Johnny Damon. Game 6 had Curt Schilling and “The Bloody Sock”, in which Schilling put on an a brilliant pitching performance to capture another victory. Finally, Game 7 featured a grand salami from Johnny Damon which helped seal the crazy comeback, as the Sox won 10-3 and propelled themselves to their first World Series appearance since 1986.

To illustrate just how improbable this comeback was, it should be noted that only four teams in the history of sports with a seven game playoff series (MLB,NBA,NHL) have came back down 3 games in a championship series to win (the 1942 Toronto Maple Leafs NHL, the 1975 New York Islanders NHL, the 2004 Boston Red Sox MLB, and 2010 Boston Bruins NHL, No NBA team has ever overcome a 3-0 deficit).

After doing the unthinkable against the New York Yankees the Red Sox didn’t spend anytime relishing in defeating (and embarrassing) their rivals, but instead continued the calamity and swept the St. Louis Cardinals in the 2004 World Series.

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I’ll never forget the final out made by then closer Keith Foulke. With two away and the Sox up 3-0 on the Cardinals at Busch Stadium, you could certainly cut the tension with a butcher knife. We all remember where we were in that moment. The batter was Edgar Rentaria, who coincidentally donned the number 3 on his uniform, the very same number worn by Babe Ruth. Foulke got Rentaria to ground right back to the mound and the rest is history. Foulke flipped it over to Doug Mientkiewicz and those famous words, uttered by esteemed announcer Joe Buck, rang out on household televisions and sports bars across the country “Red Sox Fans have longed to hear it; The Boston Red Sox are World Champions”.

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This wasn’t just an 86-year-old curse being broken, this wasn’t just our first World Series title since 1918, this was so much more. This was what generation after generation of Red Sox fans had spent their whole lives waiting for, this was bigger than baseball, this was the one night that washed away decades of pain and suffering, that overshadowed all the spring training whispers of “this could be the year”. There was no catch, no hold up, no disappointment, only joy, celebration, and triumph.

The 2004 Boston Red Sox were unlike anything the sporting world had ever seen. They wrote their way into the history books one game at a time, in the cold nights of October, winning baseballs fall classic and the hearts of millions.

What was your favorite 2004 ALCS/World Series moment? Leave a comment below.

AL East Position Matchup: Designated Hitter

Today, I will conclude my rankings of all the players in each teams’ starting batting lineups. This will be the easiest ranking for me to do in terms of evaluations, considering it will be solely based from an offensive production standpoint, rather than offense and defensive skills like the other positions. The Red Sox DH position was one of the question marks over the offseason. After David Ortiz’s contract was up at the end of the 2011 season, Big Papi made several remarks about how he’d like to join the Yankees to leave all the drama in Boston. During the offseason, he was constantly working with the Red Sox for a new contract and finally settled on a 1-year contract for $14.58 million to avoid arbitration. I’ll be the first to say the Sox paid too much for the greedy Ortiz here, who wanted $16.5 million, a significant bump up from the $12.5 he received in 2011. Despite paying too much, the Red Sox were basically forced into needing the 36 year old Ortiz in their lineup because they wouldn’t have been able to find anything close to a replacement in the free agent market this year.

Just as a quick update on Spring Training, Varitek is set to retire at 5:30 today and the Sox are getting prepared for their first “game” vs Northeastern at 2:35 in Fort Myers on Saturday. This game will be the first leg of a double header, with Boston College playing the night cap.

Anyways, here are the rankings:
(Once again, for previous positional rankings click here: C1B2B3BSSLFCFRF)

1. David Ortiz, Red Sox
2. Raul Ibanez, Yankees
3. Edwin Encarnacion, Blue Jays
4. Luke Scott, Rays
5. Wilson Betemit, Orioles

Ortiz has surprised many fans in Red Sox Nation that were ready to kick him out of town in 2009. After struggling the two years after the Sox second championship in four years, Big Papi has revitalized his career. He has hit 61 Home Runs with 198 RBI’s in the last two years combined. The biggest turnaround was his .309 AVG last year. It looked like Papi had no idea how to hit against the shift, but last year was a great sign for him. Adrian Gonzalez was said to give Ortiz a lot of confidence in hitting the ball with power to the opposite field, instead of trying to pull it to the right field or finnessing it against the shift, as Ortiz had tried in years prior. I’m predicting another solid year from Papi, but a little bit of dropoff considering his age. I’m thinking a .285/27 HR/ 95 RBI line from Ortiz in possibly his last year in a Red Sox uniform.

Next up is the massive upgrade from the Yankees. Jorge Posada was a great catcher throughout his career for the Yankees, but they were hurting from the DH spot last year. When the Yankees dumped AJ Burnett’s salary a month ago, they were able to sign Raul Ibanez to be their Designated Hitter and backup outfielder. Although Ibanez at 39 years old is nearing the end of his career, he is a very big upgrade from Eduardo Nunez, the Yankees other apparent option for the DH spot. Assuming Ibanez can get his AVG back up to career norms (.270-.280) from last year’s .245 average, he should be able to provide consistent pop (20 HR, 84 RBI last year) in the back end of the Yankees lineup.

Edwin Encarnacion of the Blue Jays is the third ranked DH. Last year, Encarnacion made big strides at the plate, showing much more consistency with a .272 BA (.244 in 2010, .225 in 2009). Edwin will most likely hit around his usual 20 HR, but his main issue since 2007 has been his ability to hit with runners on base. Every year since 2007, he AVG has dropped significantly with runners on base, hovering around the Mendoza line (.200) each year. This has been the main reason for his low RBI totals and he needs to improve this AVG to contribute more to the Blue Jay lineup.

Luke Scott is known by many Sox fans for being an outfielder/DH for the Orioles, but he upgraded this year and switched over to the Rays. Scott had his season cut short last year and underwent shoulder surgery to fix a torn labrum. If Scott can return successfully to his numbers of 2010 (.284/27/72), he could end up ahead of Encarnacion and Ibanez in these rankings, but I don’t see that happening. That year was a career year for Scott and I see him returning to a .250 BA with around 15 HR and 60-70 RBI’s.

Last in the rankings is Wilson Betemit of the Orioles. Wilson’s now joining his 7th Major League team and is mostly remembered by Red Sox Nation for his forgettable years with the Yanks. Not much needs to be said about Betemit, although he was fairly successful in limited AB’s in the past two years. At 30 years old, Betemit has never had a season with more than 412 AB’s. If he can provide numbers similar to his .297 AVG of 2010 and .285 AVG of 2011, he should be able to get a full time shot for the Orioles this year.

Stay tuned for pitching analysis throughout the next two weeks.

For previous positional rankings click here: C1B2B3BSSLFCFRF

Now that I have concluded all offensive output for the AL East teams, I want to leave the readers with this question:

 

TOB$ Time: Toss Up Round 2

Monster free agent signing in the MLB yesterday. Prince Fielder joined Miguel Cabrera and the reigning AL Cy Young and MVP Justin Verlander in Detroit. I thought two things when I saw this signing. First, was HOLY SHIT. This was simply due to Fielders NINE year $214 million dollar contract. I can’t believe the Tigers agreed to  such a long contract with a 27 year old guy like Prince.

Second thing I thought of (and the point of this article) was that this has created one of the best 3-4 batters in a lineup in a while. Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder have a chance to do something real special over in Detroit. I immediately thought of Manny-Big Papi for the Red Sox in 2004 and 2005. They were the best in business (maybe steroids had a bit to do with it) and they were a force for years. More importantly, they were consistent and incredibly clutch, clutch enough to break an 86 year old curse.

Here is the 2004 and 2005 seasons in stats for Manny and Ortiz and Feilder and Miguel Cabrera’s individual stats for last year:

GP AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB CS AVG OBP
Manny 2004 BOS 152 568 108 175 44 0 43 130 82 124 2 4 0.308 0.397
Ortiz 2004 BOS 150 582 94 175 47 3 41 139 75 133 0 0 0.301 0.38
GP AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB CS AVG OBP
Manny 2005 BOS 152 554 112 162 30 1 45 144 80 119 1 0 0.292 0.388
Ortiz 2005 BOS 159 601 119 180 40 1 47 148 102 124 1 0 0.3 0.397
GP AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB CS AVG OBP
Cabrera 2011 DET 161 572 111 197 48 0 30 105 108 89 2 1 0.344 0.448
Fielder 2011 MIL 162 569 95 170 36 1 38 120 107 106 1 1 0.299 0.415

Before anyone gets on my case, I understand Prince just came from a pretty good 3-4 punch on the Brewers with Ryan Braun, but Miguel has never batted around the type of talent Prince has, thus inflating his stats in future years (and no Victor Martinez, who batted behind Cabrera last year, does not count). Braun has had the protection of Prince for 5 years and I like to think this has influenced his stats a great deal. Don’t get me wrong, he is a great player, but I like Miguel Cabrera as a hitter more than steroid boy Braun.

After throwing up this comparison, in some ways I feel stupid. The numbers from Ortiz and Manny are jaw dropping. That’s all that can be said. Granted they may have had some help from a few friendly needles up their ass, but those numbers are rediculous. I think Cabrera will have an incredible year this year and Fielder might even have a better year in hitter friendly Comerica Park, but who knows if they can touch Manny and Papi’s numbers. The big factor will be whether they can win a couple World Series rings together, like the former two led the Sox to do.