So it turns out October 16th has been a remarkable calendar date for the Boston Red Sox. Three games in particular stand out , two triumphs and a loss, and I thought I would take a look back. We’re going to pass on Game 5 of the 1975 World Series and Game 3 of the 2004 ALCS, which also took place on October 16th.
Two years ago today, one of the great all-time single game performances in Red Sox playoff history took place. Many may have forgotten since the Red Sox ultimately lost the 2008 ALCS, but let me try and bring you back to where things stood in the bottom of the 7th inning of Game Five. October 16th, 2010.
The Rays had outscored the Red Sox 29-5 over a 24.5-inning span between Games Three and Five. In Game Five, the Red Sox were trailing 7-0 and facing elimination down 3-1 in the Series. In the 7th, the Red Sox got to Grant Balfour. Dustin Pedroia hit a key RBI single and David Ortiz dropped a 3-run bomb. With two innings remaining, Boston had cut the lead to 7-4.
In the 8th, facing Dan Wheeler, Jason Bay led off with a walk. J.D. Drew followed up with a home run that took Boston’s win probability from 18% to 33%. The Red Sox would end the inning with a Coco Crisp RBI single. Crisp was thrown out on the play trying to take second base. 7-7 after 8.
J.P. Howell, the tough left-handed reliever for the Rays, took over in the bottom of the 9th. The score was still 7-7. Dustin Pedroia grounded out to start the inning and David Ortiz followed by striking out. Kevin Youkilis then singled at Evan Longoria and advanced to second on his throwing error. After an intentional pass to Bay, it was Drew’s turn again. As he is known to do, he worked a 3-1 count and then singled to right field to plate the winning run.
It was the third-highest WPA game for a Red Sox position player in the post Tris Speaker / George Herman Ruth era. The Red Sox would go on to win Game Six in St. Pete before dropping Game Seven with Jon Lester on the hill. Boston came within two runs in Game Seven of the ALCS of advancing to the World Series, an opportunity they never would have had if it were not for Drew.
As a matter of fact, and this may come as a surprise to you thanks to his unfair treatment by the media, Drew finds himself all over the best single-game postseason performance list in Red Sox history. Have a look.
If you want to do this to yourself, be my guest. Myeself? I liked Surviving Grady’s take.
I don’t know if it’s even possible to describe the anticipation level. There were three distinct forces at play driving excitement through the roof. First, the Red Sox were playing the Yankees in the postseason for the first time ever. It was only the fifth ever season with the Wild Card and although we knew it was possible that the Sox and Yanks could meet in the LCS, I don’t think anyone appreciated the insanity it would spawn. There’s probably not much need to elaborate on that point, but there you go. It was huge.
Second, Pedro Martinez was starting for the Red Sox. 1999 Pedro is about the closest thing to starting pitching perfection that baseball has ever known. And now he was going to take the hill on a brilliant sunny day at Fenway Park in the ALCS against the New York Yankees.
Finally, Roger Clemens was starting for the Yanks. The Clemens part is entirely irrational, but whatever, the hate was palpable. He had left Boston under bad terms, he had stuck it to us in two Cy Young seasons for the Blue Jays. And now he had joined the Yankees, who had won two titles in three seasons. It seemed cowardly or something, to join a team that barely even needed him. The Yanks had a wagon as it was. Also, we all acted like he still somehow owed it to us not to sign with the Yanks. Like I said, it was irrational. But it was very real.
What’s more, there was a perception that Clemens lacked character. We weren’t as sophisticated back then with our player analysis, so his 10-13 record in 1996 meant to Red Sox fans that he dogged it at the end of his tenure here. Then there was the subsequent cash grab north of the border, the consecutive Cy Young Awards, and then he joined a winner rather than making a team a winner. Then there was his postseason record. He was just ok in 1986, he lost to Dave Stewart in 1988, and then lost his cool in 1990. He never came through for Boston in the big one, and so fans were licking their chops to have him on the mound in Boston for a postseason game in a Yankee uniform.
And Clemens was vulnerable, too. 1999 was his worst year as a starter.
|Career 162-gm avg||236||224||76||2.96||143|
Meanwhile, there was Pedro in 1999.
I was there that day, and it was almost as if everybody knew what was going to happen. Pedro knew how good he was, and what the atmosphere would be like. Roger knew what he was up against. The Yankees did too, but didn’t really care either. They had a 2-0 ALCS lead, and would ultimately win 4-1. What’s one game?
Well for the Boston fans, that game was everything. I have been to postseason contests in 1988, 1990, 1999, 2003, 2004, 2007 and 2008 at Fenway. I have never seen the place as electric as it was that day. The “Pedro” chants. The “Rahhhhhhhhhhhhhgggggggggeeeeerrrrrrrrrr” taunts. We even got to make fun of our 1986 nemesis, Daryl Strawberry. It was deafening.
Clemens lasted two innings. Jose Offerman, John Valentin and Nomar Garciaparra combined to go 10-17 with a double, triple, two home runs and eight RBI. Brian Daubach homered! Pedro was Pedro. In his first appearance since his legendary relief work in Game 5 of the ALDS, he went seven innings, struck out 12, walked two, gave up two hits and no runs. The Red Sox won 13-1 and it was just perfect.
The Yankees would dust the Red Sox the next two games and go on to win their third World Series in four seasons. But it didn’t matter that day. For a baseball-crazed city with a raging inferiority complex, the win, the Clemens schadenfreude, slapping their longtime nemesis around for 9 innings, it was as good as it had been in 81 years. People wonder when the Red Sox became the Red Sox of today: the perennial power, the sterling brand, all that stuff. It was October 16th, 1999. The city always was nuts for baseball, but this was different. Although the players and ownership would turn over and there would be some bumps along the way, Pedro and Nomar led to Manny, which led to more winning, which led to team value appreciation, which led to the sale to John Henry and Tom Werner, which led to Theo, and on and on.
That was the day we figured out what baseball in Boston could be.