Looking Back: 2004 ALCS Game 1

I woke up yesterday morning and stumbled up the stairs of my parents’ basement to find, waiting for me, the full box set of the 2004 Red Sox World Series run, a set that contains DVD’s of each game of the historic ALCS vs. the Yankees as well as all four games of the World Series. Of course, my first view was of Game 4, innings 9-12, the innings that shifted the series in our favor dramatically and memorably. But, today, I decided to take a look back at Game 1, a fantastic game that was overshadowed by the events of the next week of baseball.
The ALCS could not have been better if it had been carefully scripted, and in that regard, Game 1 was the perfect introduction. All the major plot points were laid bare for all to see; early Yankee dominance followed by a dramatic (if in the end fruitless) Red Sox comeback, the beginning of the drama that was Curt Schilling’s renaissance, the beginning of Johnny Damon’s six game slide, Mark Bellhorn providing the first offensive strike, Mariano Rivera getting into trouble in the ninth before finally escaping on a Bill Mueller double play. Each of those events had a mirror later in the series.
Mussina was, famously, perfect through 6 innings. He looked essentially unbeatable; he struck Damon out three times, and ripped through the rest of the order twice, retiring each batter he faced. Meanwhile, the Yankees – led by Gary Sheffield and Hideki Matsui – reduced Boston pitching to ashes; Curt Schilling was more than mortal, getting knocked around by the brutal Yankee lineup, unable to rely on his best stuff, gingerly treating that right ankle. By the top of the 7th inning, it looked and felt like a blowout, with the Yankees up 8-0 and Mussina working toward his 19th consecutive out. Damon struck out to open the seventh, but then Mark Bellhorn – who had the only well hit ball of the first 6 frames, a scorcher into center that had barely been corralled by Bernie Williams – came through with a double. In quick order, the Red Sox began to pound the ball; a Ramirez ground out was followed by an Ortiz single, a Millar double, a Posada passed ball. Nixon singled to drive in Millar, putting the score at 8-3 and sending Mussina to the showers; Varitek greeted Worcester native Tanyon Sturtze with an electrifying homer to center. The Sox added two more in the 8th off Tom Gordon before Rivera closed out the inning; the Yankees would score two more runs to put the game nearly out of reach in the bottom of the eighth. Though Rivera – just off the plane from Panama – got into early trouble in the ninth, he was able to retire Bill Mueller on a grounder back at the pitcher (only 5 days before Mueller provided the turning point single, which went right past Rivera).
As drama, the 2004 ALCS was perfectly conceived and executed; a brilliant story of redemption and sacrifice. There were villains, heroes, arcs within stories, and – at least for us – a happy ending. Game 1 set the tone. That first game was as close to a microcosm of the series as one game could have been, and served notice that no matter how dead the Sox looked, they should never be counted out.