Andy Kirkaldy: Book brings Sox’ greatest season vividly to life
It won’t take too much straining of the gray matter for any Red Sox fan to know what series Francona is talking about.
For those still in doubt, here’s Curt Schilling talking about the same seven games, except before it made baseball history: “I’m not sure of any scenario more enjoyable than making 55,000 people from New York shut up.”
Both quotes can be found among the nearly 900 presented in the book “Don’t Let Us Win Tonight,” which is subtitled, “An Oral History of the 2004 Boston Red Sox’s Impossible Playoff Run.”
For the uninitiated, the Sox, after sweeping the Anaheim Angels in the first round of the American League playoffs, faced the New York Yankees in the 2004 American League Championship Series (ALCS). It was a rematch of the 2003 ALCS, lost by the Sox in New York in extra innings of Game 7. That loss came only after the Sox blew a late lead, courtesy of a mind-blowingly stupid managerial decision by Sox manager Grady Little.
Little left starting pitcher Pedro Martinez in far too long, against all semblance of common sense, statistical data, and orders from higher management. If my kids, then too young, had been in the room with me, they would have learned new words. Little was fired, and Francona replaced him, the equivalent of upgrading from a rusty old Hyundai to a new Lexus.
In the 2004 ALCS, the Yankees stomped the Sox. For three games. Then the Sox won three nailbiters, courtesy of suddenly great pitching (notably from Schilling, with an ankle tendon stapled to a bone, and unhittable closer Keith Foulke), the greatest stolen base in baseball history, unbelievable clutch hitting from David Ortiz, and not a little bit of luck. And the fact the Yankees … well, let’s just say some of them started to appear anxious.
The Sox then routed the Yankees in Game 7 to become the first baseball team ever to overcome a 3-0 series deficit. The Sox went on to sweep the St. Louis Cardinals in the World Series, setting an all-time baseball postseason winning streak in the process. Oh, and winning the team’s first championship in 86 years, did I mention that?
The book “Don’t Let Us Win Tonight” brought back all those tense, and then joyous, memories from back on the couch at our former home on North Pleasant Street. I might have had a malt beverage or two to keep calm, and some popcorn, but mostly I just sat there with the anxiety turned up to Spinal Tap amplifier levels.
The authors — Allan Wood, who runs the Joy of Sox blog and grew up in Essex Junction, and Bill Nowlin, author of many Sox books and the vice president of the Society for American Baseball Research — seem to have left no stone unturned in researching “Don’t Let Us Win Tonight,” which is named after what former Sox first baseman Kevin Millar kept prophesizing before Game 4 of the 2004 ALCS.
Quotes come from any number of Boston, New England, New York and national publications, and include those not only from Sox players and officials, but also their Yankee counterparts. (A favorite of mine from Yankee Gary Sheffield: “We’re not going to lose, you can be assured of that. The Red Sox can say what they want, but look at us. Who’s going to beat us? Nobody.”)
While putting the book together, Wood and Nowlin also re-interviewed many of the principals — and many observers, including trainers, bat boys, advance scouts, and even the Boston liquor dealer who happily resold the champagne the Yankees never drank. All offer valuable insights.
The result is a wealth of detail that enhances, but never detracts, from the incredible story. I would say the same of their prose. Wood and Nowlin let the tale tell itself, as they do in describing why Sox medical director Gil Morgan eventually stapled Schilling’s tendon to his bone before the “bloody sock” game:
“Schilling was suffering from a tear in the sheath that held one of the two tendons on the outside of his right ankle. The displaced tendon was sliding across the outside of the bone during his pitching motion, causing pain and a distracting clicking sound.”
They also include a picture of the stapled ankle, if anybody still doubts the blood that soaked Schilling’s sock was real.
Description of the game action is both concise and precise, and they typically use quotes to highlight the drama and significance of plays. For example, in Game 5, the Sox caught a huge break when Yankee Tony Clark’s shot to right field in Fenway hopped over the fence for a ground-rule double. Thus the go-ahead run couldn’t score from first base.
Wood and Nowlin simply write, “It was a ground-rule double, which meant (Ruben) Sierra had to stop at third base.” They follow that sentence immediately with a Millar quote, which begins:
“The biggest play in the whole entire thing is rarely spoken about. You know what that is? Tony Clark’s ball goes into the stands. If that hits the wall and stays in the park, they win.”
Yes, the Sox have gone on to claim two more World Series titles since 2004. But nothing can equal the drama of that first win in 86 years, and the almost unbelievable way that particular team captured that championship.
“Don’t Let Us Win Tonight” captures the drama of those games and the chemistry of a team that called itself idiots.
I’ll be passing on my copy to my daughters, and then they will know what it was like to watch those games.
Andy Kirkaldy may be reached at [email protected]
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