No one wants the Red Sox to capture the franchise’s first world championship since 1918 more than the players who fell so excruciatingly shy in the four seven-game heartbreakers since that glorious day 86 years ago.
Bobby Doerr, Dom DiMaggio, and Johnny Pesky of the 1946 team stood vigil at Fenway Park for the first two games of 2004 Fall Classic. Carl Yastrzemski of the ‘67 club tossed an inspirational first pitch before Game 1. And Dwight Evans has represented members of the ‘75 and ‘86 squads in cheering on Terry Francona’s boys of October.
So far, the alumni have thoroughly enjoyed the show.
The Sox moved a step closer to raising their ring fingers and eradicating decades of franchise futility as they overcame a record-setting display of defensive ineptitude and upended the Cardinals, 6-2, before a euphoric 35,001 in the Fens to seize a 2-0 advantage in the best-of-seven extravaganza.
The old-timers could thank the medical marvel, Curt Schilling, some finely-timed hitting, and a relief effort anchored by Keith Foulke for delivering the Sox tantalizingly closer to a dream finish. Pitching with a dislocated ankle tendon temporarily stitched into place, Schilling all but silenced the dangerous Cardinal lineup, surrendering only an unearned run on four hits and a walk over six innings.
Foulke and the Sox’ bullpen did the rest as the Cardinals mustered only one run off Mike Timlin in the eighth inning. Schilling got all the support he needed on a trio of two-out, two-run hits -- a first-inning triple by Jason Varitek, a fourth-inning double by Mark Bellhorn, and a sixth-inning Wall-ball single by Orlando Cabrera.
Schilling said he woke up in such pain because of a suture aggravating a nerve that he was immobilized. “I wasn’t going to pitch,” he said. “I couldn’t walk, I couldn’t move.”
But after the medical staff removed the suture, Schilling was poised to help the Sox win a world championship, as he had done three years earlier for the Diamondbacks. Schilling’s velocity ranged in the low 90s and he hit his spots, allowing him to thrive while his ankle was mildly numbed with the anesthetic Marcaine.
The Sox were fortunate to survive committing four errors in a second straight game. No team had committed more than seven errors in the first two games of the World Series. No one struggled more in the field than Bill Mueller, who made three, tying the World Series record for errors in a game by a third baseman set by Buck Herzog of the New York Giants in 1911 and matched by Pepper Martin of the Cardinals in 1934.
Yet the Sox surged to a 2-0 lead in a World Series for only the third time in franchise history, joining the 1916 and 1986 teams. The Sox beat Brooklyn in the ‘16 Series and lost to the Mets in ‘86.
Playing in the city’s first World Series since 1986, the 2004 Sox have made a number of decisions that have broken their way and helped nullify their defensive shortcomings. They decided to bat Varitek fifth behind David Ortiz after the Cardinals twice pitched around Ortiz in Game 1 with runners in scoring position to face Kevin Millar with the bases loaded. Millar grounded out both times to end the inning.
Francona also kept Bellhorn at the bottom of the order despite his winning, two-run homer in Game 1. And Bellhorn came up big in the fourth with his two-run double to the base of the wall in center after Matt Morris hit Millar with a pitch and surrendered a double to Mueller.
As for Cabrera, he stayed in Bellhorn’s slot behind Johnny Damon at the top of the order and delivered his two-run hit after singles by Trot Nixon and Damon, helping the Sox soar westward after the game on wings of optimism.