Remembering 10 noteworthy moments en route to the Red Sox’ 2004 World Series championship:
1. Dynamite debuts
April 6 - Sox 4, Orioles 1
After starting the season without Nomar Garciaparra and Trot Nixon, and losing the opener behind Pedro Martinez, Curt Schilling and Keith Foulke make their debuts. Schilling, who goes on to win more games than any pitcher in the majors, starts a trend in which he goes 12-3 after Sox losses. He pitches much of the season with his injured ankle numbed by an anesthetic and finishes on a 20-4 run to help propel the Sox into the playoffs. Foulke, who was so ineffective in spring training that he sent a scare through the front office, coasts to the first of his 32 saves. He ultimately ranks with Schilling among the team’s most valuable players.
2. Totally cool
May 5 - Sox 9, Indians 5
After bursting to a 15-6 start in April, the Sox dropped their first five games in May, their worst start in the month since 1976. Things got so bad in the fifth straight loss that they cough up five unearned runs on a pair of throwing errors by Bill Mueller, who is playing with a knee injury that 15 days later would require surgery. Amid growing concern about their defense, manager Terry Francona calls the first of his two team meetings during the season. He expresses confidence in the players and urges them to relax. They respond by launching a four-game winning streak - jump-started by Mueller, who hits a key three-run homer.
3. Breaking out
May 21 - Sox 11, Blue Jays 5
Before Opening Day, the Sox signed only one of their top potential free agents, Trot Nixon, who agreed to a three-year, $19.5 million contract. The others - Pedro Martinez, Nomar Garciaparra, Jason Varitek, Derek Lowe, and David Ortiz - remain free to depart after the season. But Ortiz, who finished fifth the year before in the American League MVP balloting, agrees to a two year, $11.75 million contract with a $7.75 million option for 2007, which would make his deal equal to Nixon’s. He goes on to join Manny Ramirez as the first pair of AL teammates since Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig to each bat at least .300 with 40 homers and 130 RBIs.
4. Pain in the rain
June 9 - Padres 8, Sox 1
After missing the first 57 games with right Achilles’ tendinitis, Nomar Garciaparra returns amid expectations he will boost the offense and help stabilize a faltering defense. His debut is shortened to two at-bats by a 2-hour-21-minute rain delay, and the Sox continue to struggle in the field, committing three errors (two by second baseman Mark Bellhorn and one by first baseman Andy Dominique) that lead to five unearned runs. The fans at Fenway shout, ‘’Pokey, Pokey.’’
5. Bobblehead day
June 26 - Phillies 9, Sox 2
The crisis of inconsistency escalates as the Sox commit a season high four errors and surrender five more unearned runs for a total of 54, tops in the majors. The team is playing .500 ball (26-26) since May 1. Bill Mueller has missed more than a month after knee surgery. Pokey Reese, who saved the Sox until then by filling in ably for Nomar Garciaparra, sprained his thumb three days earlier and is marginalized the rest of the season by his injuries and Bellhorn’s production. He manages only more five hits in 55 at-bats (.091). General manager Theo Epstein talks the next day about the possibility of making ‘’change for change’s sake.’’
6. Fight to the finish
July 24 - Sox 11, Yankees 10
Still struggling for traction, the Sox lost the opener of a three-game series in the Fens the night before to fall 9 games out in the AL East. Management wants to postpone the game because of soggy field conditions, but the players confront team officials and demand to play. Their passion extends to the field, where Jason Varitek accepts Alex Rodriguez’s invitation to fight after A-Rod takes issue with Bronson Arroyo hitting him with a pitch. Varitek shoves Rodriguez in the face, igniting a melee. After calm is restored, the Sox are trailing, 10-9, with one out in the ninth when Mueller hits a walkoff, two-run homer off Mariano Rivera. Players consider it a turning point.
7. Garciaparra traded
July 31 - Twins 5, Sox 4
In a watershed moment in Theo Epstein’s career and the team’s history, the Sox trade Nomar Garciaparra, the face of the franchise, to try to shore up their flawed defense. Epstein puts his reputation and the team’s season on the line as he sends the two-time batting champion to the Cubs in a four-team, eight-player deal. The Sox acquire two former Gold Glovers, Montreal shorstop Orlando Cabrera and Minnesota first baseman Doug Mientkiewicz, and, in a separate deal, one of the game’s top base stealers, Los Angeles outfielder Dave Roberts. The moves help propel the Sox to a world championship.
8. Off and running
Aug. 16 - Sox 8, Blue Jays 4
Despite the inspiration they gained July 24, the Sox go 9-8 after Mueller’s blast until they open a three-game series at Fenway against the Jays. Francona draws fire for starting Mientkiewicz at second base because of Bellhorn’s thumb injury, but the Sox win the game and begin a run in which they win 20 of their next 22 games to seize control of the wild-card race and climb within two games of the division-leading Yankees Sept. 8.
9. Fall guys
Sept. 18 - Yankees 11, Sox 1
Two days earlier, the Sox won the opener of a three-game showdown in the Bronx to pull within 2 games of the Yankees. But the Bombers strike back by blasting Derek Lowe and the Sox Saturday, 14-4, and pummeling Martinez in an 11-1 blowout to all but end the divisional race. The Sox lead for only one inning in the series. ‘’They put us in the rearview mirror a little bit,’’ Francona says.
10. Eighth wonder
Sept. 24 - Yankees 6, Sox 4
Down 4 games with 10 to play, the Sox open the final, three-game set against their archrivals with a chance to set the tone for a postseason matchup, if not launch a last-gasp run at the division title. But Martinez, who has a solid season overall, lets a 4-3 lead slip away in the eighth as his struggles against the Yankees continue. In a frustration-laden statement that will resonate through their postseason matchup, Martinez describes the Yankees as his ‘’daddy.’’ But he later helps bury them.