Wednesday, November 24, 2004

Giving Thanks

Even as our sporting landscape is scarred by all manner of misguided machismo, misplaced emphasis on looking tough instead of playing hard and fair, and a vastly imbalanced sense of importance, I view it all with sanded edges and softened hues, wearing as I am the rose-colored glasses of complete Sox-addled bliss. The joy of October 27, 2004 remains fresh and new, and continues to influence my worldview on a daily basis.

And so, on this Thanksgiving Eve, I offer thanks to the 2004 Boston Red Sox. The list of legends is long, and I'll certainly miss somebody who matters - the fact is, nobody associated with this team will ever have to buy their own meal in Boston again - but here goes:

Derek Lowe - Derek Freaking Lowe - got the win in each of the clinching games this postseason, and he gave up 4 hits in his final 13 innings of playoff work, against the Yankees and Cardinals. He was nails in the 2003 playoffs, and he was galvanized steel this year. He may never pitch in Boston again, but I'll root for him wherever he goes.

Curt Schilling came to Boston for 1 reason, and he delivered. Enough has already been written by better men and women than I about his guts on the mound. He has risen to deity status in Boston, and he deserves it.

Pedro Martinez made his first World Series start memorable, and he capped one of the most magnificent eras by any pitcher in history. Like Lowe, he may be gone next season, but the echoes of his brilliance will linger until long after I've passed.

Dave Roberts - yeah, that's right, Dave Roberts - made this all possible. If he doesn't steal 2nd base in the 9th inning of Game 4 of the ALCS, the Sox get swept by the Yankees. He's as valuable as any other player on this team.

David Ortiz might be my favorite Red Sox player at this moment, a perfect combination of jaw-dropping power, timely performance, and joie de vivre.

Manny Ramirez was the World Series MVP, but more importantly shook off the indignity of being placed on waivers in the winter and worked his ass off to ingratiate himself with the fans of Boston. From his flag-waving entrance after he gained his U.S. citizenship, to his sublime hitting and mostly valiant (if sometimes comically misguided) efforts in the field and on the bases, Manny made massive strides in 2004.

Solid, stoic, Billy Mueller was 1 of a handful of glue guys that came to the park every day and did their jobs. His season-long mastery of Mariano Rivera first gave the Sox hope that they could beat the Yankee relief ace when he took him deep in July, then made that hope real in Game 4 of the ALCS. Mueller had 2 of the most important hits of the entire season.

Keith Foulke performed to expectations in the regular season, and then simply lifted the team on his back in the ALCS and World Series. History will regard his 2004 postseason as legendary.
Mike Timlin and Alan Embree sort of work as a pair - tough-as-rawhide hired guns who never backed down from any challenge, fastballs blazing and chaw packed firmly between their cheeks and gums.

Tim Wakefield had to spend all of last winter replaying the memory of Aaron Boone's homerun in his mind. One of my favorite moments of the 2004 post-season was Wake's cathartic moments on the Yankee Stadium mound after the Sox completed their comeback.

Mark Bellhorn made me and a million other Sox fans idiots in the last 2 games of the ALCS and the first game of the World Series, hitting important homeruns in each contest. His swing may have holes bigger than Ortiz' backside, but his patience symbolized the whole team's highly successful approach, and he quietly produced some of the biggest hits of the post-season.

Orlando Cabrera, we hardly knew ya, but we did enjoy your grace in the shortstop hole, and that post-season hitting streak was pretty cool, too.

The 2004 Sox have lots of important parts, but Jason Varitek was the heart and soul, even before he slapped Alex Rodriguez around in the season-turning game in July.

Pokey Reese made one of the season's remarkable plays, robbing teammate-to-be Dave Roberts of a double on a rising line drive during interleague play. He also fielded the game-ending grounder to kick off the celebration after Game 7 of the ALCS.

Trot Nixon is part of this team's foundation, even though he didn't contribute as much in 2004 as I'm sure he would have liked.

If it's not Ortiz, Johnny Damon is my favorite Sox player. He's definitely my daughter's favorite; her Christmas list includes a "pink Johnny Damon hat". He may be the freest of the free spirits on this team - an attitude that allowed this group the latitude to play loose and easy even backed up against a wall of historic proportions.

Kevin Millar is a cheesy, rah-rah, team guy - and the world should have more people just like him. From Cowboy Up to Hell's Coming with Me, Millar's legacy is secure in Boston - he'll be the guy serving as Grand Marshal of parades in the Greater Boston area for the next 50 years.

Doug Mientkiewicz will always be the guy who caught the final out of the 2004 World Series. And he'll always be a guy who put aside his ego to be part of this magnificent team.

Bronson Arroyo had the worst haircut on the team with the worst hair in history. He also had "balls the size of Saturn" according to teammate Curt Schilling, taking the ball every 5th day on a supremely talented team, and ending the season with the 9th-best ERA in the American League.

Theo Epstein has the rest of his life to bask in this accomplishment - it's all downhill from here. And, to be sure, I don't think he's gonna rest on these laurels even for a moment.

Nomar Garciaparra - boy, do I wish you could have been on the field when these guys won it all. I understand why you weren't, and honestly don't think they would have won it all if you'd stayed in Boston, but it would have been cool to see you in the middle of that pigpile.

To all the rest of the 2004 Red Sox - Kevin Youkilis, Ramiro Mendoza, Mike Myers, Curtis Leskanic, Doug Mirabelli, Gabe Kapler, et al: thank you, a thousand times, thank you.

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