July 24, 2004: The Day that Changed Red Sox History
July 24, 2009, marks the fifth anniversary of one of the most famous regular-season games in Red Sox history. A game against the Yankees that featured a brawl between Jason Varitek and Alex Rodriguez – followed by a dramatic ninth-inning walkoff homer by Bill Mueller against Mariano Rivera for an improbable 11-10 victory at Fenway – is credited by many as the turning point of the 2004 Red Sox’ run to their first World Series in 86 years.
Curt Schilling answered a number of questions about the game for Alex Speier’s article, “Red Sox Independence Day.” Here are Curt’s recollections of that day:
You started the night before that game – when the Yankees won, 8-7, to take a 9.5 game lead in the East. You took a 4-2 lead into the sixth, the Yankees scratched five runs off of you and Timlin (two infield singles playing a huge part in the rally) to take the lead, then after the Sox tied it in the eighth, A-Rod hit a game-winning single off of Foulke in the night. Afterwards, you said that if the Sox played that hard every night, you’d win the World Series. What do you remember about that game?
If I remember right that was one of the hardest regular season losses I suffered here. Was in total control of the game and it just slipped away. Giambi HR? Tough loss.
It was a micro version of the season. We battled, that team ground it out every night. We never conceded and we had the personality and makeup to say that attitude wasn’t [B.S.]. It was real, it was who we were.
Was there any despondency about that big a hole in the standings, any sense that the playoffs – let alone World Series – might be slipping as a legitimate goal?
We never looked at it that way. One of Tito’s strengths has always been his ability to get the team to focus on the nine innings ahead of you, regardless of what has happened.
Given the strength of the team in April (MLB-best 17-8 record), what explanations did you guys have for the weird run (35-36 through that game) that followed?
We just weren’t consistent, and we were playing in a very tough division. This league is as hard a grind as anything you could imagine. There were no real patsies. There was no stretch of games where you looked at and said “ah, we should go 7-3” because even when we drew a Seattle we’d get Hernandez, Baltimore would always have Bedard and it seemed we NEVER missed Halladay.
At that point, many questioned Terry Francona as a manager (an article in the New York Times on July 24, 2004, asked how Joe Torre would handle the Red Sox). How was Francona’s handling of the club during that period? Was he wearing the team’s struggles?
He was the same, he always is. Sure he’s human and some times are funner than others, but he never brought that into the clubhouse. I remember hanging out in his office often, just chatting. I’ve known him longer than anyone here and I know him well, and there are times, especially that year in dealing with Manny and some of the Pedro stuff that I knew he needed to talk to a player.
The next day, the weather was brutal. There was a rain delay (54 minutes) and most folks anticipated a rainout. What was the clubhouse attitude like prior to that game?
We wanted to play, the front office did not. They were very concerned about the ‘gate’ and we were dead set on playing. I remember a “[Expletive] that, we want to play” response when they came and told us they wanted to bang the game.
Do you recall whether there was any sense that a rainout was going to happen?
We thought they were wanting to do it, and we knew we wanted to play.
Was there any sense of desperation about the need to beat the Yankees at that point? Or is the 162-game nature of the season such that there are no such things as “must-wins?”
No. That team never ever acted or felt desperate. We were in holes, we had to climb some mountains, but we did so never being desperate. We were able to focus on the game at hand as well as any team I had ever been on.
Bronson Arroyo, as a first-year starter, was the guy on the mound for you that day. At that point, any concerns about how Bronson might handle that sort of spotlight game?
That was never a concern about Bronson. He was never a guy you worried about getting rattled. You hoped he was awake some times, but you never worried about him being rattled.
Top 3: Yankees, already up 2-0, push across another run (Bernie double, Jeter single, Sheffield run-scoring DP) to go up 3-0. Then, Bronson hits A-Rod.
How would you describe the tensions between the Sox and Yankees entering that year and that game? Obviously, you parachuted into the middle of the thing, following the ‘03 playoffs and all that came with it… Was there a sense of outright hostility between the teams, or was that a creation from outsiders?
Far more animosity in the stands than on the field. Though some things happened that year that were weird and uncomfortable. Pedro walking through their stretch at Yankee stadium, goofy stuff. But we never ‘hated’ them or anything like that, not as a team anyway. We certainly didn’t like some of them more than others.
What was the perception of A-Rod in the Sox clubhouse at that time?
Probably as disliked as anyone in the game. Profound respect for the on the field talent, but there was so much weird [expletive] that always was present. We always looked at him as someone forcing himself to look comfortable when he clearly wasn’t. It was weird. There was almost pity in that we watched the immense effort he would put out to make himself appear like ‘one of the guys’. We had a bunch of guys that knew him, and some that had played with him, so we knew the guy.
What was the scouting report on A-Rod in ‘04? How were you guys trying to pitch him in that series?
His major weakness is the strike outs. That many K’s always meant there were holes. There was no one way to pitch him, but you knew and know he was a HUGE guesser then. You could watch his K’s and know that.
Was Bronson trying to hit A-Rod?
Stupidest thing ever, no chance. Look at the score, count, situation, no chance.
Was it fair game for A-Rod to yell at Bronson?
Fair had nothing to do with it. The guy was SCREAMING for a situation to ingratiate himself there, and it presented itself, sort of. The yelling BS though, that was funny. The only thing between a hitter and the mound is air and opportunity, he had both….
What role did Jason Varitek play in escalating the situation? You’re probably aware of the legend — myth? real? — that Jason said something along the lines of, “We don’t hit .270 hitters on purpose…” Any truth to that? Was Jason simply looking to help a teammate, or was he looking to spark the team?
No. Jason told him to shut up, and go to first. Then the exchange of F bombs, then the Wilson sandwich.
You were the first guy in from the dugout — how did you see the thing unfold? Where were you trying to go on the field?
I was trying to get there first for two reasons, make sure Tek didn’t end up on the bottom, and that no one on our team got hurt in the melee.
What are the details of the brawl that you remember from inside of it? Nothing remarkable, a lot of shit talking, nothing more. What are the details that you learned while re-watching it? Anything – whether the Sturtze/Kapler, Sturtze/Ortiz/Nixon, anything – that was particularly insane?
That was the minute we realized Sturtze was a 6-foot-8 inch puss. The sucker BS and all that, no place for it. We were all wishing some how, some way, Trot would have had a cleaner, clearer shot. That would have been worthy of some sort of cage fighting highlight. We also went nuts when we saw Jonesy (first-base coach Lynn Jones, who tried to pull David Ortiz out of the scrum with Sturtze) grabbing our players. You never grab your own guys in a brawl.
How, if at all, was the dugout/clubhouse a different place after you guys returned to it? Do you see blood on guys? How would you describe the adrenaline of the situation?
Huge adrenalin surge on our end, then the normal scenes, everyone running back to the clubhouse to check out the video and see who did what, who said what, who kicked who’s ass and any sucker punches.
Among brawls you’ve been a part of, how — aside from subsequent history — was this one different, and how similar to others?
Not much really.
The game resumes. A-Rod, Sturtze, Tek, Kapler, Kenny Lofton are thrown out. The game goes all over the place. You guys score four runs to go up 4-3 by the end of the fourth. Yankees score six in the sixth, go up 9-4. Four for Sox in the sixth, 9-8 game. Yanks score another in the seventh. What do you remember about the course that the game took from the brawl into the ninth?
Nothing but the ending really, it was all a blur.
Any concern, in the sixth, that a five-run lead is hopelessly large? Any concern that you’ve missed out on a chance to build on a major event that could have built momentum?
What is the dugout chatter like during the game?
Like every other time. Wondering about retaliation, guys saying they are going straight for so and so if we clear again, no ONE, and I mean NO ONE, is not in the dugout from that point on.
As much as you guys had done to get back in the game, does Mariano Rivera’s entrance (with two outs in the eighth) change the dynamic?
Everywhere but here. Mo, and there is ZERO disrespect intended because he’s the greatest ever, but he never intimidated or set us back mentally. Mo was who you had to beat in late game situations and we had done that enough to know we could. We didn’t need ‘that guy’ at the plate, we had many guys who were and are ok facing him.
Bottom nine. Mo’s in. Nomar doubles. Trot flies out. Millar singles (10-9). Bill Mueller. What do you remember?
It was movie script like, really. That game injected a HUGE amount of momentum. You come to the park different every day for the rest of the season. Many times it’s not immediate, but it has huge impact, and that carried into October for us. We REALLY didn’t like them after that series, bordering on ‘beat the (expletive) out of them dislike” whereas before it was ‘beat them’.
The obvious disclaimers: you guys went 3-3, then 5-5 after the brawl game, and there was a little trade about a week later. That said…what was the role of this game in what happened over the rest of 2004? Do you guys get to the playoffs without it? Are you able to come back in the ALCS without it? What was the significance of that game?
I think it had bigger implications in October than the regular season. I look at that team as one that would have made the playoffs anyway, but that’s now, I can’t remember it then, but I do know I heard more than once in October that game, being referenced.