The 2004 Boston Red Sox finished up August as one of the hottest teams in baseball, entering the final month of the season fresh of a stretch of 21–7 after the trade deadline. Nomar Garciaparra was gone, but the team’s record stood at 77–53 entering play on Sept. 1, and Boston trailed the New York Yankees for the division lead by just 3.5 games.
Keeping the Fire Going
The Anaheim Angels, as they were still known in 2004, landed in Boston as winners in 12 of their last 14 games. After a 10–7 loss in game one, the Angels had a former Boston pitcher and future one in Aaron Sele and Bartolo Colon, respectively, set to start the final two games of the series. Game two was a slugfest as both Sele and Bronson Arroyo were driven out of the game early. A three-run shot by Kevin Millar in the fifth inning put the Sox on top for good and they went on to win, 12–7. Colon was better in the finale but still went just 4.2 innings while yielding four runs. The Angels bullpen shut the Sox down after that but Derek Lowe, who pitched into the eighth allowed just three runs to secure the win.
Staying at home for another series, the Red Sox welcomed the Texas Rangers to town, with Pedro Martinez and Curt Schilling bookending the three-game set. The aces allowed a combined three runs (all Schilling) in 15.1 innings against Texas and outduel John “Way Back” Wasdin and Ryan Drese. Future Cy Young award winner R.A. Dickey pitched 1.1 innings of unimpressive relief in game three. In the middle game, Tim Wakefield gave up eight runs over six innings in a losing effort while the pitching Chris Young allowed one in 5.2, although his bullpen would yield five more.
Hitting the road for a West Coast trip against Oakland and Seattle would actually be a pleasant event. The Sox demolished the A’s for three games—scoring 23 total runs while allowing seven—and split a four-game series with the Mariners. Wakefield gave up seven runs in one of the losses (although only two were earned) and remained in one of his down periods. With the Yankees still leading the division by 3.5 games, the victories weren’t enough to top their rival.
On Sept. 14, the Sox, back in Boston, welcomed the Devil Rays to town and a young rookie pitcher to Fenway Park. Lefty Scott Kazmir faced the Red Sox for the first time that night, outdueling Pedro Martinez and showing that his future could be very bright. Trot Nixon homered, but Boston’s bats were largely silent in the 5–2 loss.
The Sox took the next two games, with a good enough outing by Wakefield and strong one by Schilling, who collected his 20th win of the season.
The Second Half of the Month
With 17 games left in the season the Red Sox headed to New York to face the Yankees, still 3.5 games in the division, in a three-game set. The last time these teams played, there were some theatrics, including a brawl between Alex Rodriguez and Jason Varitek, and a comeback against Mariano Rivera. A Johnny Damon home run helped power Arroyo and the Sox against Orlando Hernandez and the Yankees, but the real drama came against Rivera. A leadoff walk to Nixon, a strikeout by Varitek, a hit-by-pitch of Millar, a single by Cabrera, and another strikeout (Youkilis) brought up Damon. With something more of a bloop than a blast, Damon deposited a ball in front of center fielder Kenny Lofton that created a rare moment of confusion out of the Yankees’ closer as Rivera shouted, “Catch the ball” in response to the miscue. Keith Foulke picked up his 30th save in the victory. The Yankees would take the next two contests, sending the Sox home 4.5 games back.
The next home stand featured the Orioles and Yankees for four and three games, respectively. Foulke blew a couple of saves against the O’s but the Red Sox managed two walk-offs and split the series. The Sox drop the first game to the Yankees but rebound with two wins—both with double-digit run totals—in the second two. But it wasn’t enough with seven games left (all on the road); the Red Sox were 3.5 games back in the division.
Winning two out of three against the Rays and three-out-of-four against the Orioles leaves the Red Sox at 98–64, a full three games back of the Yankees, but in command of the wild card, set to face the Angels in the ALDS.
That’s all, Folks
September 2014 was nothing like September 2004. The Sox finished their second last place season in three years with an 11–13 final month. Sure, keeping Jon Lester, John Lackey, and Andrew Miller could have given the club a few more wins, but September 2014 was more like pre-spring training, a time of evaluation more than a time for serious baseball to be played. The Sox entered the month 19.5 games out of first and ended it 25 games back.
There were walk-off wins and walk-off losses. The Sox never won more than two straight but lost four in a row at one point. Rather than a blow-by-blow account of this destruction, we’ll just stick to a few highlights and put this history in the past.
First, Rusney Castillo made his big league debut. Signed as a free agent in August, the Cuban defector is expected to be a big part of the future. And since he signed to a seven-year, $72 million contract, that’s not a surprise. In a very small sample (just 40 plate appearances) Castillo played center field and hit .333/.400/.528 with three steals and two homers. Obviously these stats can’t be projected into anything resembling a reasonable expectation of his upcoming season, but he showed the tools he was expected to. A good glove with a bat that holds up better than that of Jackie Bradley Jr. will go a long way to keeping the Sox out of the cellar next year.
Xander Bogaerts got off to a nice start in April (.278/.387/.378), looked like a star in May (.327/.407/.490), and then disappeared for three months (.161/.206/.254) before rebounding in September (.313/.317/.490). Was it just an adjustment that he had to make? The pressure of playing third base again when Stephen Drew signed? We’ll never know for sure, but Bogaerts has thrived at every level so far in his career so the team and fans should be ready for big things from their shortstop in 2015.
When the Red Sox get back on track, likely in April 2015, Mookie Betts will become a household name. His September line (.317/.388/.462) was tremendous as he played outfield and second base after Dustin Pedroia went down. He can run, hit for some power, and play in both the infield and outfield. Seizing the leadoff spot once Brock Holt got hurt, Betts made a great one-two combination with Bogaerts at the top of the lineup. His ceiling is high right now, which could be useful in trade negotiations as Pedroia will block his natural position, second base, for the foreseeable future.
September 2014 wasn’t great for the team but it was a nice sign of things to come, should some of the rising young stars build off their promising final months.