Friday, April 3, 2009

The Top 100 Red Sox: 11-12

Retracing our steps like Hansel and Gretel:

22. Mo Vaughn, 1B
21. Nomar Garciaparra, SS
20. Dwight Evans, RF
19. Bobby Doerr, 2B
18. Mel Parnell, P
17. Luis Tiant, P
16. Joe Cronin, SS
15. Jim Rice, LF
14. Carlton Fisk, C
13. Wade Boggs, 3B

12. David Ortiz
We covered this a little bit in the Trot Nixon capsule, but isn't it incredible just how many franchise-changing home runs David Ortiz has hit in his career? The man has 12 career home runs in 63 postseason games -- including seven in 33 ALCS games -- and it seems like each one has done a little bit to change the trajectory of the Red Sox franchise.

And just because it's fun to do a countdown within a countdown, let's look back at the Most Memorable Home Runs in the Career of David Ortiz:

Honorable mention: Game 5, 2008 ALCS, 7th inning
He was 5-for-31 (.161) in the playoffs entering the game and 0-for-3 in the game when he came up with two runners on and the Red Sox trailing by a 7-1 score to the Rays. But with Coco Crisp on third and Dustin Pedroia on first, Ortiz tucked a home run just inside the right-field foul pole to pull the Red Sox within three runs and to make the incredible comeback, for the first time, seem realistic.

The Red Sox didn't go on to win the World Series. They didn't even go on to make it to the World Series. But that home run did two things:
* It pushed the ALCS to a sixth and, later, seventh game, and the Red Sox thus have been able to tell themselves all offseason they were a game away from the World Series; and
* It restored the luster that had been fading from Big Papi -- and provided a big shot in the arm for a guy who needed a big shot in the arm going into this offseason.

5. April 11, 2004, 12th inning
Sure, it was just early April. But the Red Sox had lost to the Yankees in such heartbreaking fashion the previous year that it felt like they'd missed their shot. With so many key players (including Pedro Martinez, Nomar Garciaparra and Jason Varitek) set to become free agents at the end of the year, the year already had something of a do-or-die feel to it.

A spark had to come from somewhere, and Ortiz -- a Minnesota castaway who had hit 31 home runs in 448 at-bats the year before -- was just the guy to provide it.

The Red Sox already had rallied with a run in the eighth and a run in the ninth to tie the game at 4 and send it to extra innings; second baseman Mark Bellhorn was right in the center of things, scoring one run and driving in another to keep the Red Sox in it. Ortiz, actually, had a chance to win the game in the bottom of the ninth but flew out to center field with Bellhorn in scoring position.

He didn't let that happen again. Bill Mueller drew a walk to lead off the bottom of the 12th, and Ortiz followed with a two-run home run over the Green Monster -- just his second walk-off home run as a member of the Red Sox.

4. Game 1, 2003 ALCS, 4th inning
It's hard to remember now, but the 2003 American League Championship Series had the pall of 1999 hanging all over it. In 1999, after all, the Red Sox had pulled out a dramatic five-game victory in the American League Division Series only to be rudely dismissed by the Yankees a round later. And in 2003, as the Red Sox again needed more than their share of dramatics to get to the ALCS, the Yankees again were waiting. Mike Mussina, who had gone 17-8 with a 3.40 ERA that season, was well-rested and scheduled to pitch against Tim Wakefield, who was pretty much the only option the Red Sox had.

But with Manny Ramirez on first base and no one out in the top of the fourth, Ortiz worked the count full and hit his first career postseason home run. That was the first time either team had scored in the game -- and that was the first time even the most cynical Red Sox fans began to think, "We can win this thing."

That feeling would last until the eighth inning of Game 7 -- and it would be what sparked everything the Red Sox did that offseason to prepare for 2004.

3. Game 3, 2004 ALDS, 9th inning
The prelude to the magic. The Red Sox already were virtually assured of a berth in the American League Championship Series; they'd knocked around Angels pitching for two days, and only a seventh-inning grand slam by Vladmir Guerrero had stalled the celebration.

But, still, the Red Sox had to close it out -- they knew as well as anyone else what could happen if you gave a quality team a second lift in a short playoff series. With two outs, Ortiz came to the plate to face lefty Jarrod Washburn, a starter brought on to replace the tiring Francisco Rodriguez.

Ortiz hit the first pitch Washburn threw over the Green Monster to end the series and send the Red Sox to New York to face the Yankees.

2. Game 5, 2004 ALCS, 8th inning
The Yankees led by a 4-2 score going into the top of the eighth inning; Mariano Rivera was warming in the bullpen. The Red Sox needed another miracle.

Ortiz couldn't hit a two-run home run; he was leading off the inning. But it didn't take long -- two pitches, in fact -- until he hit another big home run, his second in two nights, to pull the Red Sox within a run. From there, it was only a matter of time before the Red Sox scratched out another run on a walk, a single and a Jason Varitek sacrifice fly.

Ortiz then, of course, singled home Johnny Damon with the winning run in the 14th inning to send the series back to Yankee Stadium.

1. Game 4, 2004 ALCS, 12th inning
Without Game 4, there's no Game 5. Without Game 5, there's no Bloody Sock in Game 6. There's no pennant. There's no Bellhorn-off-the-foul-pole. There's no Renteria-grounds-to-Foulke. There's no Doug Mientkiewicz. There's no World Series title.

More than any other hit by any other player, ever, the two-run home run that Ortiz stroked into the right-field bleachers off old friend Paul Quantrill turned the Red Sox from perennial runners-up into the envy of an entire industry.

11. Carl Yastrzemski
For most of his career, Yaz was a very good player. He made the American League All-Star team every year; he earned enough MVP votes to land him in the top 20; he hit almost 20 home runs and drove in almost 100 runs. For every .329-40-102 season (1969), though, he'd give you a .254-15-70 season (1971). In fact, he didn't hit more than 20 home runs until he was 27 years old; he didn't drive in 100 runs or slug .500 in back-to-back years until he was 29 and 30.

But there's a reason, apart from his career numbers, Yaz is and always will be a legend in Boston. That reason is 1967.

The Red Sox had lost 90 games and finished ninth in the American League in 1966, 26 games behind the eventual World Series champion Baltimore Orioles. Yaz, at 26 heading into the prime of his career, had hit .278 with 16 home runs and 80 RBI; Tony Conigliaro, George Scott and Rico Petrocelli all hit more home runs than their young captain. Hopes were not high for 1967.

Hopes didn't get any higher when the Red Sox started the season 11-14 and were stuck in eighth place in mid-May. Rookie Billy Rohr threw a one-hit shutout at Yankee Stadium, but that was about all the Red Sox had going for them. It was looking like another long summer at Fenway Park.

That's when new manager Dick Williams did something interesting: He benched Yastrzemski. The left fielder had played in 160 games the year before; he wasn't accustomed to taking a seat. But after a hot start that included five hits in a game at Yankee Stadium, Yaz hit just .218 from April 18-May 6 and Williams asked him to take a seat. George Thomas started the game in left field; Jose Tartabull took over in the fourth inning. Yastrzemski didn't get into the game until the bottom of the ninth as a defensive replacement and didn't get an at-bat in the game.

But in the next two weeks after that day, Yastrzemski hit .353 with six home runs and 18 RBI, and the Red Sox began to show some life. In June, after Chicago manager called Yaz "an All-Star from the neck down," Yaz went 7-for-13 with a double and a home run in a three-game series against the White Sox. The next day, back at Fenway Park, he hit a pair of home runs as the Red Sox pulled within 4 1/2 games of first place.

But the Red Sox couldn't do much more than tread water in the standings for another month or so. At the end of the day on Aug. 18, they were still in fourth place -- and suddenly without Tony Conigliaro, hit by the pitch that would destroy his career.

The next day, though, Yaz put his team on his shoulders and never put it back down. He hit a two-run home run in the sixth inning and doubled and scored in the eighth as the Red Sox beat the Angels; in the 12 games after Conigliaro was beaned, Yaz hit .390 (and OBP'ed .519 thanks to 10 walks) with two doubles, a triple and six home runs.

While he hit a lull in mid-August, he came out of it with a bang -- he'd gone 0-for-12 in three games at Yankee Stadium, but when Williams kept him out of the starting lineup for the fourth game, he came into the game as part of a double switch and hit a go-ahead solo home run in the top of the 11th to win the game.

After that, it seemed like no one could get Yastrzemski out. He hit another home run against the Yankees on Sept. 9; he went 3-for-4 against the Orioles on Sept. 15. And in the final two weeks of the season, as the Red Sox fought off Chicago, Detroit and Minnesota to win the pennant, he hit .523 with five home runs and 16 RBI. He hit a game-tying home run against Detroit on Sept. 18; he scored the game-winning run against Cleveland two days later.

And in the season-ending two-game series with Minnesota, he had seven hits and six RBI. His three-run home run in the seventh inning iced the first game of the series; in the second game, his two-run single sparked a five-run inning that provided all the run support Jim Lonborg would need.

Yastrzemski finished his Red Sox career with dozens and dozens of highlights. What he did to carry the Red Sox to the pennant in 1967, though, will never be forgotten.

Coming up: The Top 100 takes a little bit of a break as the focus shifts to, you know, the season starting. But it'll be back with a vengeance once we're past Opening Day and all that related hoopla.

(Random question: Where the heck did the word "hoopla" come from? What kind of work is "hoopla," anyway? Does it predate March Madness? Inquiring minds want to know.)

In the meantime, though, I'll be in New York for the two exhibition games and at Fenway Park for Opening Day. Check back early and often!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

The other part about the Minnesota series was the Red Sox had to sweep the doubleheader in order to even have a chance to make the World Series. Even then they weren't guaranteed-but a loss later that day and they were playing the Cards. Yaz was 1967.