The Red Sox’ Ten Greatest Games
October 17, 2004: Igniting the Comeback
No team in the history of baseball had ever come back after falling behind in a postseason series three games to none, and few would have given the Red Sox, with a championship drought of 86 years and counting—and walloped in the first three games of the ALCS by the archrival New York Yankees by scores of 10-7, 3-1 and 19-8—little chance to overcome such a burden. Making matters worse, they were three outs from elimination in Game Four, headed into the bottom of the ninth trailing 4-3 and facing off against Yankee closer Mariano Rivera, whose uncanny postseason success was second to none. But Rivera walked leadoff batter Kevin Millar, who in turn was replaced at first base by pinch-runner Dave Roberts, a speedy part-time veteran picked up by the Red Sox in August. Roberts quickly stole second, barely beating out a good throw from Jorge Posada; the theft paid off when Bill Mueller drove Roberts home with a clean single.
The Red Sox failed to win the game in the ninth despite leaving the bases loaded, survived the next three innings as the Yankees left five men on base (including a bases-loaded situation of their own in the 11th) and, with Manny Ramirez on first in the bottom of the 12th, David Ortiz blasted a two-run homer that secured the win, staved off elimination and, most historically, launched the Red Sox on an unprecedented four-game comeback—the momentum from which propelled Boston to an easy World Series triumph over St. Louis for its first championship since 1918. But Red Sox fans will remember most the moment it all began, when Roberts nabbed the bag and eventually became a hero for the ages by giving the team added life that would extend beyond their wildest expectations.
October 25, 1986: Through Billy's Buckshoes
The few Boston baseball fans who remained unconvinced of the Curse of the Bambino likely became converts after Game Six of the 1986 World Series, when Billy Buckner’s legendary gaffe capped an unlikely three-run, tenth-inning rally for the New York Mets that deepened the mystique that the Red Sox were forever hexed by their sale of Babe Ruth to the New York Yankees in 1920.
Boston led the series three games to two coming in, and fought for nine innings to a 3-3 tie as the resilient Mets erased slim Red Sox leads throughout. In the tenth, Dave Henderson—who had literally saved the Sox’ season in the ALCS (see no. 4 below), came to the rescue again when he launched a solo shot to give Boston the lead; an insurance run was added when Marty Barrett singled in Wade Boggs, who had doubled. When Boston reliever Calvin Schiraldi retired the first two Mets in the bottom half of the tenth, the Red Sox sensed, at long last, their first championship since 1918; even the Shea Stadium scoreboard was conceding, prematurely displaying a public note of congrats to the Red Sox. But the next three Mets singled to reduce the Boston lead to one; Bob Stanley, replacing Schiraldi on the mound, next threw a wild pitch that brought home the tying run and placed the winning run (Ray Knight) at second; and that’s when Mookie Wilson pulled a three-hop grounder to first baseman Buckner—aging and ailing, but left in the game because Boston manager John McNamara wanted him on the field when the Sox celebrated—and the ball skimmed beneath Buckner’s glove, through his legs and into right field, allowing Knight to joyously race home with the winning run. Emotionally deflated from the nightmarish result, the Red Sox lost Game Seven two nights later, 8-5, and would have to live with The Curse for another two decades.
October 21, 1975: Stay Fair! Stay Fair!
Although the Red Sox would ultimately lose to Cincinnati in what is arguably hailed as the greatest World Series ever played, Boston fans will always have Game Six, a wild ride of a contest which came to a legendary finish thanks to Carlton Fisk’s memorable steering via sign language of his high fly ball that hit fair off the foul pole and won the game in 12 innings, 7-6.
American League Rookie of the Year and MVP Fred Lynn initiated the scoring with a three-run homer in the first inning, but the Reds tied it in the fifth thanks in large part to a triple by Ken Griffey that Lynn could not make a spectacular catch on, crashing into Fenway’s center field wall. The Reds added two in the seventh to take the lead, and Cesar Geronimo’s solo homer in the eighth made it 6-3. Back came Boston in the eighth; with two outs and two runners on base, former Red Bernie Carbo burned his former team by hitting his second pinch-hit homer of the series, a three-run blast that tied the game. (Decades later, Carbo claimed he was stoned when he hit the homer.) Boston appeared ready to win it in the ninth when they loaded the bases with no one out, but after Lynn popped out to left field, third-base runner Denny Doyle took off for home, believing he heard the go signal from third-base coach Don Zimmer (who actually was saying “no-no-no!” and not “go-go-go!”). The double play snuffed out the Sox’ rally and sent the game into extra frames.
Cincinnati threatened continuously in overtime, most memorably rebuffed in the 11th when Dwight Evans made a leaping catch in front of the short right-field fence to not only rob Joe Morgan of a possible home run, but also to turn a double play when he threw to second to double off Griffey, convinced that Evans would not catch the ball. In the Boston 12th, Fisk led off and on his second pitch hit the drive Bostonians will always remember and baseball fans nationwide will easily recall thanks to NBC’s famous shot of Fisk straddling down the first-base line, hopping up and down and waiving his arms to his right as if willing the ball to stay fair, which it did—hitting the foul pole for the game-winning run.
October 30, 2013: For Boston
After two internally turbulent campaigns all but tore the Red Sox apart, a strong rebound buoyed by a mission to repair the psyche of a city wounded by a terrorist attack at the Boston Marathon gave the team a newfound sense of pride and togetherness—and it paid off in Game Six of the 2013 World Series against St. Louis at Fenway Park.
The challenge for the Red Sox appeared difficult; they were facing late-season rookie sensation Michael Wacha, who had yet to lose in four postseason starts for the Cardinals and had stifled Boston bats in Game Two. But for Wacha, the burden of forcing a seventh game may have been too much; he struggled early with his control, and he finally paid for it in the third after loading the bases when Shane Victorino’s deep fly bounded off the top of the Green Monster and brought home all three baserunners. Boston doubled the lead an inning later, another three-run strike initiated by a Stephen Drew homer and finished by a RBI single from, again, Victorino.
Given a 6-0 lead, Boston starter John Lackey—derided by Red Sox fans for much of his disappointing, oft-injured Boston tenure—cemented long-sought gratitude by keeping the Cardinals nailed down through six-plus innings, allowing just a run on nine hits and a walk. Three Boston relievers combined to retire the final seven St. Louis batters after Lackey’s departure, finishing off the Cardinals with a 6-1 victory.
The Red Sox’ triumph was sweet in many facets. Although their third world title in ten years, it was the first they clinched in from of the hometown fans in almost a century. Just as importantly, there was the healing factor. The championship culminated an emotional quest by Red Sox players to go the extra mile, on the field and off it, to bring joy to a city that, six months earlier, cried over the loss of loved ones at the Finish Line on Boyston Street.
October 12, 1986: Hendu to the Rescue
Down three games to one and trailing by three runs headed into the ninth inning in the 1986 ALCS at Anaheim, the Red Sox appeared to be dead in the water against the California Angels. In the same wowing fashion they would display 18 years later against the Yankees, the Red Sox came roaring back at full steam. With one out and one on, former Angel Don Baylor homered to cut the lead to one; after Evans popped out and Rich Gedman was hit by a pitch, the Angels brought in closer Donnie Moore to face Dave Henderson, who had felt a heavy burden to the moment after his sixth-inning attempt to catch a deep fly by Bobby Grich deflected off his glove and over the fence for a two-run shot that gave the Angels the lead. Henderson made his amends by launching a drive of his own that cleared the wall and, suddenly and stunningly, the Red Sox were ahead, 6-5.
The Angels mustered a fight and tied the game to send it into overtime, but Boston overcame the brief rebellion and, in the 11th, secured the win when Henderson—facing off once more against Moore—struck a fly ball to center that allowed Baylor (who led off the inning getting drilled by a pitch from Moore) to score on a sac fly with the ultimate game-winning run.
The win not only kept the Red Sox alive, it revitalized them; they won the next two games and took the series in seven, in advance of their fateful World Series date with the Mets. The game also took on a somber aftermath when Moore, after a few years of deteriorating play likely caused both by injury and the torment of Henderson’s heroics, killed himself during a domestic dispute.
October 16, 1912: The $30,000 Muffs
Many modern-day residents of Red Sox Nation probably aren’t aware of some of the equally wild World Series involving their team back in its infant years. The rubber game of the 1912 Fall Classic against the New York Giants certainly qualifies as perhaps the most dramatic.
In what was technically termed Game Eight of a seven-game series—Game Two ended in a 6-6 tie, one of three in World Series history—the Red Sox had to overcome Giant ace Christy Mathewson, at the tail end of his prime; facing him was 22-year-old rookie Hugh Bedient, a 20-game winner in his first of only four years at the major league level. Bedient held his own against the expectedly brilliant Mathewson, keeping the game tied at 1-1 going into extra innings. The Giants then struck in the tenth on a run-scoring single by Fred Merkle, putting him in position to be the Series hero four years after his famous bonehead play blew the 1908 pennant for New York.
But Boston fought back in the bottom half of the inning; Dave Engle’s leadoff soft fly to center field was dropped by Fred Snodgrass in what is now referred to as the “$30,000 Muff,” named as such because it was the difference in total player earnings between the Series’ winners and losers; Snodgrass atoned a play later by making a terrific running catch on a Harry Hooper liner. But after a walk to Steve Yerkes, Tris Speaker hit a foul pop between home and first base that Merkle had the better bead on—and when Merkle heard the words “You take, it Chief,” he thought it was Mathewson directing Merkle to lay back for catcher Chief Meyers to make the catch. It actually was the voice of Speaker, who successfully conned Merkle into letting the ball drop as Meyers was nowhere nearby. Given new life, Speaker singled, scoring Engle to tie the game; two batters later, Larry Gardner’s sacrifice fly scored Yerkes and the Red Sox won their first of four world titles in seven years.
September 28, 1960: The Kid’s Triumphant Exit
Ted Williams finished his career squarely on his own terms, belting a 450-foot home run off Baltimore’s Jack Fisher (who also served up Roger Maris’ 60th homer a year later) in the final at-bat of a major league tenure that began in 1939. The mammoth shot was the 521st of Williams’ storied career, and it capped a remarkable year in which the 42-year old hit .316 with 29 homers and 72 RBIs in just 310 at-bats. Williams tipped his cap as he circled the bases but refused to take a curtain call from the crowd of 10,000, later saying about the moment: “I felt nothing. Nothing.” Williams was removed from the game after his eighth-inning drive and the rest of the Red Sox, inspired, rallied with two runs in the ninth to overcome the Orioles, 5-4. Even though the Red Sox had three games remaining in New York, Williams skipped out with the team’s permission, preferring to finish at Fenway Park and then go fishing in Maine.
October 13, 1915: Hooper’s Hopping Homers
Harry Hooper hit two home runs all season for the Red Sox, but he matched that in the final game of the World Series at Philadelphia thanks to the greed of Phillie owner William Baker, who set up temporary bleachers in the deep right-center field portion of the Baker Bowl. As a result, any ball that even bounced into the temporary seats would be considered, per the ground rules, as a home run. Hooper did it twice; in the third inning off starter Erskine Mayer to tie the game at 2-2, and in the ninth off starter-turned-emergency-reliever Eppa Rixey, a solo bouncing shot that broke a 4-4 tie that clinched the game—and the series—for Boston. It ended a hard-fought five-game series for the Red Sox in which every contest but one was decided by a single run.
October 1, 1967: All That Yaz
The Red Sox survived a wild, free-for-all pennant race by defeating Minnesota 5-3 on the season’s final day to grab the AL flag by a game each over the Twins and Detroit, and three over the Chicago White Sox—all of whom had entered the final weekend with a shot at first place. The Boston stars shined on this day; starting pitcher Jim Lonborg went the distance, bending but not breaking and collecting his 22nd win of the year, while Carl Yastrzemski—white hot through late September and crucially aiding the Sox’ pennant surge—was a perfect 4-for-4 at the plate, singling in the first of five runs in a massive sixth-inning rally that gave Boston all the offense it would need for the day. Double plays turned by the Red Sox in each of the last two innings helped Lonborg secure the win and the pennant, the team's first in 21 years.
September 28, 1941: The True .400
Ted Williams entered the final day of the 1941 season—a doubleheader against the Philadelphia A’s—with a .3995 average. That rounded out to .400 on the stat sheet, and although Williams could have sat the twinbill out and been granted the historic round number, that wasn’t good enough for him; he wanted to go to bat and earn a “true” .400. He took care of business quickly in the first game, knocking out four hits—including his 37th homer of the year—to improve his average to .404 and lift the Red Sox in a slugfest over the A’s, 12-11; having accomplished his mission, Williams still put it at risk by participating in the second game—and collected two more hits in three at-bats to raise the average higher, to .406. After the doubleheader, Williams brashly told reporters: “Ain’t I the best hitter you’ve ever seen?” By clinching the milestone, he became the first American Leaguer since 1923—and the first anywhere in the majors since 1930—to finish over .400; no one has done it since.
Boston Red Sox Team History: Year-by year records, statistics and an oral history of the Red Sox, decade by decade.
The Red Sox' Ten Greatest Hitters: A list of the ten greatest hitters based on their productivity and efficiency.
The Red Sox' Ten Greatest Pitchers: A list of the ten greatest pitchers based on their productivity and efficiency.
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