The Yankees were glad to have prevailed in Game One of the ALCS. While they had finished first in the AL East in 2004, with 101 wins, three games ahead of the wild-card Red Sox, the Red Sox had won 11 of 19 regular-season games. And after digging themselves into a very deep hole, Boston had shown resilience and battled much of the way back in Game One.
New York was starting Jon Lieber in Game Two. He’d been 14-8 (4.33 ERA) in the regular season. He’d worked 6⅔ innings in Game Two of the Division Series, allowing three runs (the Yankees beat the Twins, 7-6, in 12 innings.) When he’d last pitched against the Red Sox, on September 18, he did not allow a hit for the first 6⅔ innings.
The Red Sox were going with Pedro Martinez. The three-time Cy Young Award winner had had a 16-9 season (3.90 ERA). He’d lost his last two games against the Yankees, being hit for eight runs on September 19 and five runs on September 24. After the second of the two losses, Pedro lamented, “I can’t find a way to beat them at this point. … What can I say? I just tip my hat and call the Yankees my Daddy.”1 Dan Shaughnessy wrote that the Red Sox were 6-17 in Pedro’s last 23 games against the Yankees.2
Martinez had won Game Two of the Division Series against the Angels.
The Red Sox grounded out, popped up, and struck out in the top of the first; no ball left the infield.
The Yankees scored a run off Pedro in the first inning before making an out. Martinez walked Derek Jeter on four pitches, then hit Alex Rodriguez. Taunts of “Who’s Your Daddy?” thundered throughout the Stadium. The chants started up every time the Yankees had a runner on base against Martinez. Swinging at the first pitch, Gary Sheffield looped a single in front of Johnny Damon in center field and Jeter scored. Martinez bore down and struck out Hideki Matsui and Bernie Williams and then got Jorge Posada to ground out.
For Boston, David Ortiz walked to lead off the second inning and Orlando Cabrera singled to start off the third. Ortiz never advanced past first and Cabrera was stranded at third. Lieber retired the side in order in the fourth, fifth, and sixth.
In the bottom of the sixth, the Yankees scored again. Martinez walked Jorge Posada with one out. First baseman John Olerud homered several rows deep into the right-field seats. It was 3-0, Yankees.
Pedro had given up only four hits, but he’d walked four and hit a batter — and given up three runs.
Lieber shut down the Red Sox in the seventh, with a groundout, a single, and a double play.
In the top of the eighth, Lieber allowed only his third hit of the game, a single by Trot Nixon to the right of diving second baseman Miguel Cairo. Tom Gordon relieved Lieber. On his seventh pitch, Jason Varitek doubled to the wall in right field; Nixon stopped at third base. Orlando Cabrera bounded the ball to Jeter at short. Varitek had to hold, but Nixon scored easily as Jeter threw out Cabrera for the first out. Bill Mueller grounded out to second. Joe Torre summoned Mariano Rivera, who struck out Johnny Damon.
Posada singled off Embree to lead off the bottom of the eighth. Olerud flied out to center. Red Sox manager Terry Francona called on Keith Foulke. Foulke hit Cairo, then struck out Kenny Lofton. He walked Jeter, loading the bases, but A-Rod flied out to right field.
Both starters pitched very good games. “These two games were huge, especially tonight,” said Joe Torre. “Curt didn’t have his best stuff yesterday, but Pedro was Pedro. To beat him when he had stuff like this, it really gives us a lot of confidence.”3
Lieber had been excellent. “After Cabrera’s third-inning single Lieber retired 13 batters in a row — working steadily, methodically. Contrary to their usual approach at the plate, the Red Sox were more aggressive. Lieber was around the strike zone all night, and the Red Sox had to swing early in counts to avoid falling behind. As Lieber mowed them down in the middle innings, the Red Sox did nothing to disrupt his rhythm. Lieber’s only battle came in the sixth inning, when he needed 16 pitches to retire Johnny Damon, who fouled off 10 of them. … Fifteen of Lieber’s 24 batters saw three or fewer pitches.”6
New York was on top in the ALCS, two games to none, with the series heading to Fenway Park.
“It’s very frustrating,” said Johnny Damon. “That’s why I can say I’m not going to be a Yankee ever. I’ve been on so many teams that I have looked at them as our rivals. That’s my goal in life to knock them off. We still have a chance.”7
Damon was asked if Game Three was a must-win. “It definitely is, yeah, because the Yankees really don’t lose four in a row. Every game is a must-win right now.”8
Terry Francona commented, “The only way I’d be disappointed is if this was a best-of-three. There’s too much baseball left to play. I still think we’re capable of winning this series. We’ll regroup tomorrow, go home for three [games], and see if we can get back in this.”9
1 Bob Hohler, “Eighth Wonder,” Boston Globe, September 25, 2004: 51.
2 Dan Shaughnessy, Reversing the Curse (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2005), 170.
3 Bob Ryan, “They’re Holding All the Aces Now,” Boston Globe, October 14, 2004: 40.
4 Murray Chass, “For Martinez, There’s Nothing Magical About This Number,” New York Times, October 14, 2004: D3.
5 Dan Shaughnessy, “Hopes Gone in NY Minute,” Boston Globe, October 14, 2004: 42.
6 Allan Wood and Bill Nowlin, Don’t Let Us Win Tonight: An Oral History of the 2004 Boston Red Sox’s Impossible Playoff Run (Chicago: Triumph Books, 2014), 82-3. Thanks to Allan Wood for suggestions regarding this article.
7 David Heuschkel, “No Panic on Our Team,” Hartford Courant, October 14, 2004.
8 Tyler Kepner, “Lieber Tucks in Red Sox for the Night,” New York Times, October 14, 2004: D1.
9 Gordon Edes, “Martinez Is Game, but Yankees, Lieber, Shut Down Punchless Sox,“ Boston Globe, October 14, 2004: C9.