Viewers guide: Red Sox take first step in historic 2004 ALCS comeback

ESPN continues MLB Encore Tuesdays, a series of classic game broadcasts, this week at 7 p.m. ET with Game 4 of the 2004 American League Championship Series between the Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees at Fenway Park.

What you need to know: When we last left the Yankees and Red Sox on MLB Encore Tuesday, Aaron Boone was being mobbed at home plate after hitting a walk-off home run in Game 7 of the 2003 ALCS, sending New York to the World Series and the Red Sox home to lick their considerable wounds. In this week’s edition, the age-old rivals meet again in the following year’s ALCS, with Boston on the verge of further humiliation at the hands of the Bronx Bombers.

Before Game 1 of the series, Red Sox starter Curt Schilling relished the opportunity to face the Yankees in front of their home crowd, saying “I’m not sure I can think of any scenario more enjoyable than making 55,000 people from New York shut up.” It didn’t work out that way as Schilling, pitching on a bum ankle he aggravated during warm-ups, was gone after three innings, allowing six runs in a 10-7 Yankees win.

The next night, Yankees fans were smelling blood, unleashing their venom on their favorite target, Pedro Martinez, who pitched into the seventh inning but got little help as the punchless Red Sox fell 3-1.

At Fenway Park for Game 3, things got even worse for the Red Sox, who were drubbed 19-8 and were left facing the prospect of being eliminated — again — by New York, this time on their home field. Which brings us to Game 4.

Did you know? Entering the game, no one had ever successfully stolen a base in the postseason against Yankees closer Mariano Rivera. Overall, baserunners in the postseason attempted six steals in 178 opportunities with Rivera on the mound and were successful just three times.

BBTN podcast: Game 4 hero Dave Roberts visits with Buster Olney

The view from the press box: “With regard to the ongoing saga of the Boston Red Sox and their futile pursuit of one lousy little World Series triumph, I have always been of the opinion that it is better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all. This time, I’m not so sure. Who among us needed this?” — From Bob Ryan’s column in The Boston Globe the morning of Game 4

“Three games into this disastrous series, [the Yankees] look like the slick Wall Street guys with the perfect hair driving their Mercedes to Easy Street, while the Red Sox look like the overmatched school kids with shirt tails that won’t stay tucked in, running up the street trying to catch a bus.” — From Jackie MacMullan’s column in the Boston Globe the morning of Game 4

The view from the field: “We’ve all watched ‘Top Gun,’ and when Goose or Maverick gets radar-locked on those MiGs — they’ve got him. For me, once [Rivera] threw over once, I was kind of locking him in. My legs were still tight and nerves were going through my mind, and then I had a big lead and he threw over a second time, and all the nerves started to dissipate. Once he threw over the third time, I had him on lock.” — Dave Roberts to Buster Olney on his pinch-running appearance in the ninth inning

You probably forgot he was in this game: As Game 4 moved into extra innings (and with the Boston bullpen already depleted), Red Sox manager Terry Francona had to use anyone and everyone who was available. In this case, that meant Curtis Leskanic, an 11-year veteran in what would be his final big league season. Leskanic was released by the Royals in June, sporting an 8.04 ERA, then signed with the Red Sox, for whom he was a largely nondescript middle reliever/setup man. He had a string of 10 straight scoreless appearances in August and September, which helped him land the final reliever spot on Boston’s postseason roster.

One thing you might miss: During Kevin Millar’s at-bat to lead off the bottom of the ninth, watch for the shot of Roberts nodding in the dugout as he anticipates entering the game if/when Millar is able to get on base.

The aftermath: Despite Boston dramatically fending off elimination in Game 4, even the most ardent Red Sox fans held out little hope for the series, as no MLB team had ever rallied from a 3-0 deficit to win in the playoffs. At the time, this felt like merely postponing the inevitable, or for most New Englanders, prolonging the agony. That perspective would change considerably three nights later.

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