The 10 most important games played at Fenway Park

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This season marks 100 years of Fenway Park. Last week the Boston Red Sox celebrated with a wonderful celebration that included nearly 200 former players before a game against the New York Yankees. That’s appropriate because the Red Sox and Yankees have played many historic games at the ballpark in Boston over the years. Here are the ten most important games played at the famed ballpark, rising importance as we go. What makes a game important? Playoff games and World Series games are important naturally, and all but three games on this list occurred in the post-season or were one-game regular season playoff games. The impact of these games on Red Sox Nation (or the Royal Rooters if you go back to 1912) was indelible.

October 1, 1978: Toronto Blue Jays vs. Red Sox in final game of the regular season

This is the prelude to the Bucky Dent game, played the day before on the final Sunday of the regular season. With their backs against the wall, the Sox had won seven straight coming into this game, but they’d only managed to make up one game on the Yankees. Having blown a 10-game lead, Boston needed to win against the Jays at Fenway and hope that the Yankees lost against Cleveland to force a tie in the AL East. On the mound was El Tiante, Luis Tiant, the veteran Cuban ace. Tiant was in control the entire way, retiring the first 11 Toronto batters and allowing just three hits in going the distance. Jim Rice and Ric Burleson each homered, but the pivotal hit was a double by Jerry Remy in the 5th inning that gave the Sox a 2-0 lead. The Sox won 5-0 for their 99th victory, while the Yankees lost to the Indians 9-2 in New York.

October 9, 1999: Cleveland Indians vs. Red Sox in Game Three of the AL Division Series

One thing the Sox love to do is fall behind the playoff series. In ’99, the Indians were favored to win this first round series and they showed why in the first two games in Cleveland. Down 2-0, the Sox faced a must-win game on a Saturday afternoon back in Fenway. Luckily they had Martinez on the mound, but instead of ace Pedro, it was older brother Ramon. Martinez pitched well enough and the Sox offense put a six-spot on the board in the 7th to put the Tribe away. Boston punished Cleveland in Game Four, 23-7, and then Pedro made his amazing relief appearance in Game Five in Cleveland, pitching six no-hit innings and striking out eight as his teammates clawed back to win the series.

July 24, 2004: New York Yankees vs. Red Sox

For a regular season game in the middle of July this game had the drama of the post-season. To set it up: the Yankees had beaten the Red Sox in the ALCS the previous October after Boston blew a three-run lead in the 8th inning at Yankee Stadium. That was the game when Grady Little left Pedro Martinez in the game, infuriating Sox fans who could tell their ace was out of gas. Aaron Boone’s 11th inning homer broke the hearts of Red Sox fans later in the contest. In the off-season, Texas agreed to send baseball’s highest-paid player, Alex Rodriguez the Boston for Manny Ramirez. But days after it was leaked, the deal was nixed when the Player’s Union objected to the restructuring of ARod’s contract. If that wasn’t bad enough, two months later the Yankees got ARod from Texas in a trade that was approved by MLB and the union. The so called “Evil Empire” had improved their already powerful lineup by acquiring the best player in the game. Even before the ARod trade drama, bad blood existed between the two teams. In Game Three of the ’03 ALCS at Fenway, Yankee pitcher Roger Clemens (the former Boston ace who was pitching what many thought would be his last game at Fenway before his retirement) buzzed a pitch up and in to Manny Ramirez. Ramirez took umbrage, the dugouts and bullpens emptied, and the ensuing scene was one of the most frightening and entertaining in the history of baseball fights. The most amazing spectacle was Martinez shoving 72-year old Yankee coach Don Zimmer (former Boston manager – you can;t make this shit up) to the turf. There was a 13-minute delay in that game. So, fast forward to July 24, 2004, with ARod in a Yankee uniform and New York in Boston for a three-game series at Fenway. The Yanks came in 7 12 games ahead of the Sox in the AL East, the previous night having beat the Red Sox with a ninth-inning run. In this game, televised nationally on Saturday afternoon, it didn’t take long for tempers to flare. In the third inning the Yanks were ahead 3-0 when ARod came up. Red Sox pitcher Bronson Arroyo threw a pitch that hit the Yankee slugger square in the back. Rodriguez slowly made his way down the first base line, all the time hollering at Arroyo, who responded with, “Take your base and shut the f*** up!” Rodriguez naturally didn’t care for that, took a step toward the mound, but found his path blocked by Boston catcher Jason Varitek who was still wearing his mask and was inches from ARod’s face. In seconds, Varitek and ARod were grappling with each other, with the Boston catcher shoving his glove in Rodriguez’s face – an image that forever endeared him to Red Sox fans. The benches emptied and the two teams once again squared off all over the field. Red Sox outfielder Gabe Kapler tussled with Yankee pitcher Tanyon Sturtze, who emerged with a cut on his face. Several players were ejected and when order was restored the Yanks built a 9-4 lead. In the 9th, trailing by two and facing Mariano Rivera – the best closer in baseball – the Red Sox refused to give up. Nomar Garciaparra doubled, Kevin Millar singled him home, and Bill Mueller hit a two-run shot into right field near Pesky’s Pole to send the Fenway crowd into a frenzy. It was just a regular season game but it felt like much more. “It’s no secret we don’t like each other,” Rodriguez said. In a few months the two bitter rivals would meet again in an epic playoff struggle, and this game served as a stepping stone for the Red Sox eventually vanquishing the Yankees.

October 4, 1948: Cleveland Indians vs. Red Sox for the AL Pennant

Like Grady in ’03, Red Sox manager Joe McCarthy was chastised for the way he handled his pitching staff in this one. But unlike Grady, McCarthy’s error was in who he started, not in who he left in the game. For this game – a one-game playoff for the ’48 flag – “Marse Joe” picked Denny Galehouse, who hadn’t started a game in more than two weeks. At one time Galehouse had a reputation as a pressure pitcher, but in ’48 he was the fifth starter for the Sox and hadn’t been especially effective. The day before the playoff, during the final game of the regular season, McCarthy had Galehouse warm up in the bullpen for six innings, so he wasn’t necessarily well-rested either. Lou Boudreau tagged him for a home run in the first and Ken Keltner belted another in the fourth as the Indians went on to win, 8-3. Red Sox fans were left to wonder why their manager hadn’t used 15-game winner Mel Parnell, who had three days rest, or Ellis Kinder, who had won four of his last five starts and hadn’t pitched in five days.

October 21, 2007: Cleveland Indians vs. Red Sox in Game Seven of the ALCS

The Sox were in a 3-1 hole after Game Four, their pitching staff tattered after surrendering 27 runs. Then, like in ’04, Boston refused to lose. First they broke up a tight Game Five with five runs in the 7th and 8th, then Curt Schilling pitched them to a 12-2 laugher to set up Game Seven. Japanese import Daisuke Matsuzaka took the ball and put in six old innings after being staked to a 3-0 lead after three. Home runs by Dustin Pedroia and Kevin Youkilis broke it open and the Sox won the pennant, 11-2. Just like in ’04, they swept the World Series, winning their second title in four seasons.

October 1, 1967: Minnesota Twins vs. Red Sox in final game of the regular season

For four weeks leading up to the final weekend, the Red Sox were either one game behind, a half-game behind, or tied for first every day as they and the Twins, Tigers, and White Sox battled for the pennant. The Sox entered this game, on the final Sunday, tied with Minnesota atop the standings, with Detroit a half-game back. The winner of the game played in Fenway between the Twins and Sox would clinch at least a tie, while the Tigers played a doubleheader in Detroit against the Angels. If Detroit could win both games they would tie and force a one-game playoff. The Red Sox sent their young ace Jim Lonborg to the mound to face Dean Chance, both already 20-game winners. Lonborg pitched well, but Minnesota scored unearned runs early on errors by first baseman George Scott and left fielder Carl Yastrzemski (uncharacteristically). But Yaz, in the midst of his triple crown season, went 4-for-4, driving in two runs in the Sox five-run 5th inning. Lonborg cruised to a complete game win and when the Tigers bullpen blew a lead in the nightcap of their doubleheader, Boston’s “Impossible Dream” season was complete. The previous season the Sox had finished in ninth place.

October 21, 1975: Cincinnati Reds vs. Red Sox in Game Six of the World Series

Yes, the Reds won the series the next night, but nearly everyone in New England old enough has a story about where they were for the finish of Game Six. Carlton Fisk blasted his famous homer off the left field foul pole in the 12th to win the game. Fisk’s big hit is one of the most celebrated in baseball history, with some experts calling this game the greatest in baseball history, but another hero often goes overlooked. In the 8th inning, trailing by three runs, the Red Sox got two runners on with two outs. Rawley Eastwicks, Cincinnati’s nastiest reliever, was brought in to stem the tide. He had pinch-hitter Bernie Carbo down to his final strike but Carbo fouled off a tough pitch, looking very overmatched. On the next pitch from Eastwick, Carbo belted a homer to center field to tie the game. Five Hall of Famers played in the game, and Sparky Anderson, the Reds skipper, was also a future Hall of Famer. Pete Rose also played in the game, which was the most watched baseball game in history for several years after.

October 16, 1912: New York Giants vs. Red Sox in Game Eight of the World Series

You want drama? There was a little bit of everything going on around this game. Because of an earlier game that finished tied due to darkness, Game Eight was the deciding game, each team having win three times. The game started late because the Royal Rooters, Boston’s most boisterous fan club, demonstrated in protest of the fact that the team had “double-sold” the group’s customary tickets in left field, forcing them to stand deep behind the overflow crowd. As a result, Fenway, which had opened just six months earlier, was half full, the Rooters having convinced many Bostonians to stay away. After the Rooters were cast aside, the Giants and Sox squared off to decide who would be baseball’s champion. The two teams had fought through seven close games, three of them decided by one run and another by two runs. New York ace Christy Mathewson toed the rubber for the Giants, while Hugh Bedient was on the mound for the home team. Bedient had beaten Matty in Game Five, and in this game he was stellar once again. After seven innings the game was tied 1-1 and Bedient was replaced by Smoky Joe Wood, the Red Sox ace who had pitched the day before. Wood battled Mathewson into the 10th when the Giants struck for a run. Mathewson came out for the bottom of the 10th needing three outs to secure the championship. But center fielder Fred Snodgrass made the most famous error ever committed at Fenway as he dropped an easy fly ball, allowing Clyde Engle to reach second. After a deep flyout moved Engle to third and a walk, Boston star Tris Speaker popped a fly between first and home in foul territory. Matty called for his catcher Chief Meyers to make the catch, but Meyers couldn’t reach the ball and it dropped harmlessly to the ground. Speaker reportedly shouted, “You called for the wrong player to make the catch, and now it’s going to cost you the game!” The Grey Eagle delivered on his boast, lining a single to right field to tie the game. The winning run moved to third on Speaker’s hit, and after Mathewson walked Duffy Lewis to load the bases and set up a force at any base, he faced Boston third baseman Larry Gardner. Gardner skied a fly to right field that was deep enough to score the runner from third. The Sox had rallied for two runs to win the World Series in their first season at Fenway Park. The 1912 World Series was the first to be decided in the last inning of the final game. It was also the first Series where a team within one inning of losing came back to win. The victory sparked the Red Sox to the most successful period of success in team history – they appeared in four World Series from 1912 to 1918, winning each time. In the first seven seasons of Fenway, the Red Sox had the best record in the American League and had some of the biggest stars in the game, including Speaker, Gardner, Wood, and later, a kid pitcher named Babe Ruth.

October 2, 1978: New York Yankees vs. Red Sox in playoff for AL East title

One thing that gets overlooked about this game and that season is that the Red Sox had to play their asses off in September just to salvage a tie atop the American League East. Similarly, in the ’48 season mentioned above, Boston won four straight to close out the regular season and force a one-game playoff. In ’78, the BoSox won their last eight games and 12 of their last 14 to erase the Yankees 3 1/2 game lead. I mention that because almost everything that can be written about this game has already been written. A few other items that you may not know: after Bucky Dent’s infamous three-run homer in the top of the 7th, Mickey Rivers helped manufacture a run with a walk and a stolen base, scoring later on a double off the bat of Thurman Munson. Also, everyone knows that Yaz made the final out, popping up with the tying run at third in the ninth, but did you know that Goose Gossage came on with one out in the 7th and recorded the final eight outs for the save? Let’s see Mariano Rivera do that. Some solace for Boston fans in regards to Dent: in 1990, when Bucky was manager of the Yankees, he was fired via telephone at Fenway Park by George Steinbrenner after the Sox beat his team 9-8 (in a game that Dwight Evans played in, having also appeared in the ’78 playoff).

October 17, 2004: New York Yankees vs. Red Sox in Game Four of the ALCS

In what might be called “The Stolen Base Heard Around the World”, pinch-runner Dave Roberts swiped second in the bottom of the 9th inning against Rivera and Jorge Posada to get himself into scoring position. A few minutes later he scampered home on a hit by Bill Mueller to tie the game. In the 12th, David Ortiz hit a two-run homer to force Game Five. The Sox wouldn’t lose another game that season, coming back from a 3-0 deficit to shock the Yankees, and then sweeping the Cardinals in the World Series. Without that stolen base, and the base hit by Mueller and the clutch homer by Big Papi, the Curse is not reversed, at least not in ’04. It was the pivotal game in an incredible post-season that had historical consequences for the franchise and for Red Sox Nation, and it took place at Fenway Park on a Monday night in October.

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Dan Holmes

Dan Holmes

Dan Holmes is the author of three books about baseball, including Ty Cobb: A Biography. He previously worked for the National Baseball Hall of Fame, and Major League Baseball Advanced Media. He lives in Michigan where he writes, runs, and enjoys a good orange soda now and again.
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