Game 4 of the American League Championship series between the Red Sox and the New York Yankees started on October 17, 2004, and ended early the next morning. You probably know what happened: The Yankees were just three outs a way from a trip to the World Series, but the Sox came back to win in extra innings, and then marched on, and eventually won their first World Series since 1918.
But it was that fourth game against the Yankees, when the Red Sox finally transformed their history of heart-breaking futility into improbable and thrilling victory.
I was lucky enough to be covering that game for NPR, but I never told the whole story.
First, you need to understand a bit about how reporters are supposed to do this job. We’re supposed to appear impartial. I’m a lifelong Red Sox fan, but in the press box reporters never cheer or reveal their loyalties. It’s just not done. But as I headed to Fenway that night, I wasn’t impartial and I’m sort of ashamed to admit this now, but I was rooting for the Yankees.
I know. It’s awful. It wasn't because I liked them, but because I knew they were going to win and I was done caring about the Red Sox, fatigued by their habit of breaking our hearts. They were down 3-0 in a best of seven series, and no team had ever come back from that. So why bother hoping?
As I carried these thoughts into Fenway Park, I realized for the first time that evening that I was not an impartial reporter. Still, I did my job. Before the game I gathered some quotes from the Fenway faithful, including Mike Brennan of Worcester and Ross McCabe of New Hampshire, who ended up in the NPR piece that aired the next morning.
"Hey, we’re three games out in the series.. never been done before. And that's what we have going for us. The fact that it's never been done before, and it's going to start tonight. Coming back from a 3-0 deficit. We're going to win the next two here and then go to New York and spank 'em there. We're not worried yet. We've been waiting for it since 1918, it's gotta happen sometime."
It didn’t look like it was going to happen that night as the Sox entered the ninth inning down 4 to 3 with the virtually unbeatable Mariano Rivera on the mound for New York. By then, I was bored and cold and I wanted to go home. To get a jump on my story, I’d already written the first couple of paragraphs. I still have that old notebook, and here’s how it started:
The New York Yankees beat the Boston Red Sox last night to capture their 40th American League Pennant. The Yanks made it look easy, dispatching their Boston rivals in four straight games in the best of seven series.
But then it all started: Kevin Millar drew a leadoff walk. In a a do-or-die play, Dave Roberts stole second. Bill Meuller singled him home. Score tied. Then the teams virtually exhausted their bullpens until the 12th inning, when the Yankee pitcher Paul Quantrill faced Boston’s David Ortiz. By then, I'd moved out of the press room and into the stands along third base. With Ortiz batting, I knew that one swing could do it, and I wanted to be sure to get the crowd reaction on tape.
Ortiz blasted Quantrill’s pitch into the Yankee bullpen, circled the bases and jumped into the arms of his ecstatic teammates at home plate. Game over. Sox win 6-4. And for the second time that evening it became clear that I could not be impartial. And this is a secret about that night that I’ve never revealed.
When I got back home and started putting my piece together for NPR, I realized that the person yelling the loudest on that tape was me. Which posed a problem. I needed to file for NPR but I couldn’t not use that tape. So even though that was me screaming ecstatically, I used it anyway.
I’d been telling myself I didn't care, but my heart knew otherwise. I just couldn't help it.
One more detail about that story I filed; I loved what Red Sox Manager Terry Francona said about that improbable win. After the game, a reporter pointed out the Sox were still down 3-1 in the series.
"We set out today to win. That was our only objective and somehow we did. Now, our objective is to win tomorrow. That's all we have in front of us," Francona said. "I think if we had done it any differently today, we might not have made it."
Those truly are words to live by: Don’t worry about the past, about the weight of history. Don’t worry about tomorrow. Just win today.
This segment aired on April 16, 2012.