Derek Jeter was doing his trademark fist-pump as he crossed home in the bottom of the eighth. Alex Rodriguez, on second, now represented the tying run in a game that, if won by the home team, would clinch the 2004 American League Championship Series in six games and further entrench one of sport’s most unassailable truths: The Red Sox were simply incapable of beating the Yankees.
Just a year prior, the Sox gagged away a three-run lead in game seven of the ALCS, with the Yankees touching up Boston ace Pedro Martinez in the eighth before Aaron Boone won it with a homer in the 11th. On the eve of the 2004 playoffs, Martinez, frustrated after another loss to New York, quipped that he might as well “call the Yankees my daddy.” Red Sox fans would have been loath to admit it, but Martinez’s defeatist talk perfectly characterized the dynamic between the clubs. The torment was endless, from Sox owner Harry Frazee selling George Herman “Babe” Ruth to the Yankees in 1919, to Ted Williams hitting .406 in 1941 and still having to watch Joe DiMaggio win MVP honours, to Bucky Dent’s soul-crushing homer in a one-game playoff for the 1978 division title, to former Boston icons of the 1980s like Wade Boggs and Roger Clemens donning pinstripes so they could play for a team that seemed to be in the World Series every fall as opposed to one whose last title preceded the Treaty of Versailles by a few months.
The Red Sox were at least in line for a quick execution in 2004, when the Yanks stormed out to a 3–0 series lead. But Boston won games four and five at home, and were leading 4–2 in game six when Rodriguez came up to bat with Jeter on first. All the reigning league MVP could manage off Bronson Arroyo was a nubber up the first-base line, which the Boston pitcher had no trouble scooping up. When Arroyo went to tag Rodriguez, the latter swatted the ball out of the former’s glove and—horrifyingly, for Sox fans—it rolled well past the bag in foul territory. First-base umpire Randy Marsh gave the safe signal as Rodriguez scampered to second. With Yankee Stadium quaking, Arroyo crouched down and extended his arms as if to say, “The whole baseball world is watching this game; there’s no way I’m the only one who saw that.” He was right. The umps reversed the call and in so doing, seemed to alter the alchemy of the entire rivalry. Finally, something fell Boston’s way. Finally, something happened to make you believe the Babe himself wasn’t at the big bar in the sky with the baseball gods as they all schemed on ways to keep Massachusetts miserable.
The Sox hung on in game six, then blasted New York 10–3 in the decisive contest to become the first MLB team ever to overcome an 0–3 series deficit. When Boston then completed the fairy tale by ending its 86-year World Series drought, baseball’s biggest rivalry officially had a new patriarch.