Miracle at Fenway: The Inside Story of the Boston Red Sox 2004 Championship Season
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Miracle at Fenway: The Inside Story of the Boston Red Sox 2004 Championship Season

by Saul Wisnia

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The players and coaches of the 2004 Boston Red Sox are now and forever, legends. After all, it had been 86 years since Boston last won a World Series, a fact anybody even remotely associated with the team as a player, executive, or fan was reminded of on a daily basis. For the players on the 2004 Red Sox roster, winning in '04 was one of the greatest experiences in


The players and coaches of the 2004 Boston Red Sox are now and forever, legends. After all, it had been 86 years since Boston last won a World Series, a fact anybody even remotely associated with the team as a player, executive, or fan was reminded of on a daily basis. For the players on the 2004 Red Sox roster, winning in '04 was one of the greatest experiences in their lives. For fans, the '04 team will forever be remembered as the one that broke the curse.

Hundreds of articles and several books were written in the immediate aftermath of the thrilling ’04 season, but 10 years have passed and MIRACLE AT FENWAY has a fresh perspective, including the type of analysis and insight that comes with a decade of reflection. As a Red Sox fan since birth, and from having written about and worked alongside the team for his entire professional life, Saul Wisnia has cultivated relationships with people at every level of the Sox organization. From the players to the fans to the upper echelons of team management, he has their accounts of 2004 as they saw it and as they remember it today, now that the memories have had time to take root and blossom.

In the winning tradition of baseball oral histories, Wisnia tells the story of 2004 as experienced by the people who lived it, in an engaging style filled with insight and excitement.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Ticketless Boston Red Sox fan Kevin McCarthy snuck into Fenway Park the night before game seven of the 1967 World Series and remained unseen until the morning, only to be caught when he needed to use the bathroom. Larry Lucchino was recovering from cancer treatments at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston when a visit to Fenway Park led to a series of events culminating in his becoming president of the Red Sox. These stories are two of many that make up this unique portrait of the Red Sox and their struggles to win the World Series. Whereas the majority of sports narratives revolve around the athletes, Wisnia (Fenway Park: The Centennial) interestingly chooses to frame his narrative around a variety of perspectives; along the way, he offers fresh insights into well-known stories, such as the Nomar Garciaparra trade saga. Only about half of this book deals directly with the 2004 season, but this is to the reader’s advantage since Red Sox history is fascinating, even to non-fans. This is an entertaining book about the power and promise of sports, passionately and intimately told. (July)
Kirkus Reviews
Wisnia (Fenway Park: The Centennial: 100 Years of Red Sox Baseball, 2011, etc.) proves that celebratory baseball writing need not be maudlin in his comprehensive account of the Boston Red Sox’s 2004 championship season, their first since the Woodrow Wilson administration.The author explores the team’s early history and tradition of losing big games; in a chapter titled "Kings of Pain," we see how the front office’s bungles and tightfistedness have traditionally harmed the team. A chapter on the multiyear plan to revamp historic Fenway Park beginning in 2002 illustrates how management understood how a stadium's layout and design create memories and a game experience as indelible as the players on the field, as demonstrated by interviews with old-time fans from the 1950s and various "super fans" who explain the importance of sacrificing yourself "for the good of the team.” These stories are relatable and warm but not treacly, and chapters on the two years preceding the championship provide necessary background and context. After the "bitter and very crushing" end to the 2003 season, when their hated rivals, the New York Yankees, beat Boston to advance to the World Series, 31-year-old General Manager Theo Epstein created the new-era Red Sox, who were about "teamwork, respect for the game, and a burning desire to win.” He boldly shook up the roster by placing brilliant but maddening outfielder Manny Ramirez on waivers and trading the immensely popular shortstop Nomar Garciaparra in midseason."Change didn't happen overnight,” writes Wisnia, “but when it came it came quick."The author goes on to raise some tantalizing what-if questions: Would the Sox have won the championship—or perhaps,how manywould they have won?—if the proposed Manny-Ramirez–for–Alex-Rodriguez trade had gone through?And what if Nomar "Mr. Boston" Garciaparra had remained in Boston?A winning story of how the right owners, players and die-hard fans can create a championship team.
From the Publisher

“A fresh take….fascinating stuff.” —The Boston Globe

“After reading this book, fans (even many Sox fans) will know a great deal more about that team and its storybook season....Sox fans will vastly enjoy reliving the season, but it will be heartbreaking reading for Yankee fans (who have plenty of their own books).” —Booklist

“An entertaining book about the power and promise of sports, passionately and intimately told.” —Publishers Weekly

“A winning story of how the right owners, players and die-hard fans can create a championship team.” —Kirkus Reviews

“Boston Red Sox fans can never hear enough or read enough about their 2004 World Championship team. Veteran baseball author Saul Wisnia does a wonderful job of meeting that need with his new book.” —Boston Baseball History

Product Details

St. Martin's Press
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6.10(w) x 9.30(h) x 1.30(d)

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Read an Excerpt


The first thing he thought about was Maury Wills.

In this, the biggest moment of his baseball life, Dave Roberts was trying to focus on the topic at hand. It was the ninth inning of Game 4 of the American League Championship Series, the Red Sox trailed, 4–3, and Roberts stood on first base representing the tying run. If the Sox lost, their season was over; the Yankees led the best-of-seven series three games to none, and were set to celebrate on the Fenway Park grass after just three more outs. They had the right man on the mound to get those outs in Mariano Rivera, the greatest closer of his or any generation.

The home fans were abuzz, urging on a Boston rally, but Roberts could not hear them. Inserted into the game moments earlier as a pinch runner for Kevin Millar, whose leadoff walk against Rivera had raised the masses to their feet, Roberts knew it was his feet that everybody in the ballpark and millions of TV viewers were now watching. He was a reserve outfielder who had not played in a week, and he had been put in here for one reason: to steal second base and give the Red Sox a chance to tie the game on a single. The crowd knew it, the TV and radio analysts were pontificating on it, and the cameras were bracing for it—zoomed in and ready to capture the moment.

Roberts could feel the sense of urgency, could anticipate the eyes upon him. Still, poised on the grandest of stages, he had the clarity to think back 10 months to moments in a near-empty ballpark 3,000 miles away. Moments spent with Maury Wills.

Wills was a baserunning instructor for the Los Angeles Dodgers, for whom he had once set the major league record with 104 stolen bases in a single season.1 Now in his 70s, slower afoot but richer in experience, he had worked with Roberts at Dodger Stadium over the previous winter on the art of the perfect steal.

There will come a time, Wills had imparted, when you will be called upon to swipe a bag without the art of surprise in your arsenal. A quartet of defenders will be poised to stop you. The pitcher, sure you’ll be running, will be keeping you close. The catcher will be ready to take the pitch and whip it to second. The shortstop will be moving to second with the pitch, ready to receive the throw from the catcher and apply the tag. And the first baseman will be tight on the bag, in case you stray too far and there is a chance for the pitcher to gun the ball over and pick you off.

In such a situation, Wills told his protégé, you’ll need to first get a big lead, and then rely on everything you’ve learned about the pitcher’s tendencies: his windup, his release point, and any moves he might make to warn you he’s ready to spin and make a pickoff throw. Roberts followed the advice. He watched video of all the Yankee pitchers, studied many of them live, and in the case of Rivera and New York catcher Jorge Posada already had some firsthand success to build on. A few weeks before, in the waning days of the regular season, Roberts had stolen second against this All-Star battery and scored the tying run in an eventual Red Sox win.

The big difference, of course, was that this was the playoffs, and an elimination game at that. If Posada gunned Roberts down here, or, worse yet, if Roberts guessed wrong on his initial jump toward second and was picked off, it could mean Boston’s season. Roberts felt his anxiety level rising, but then he remembered something else Wills had told him: You can’t be afraid to steal that base.

I might not be afraid, Roberts remembers thinking to himself, but I am most definitely nervous.

“The game felt like it was going very fast; my mind was racing,” Roberts recalls nearly a decade later. “I’ve got a big lead, but to just go out there and steal, it’s pretty tough. I know what Mariano is going to do; I’ve got the information. I’m getting as loose as I possibly can, but this is October, and it’s cold.”

The next batter, Bill Mueller, stepped into the box. Rivera set, and then, just before starting his windup, quickly spun and threw over to first baseman Tony Clark in a pickoff attempt. Roberts dove back to the bag just before Clark slapped him with his glove. In that moment, and those that quickly followed it, the base runner felt a change come over him.

“I think you can actually see it in the footage,” says Roberts. “He throws over one time, and my nerves start to calm. The game starts to slow down. Then he throws over a second time, and he almost gets me, which is great because for me it slows the game down even more. My focus started to get even better—at that point it felt like I was a part of the game.”

Roberts thought of something else as he dusted himself off a second time: maybe the pitcher was as nervous as him. Rivera possessed outstanding control; he almost never walked anyone, let alone the leadoff man in an inning. His ability to calmly put games to bed for the Yankees had earned him the nickname “Sandman” around the league, and while Rivera’s cool exterior did not hint at it, Roberts hoped that Millar’s base on balls might have rattled the unflappable pitcher just a bit.

There was also recent history to consider. In addition to the September victory in which Roberts had a key steal, the Red Sox had beaten Rivera in July as well on a walkoff home run at Fenway by the same man now at the plate—Bill Mueller. Roberts hoped all these things were on Rivera’s mind; if they were, it might give him a bit more of an edge were he to try for second.

The only thing Roberts knew for sure was this: eventually Rivera was going to have to deliver a pitch to Mueller. The question was when. Throughout Fenway Park, and beyond, fans watching the game on NBC or listening to the play-by-play of Red Sox broadcasters Joe Castiglione and Jerry Trupiano wondered as well. Joe Morgan, the former Red Sox manager who had lived and died with the team for his entire 74 years, leaned forward in his basement sofa and stared at the TV—trying like Roberts to read Rivera’s mind. So did Fenway vendor Rob Barry, a former Northeastern University pitcher who had achieved his own bit of glory as the ballpark’s premier peanut-bag tosser. From his current spot in the box seats just behind Boston’s dugout, Barry had a perfect view of both Roberts in profile and the broad back of the right-handed Rivera—with its familiar black 42 first made famous by fellow legend Jackie Robinson.

A moment later, the number blurred as Rivera spun once more and threw to first. Again Roberts lunged back, and as he got to his feet a third time he felt confidence surging through him.

“Now it felt like I had played all nine innings,” Roberts remembers with a smile. “My legs felt like they were ready to go, and I could fire to get a great jump. If he wanted to go to the plate, I had him. I knew I had him. If he had just thrown to the plate without throwing over, I don’t know if I could have felt [capable of getting] a great jump. But then, just from all the diving back, I felt like, ‘I’ve got you now.’”

Just wait him out, Roberts said to himself. A moment later, as Rivera finally began his full windup—indicating he was going to throw home to Mueller—Roberts took off, head down and arms pumping, for second base.

The pitch was a fastball away, considered ideal for a catcher in terms of nabbing would-be base stealers. Mueller didn’t swing, and as the ball slammed into Posada’s glove he was already leaping up to unleash his throw toward second. It was near-perfect, and a slightly crouching Derek Jeter grabbed it just to the left of the bag and then in a fluid motion swept down his left arm into Roberts’s left shoulder as he dove in headfirst.

It was so close a play that for an instant nobody could tell whether Roberts had made it. Posada ripped off his mask and stared out at second base umpire Joe West, and Jeter and Roberts lifted their heads to do the same. Rob Barry, Joe Morgan, and everybody else watching live, in bars, or at home held their collective breaths—knowing that if Roberts was called out, the Red Sox would be all but out as well.

Then West spread his hands in the familiar motion known by every Little Leaguer.


Copyright © 2014 by Saul Wisnia

Foreword copyright © 2014 by Dave Roberts

Meet the Author

SAUL WISNIA is a former sports and news correspondent for The Washington Post and feature writer for The Boston Herald. He has authored, co-authored or contributed to numerous books on Boston baseball history, including Fenway Park: The Centennial and For the Love of the Boston Red Sox. His essays and articles have appeared in Sports Illustrated, Red Sox Magazine, and The Boston Globe. Wisnia lives 6.78 miles from MLB's oldest ballpark in his native Newton, MA.

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