2004 MLB playoffs

14 12 2015

Division Series:

Half of the 8 teams turned over from the 2003 playoffs to 2004.  The Braves, Yankees and Twins took their divisions again, and the Red Sox repeated as Wild Card winners.

Astros at Braves

The Braves had an incredible 2nd half to secure their 13th straight division title.  Spurred by a July trade for Carlos Beltran, the Astros beat out the Giants and Cubs for the Wild Card.  Atlanta earned 2 seed, but seeding rules meant the Astros couldn’t face off against the 1-seed Cardinals.

This wasn’t your older brother’s Braves.  While Atlanta still had a strong starting staff, Houston had the more notable duo at the top of their rotation.  Roger Clemens was about to win his 7th Cy Young, and he won game 1 over Jaret Wright, 9-3.  It looked like Atlanta might lose their 2 home games in Turner Field when Mike Hampton gave up 2 early solo homers.  Roy Oswalt was pitching a shutout, but he gave up a run in the 7th and the Houston bullpen blew the lead the next inning.  Rafael Furcal evened the series with a walk-off, 2-run homer in the bottom of the 11th.

2004 NLDS Furcal Walk Off

Led by a Beltran home run, the Astros went up big in game 3, and held on, 8-5, to take the series lead.  Clemens came back on short rest in game 4, and a 3-run homer by Craig Biggio put Houston up 5-2 early in the game.  Clemens was relieved in the 6th, and a 3-run homer by Adam LaRoche got the Braves back in the game.  A J.D. Drew single gave the Braves the lead in the top of the 9th, and John Smoltz worked through a shaky 9th to send the series back to Atlanta.

But the white-hot Beltran was too much for the Braves, even back in Atlanta.  He hit 2 homers and Oswalt pitched effectively in a 12-3 victory that gave the Astros their first playoff series victory.

Dodgers at Cardinals

The Cardinals won an incredible 105 games – the best in baseball.  They led the National League in runs scored and allowed the fewest runs.  They were heavy favorites facing off against the Dodgers, who won 93 games to take the NL West.  A first-inning homer by Albert Pujols set the tone for the series, and the Cardinals led off the series with consecutive 8-3 victories.

2004 NLDS Jose LimaJose Lima temporarily stopped the bleeding for the Dodgers.  In what was pretty much the last hurrah for Lima-time, he threw a 5-hit shutout.

But the Dodgers would not be stopping the Cardinals.  Pujols started the series off in game 1, and hit a 3-run go-ahead homer to put away game 4 and send the Cardinals to the NLCS.

Twins at Yankees

This was a rematch of the first round from 2003.  Unfortunately for the Twins, it went exactly the same way as the Twins won game 1 and then saw the Yankees roll off 3 straight.  The Twins had 2004’s best pitcher in Cy Young winner Johan Santana, and he was able to anchor a 2-0 victory to open the series.

Game 2 was the turning point, as the Twins scored 2 runs in the 8th to send the game to extra innings.  They scored a run in the top of the 12th, but closer Joe Nathan was out of gas in his 3rd inning of work.  Alex Rodriguez doubled home Miguel Cairo and then Hideki Matsui won the game on a sacrifice fly.  The Yankees cruised behind Kevin Brown in game 3.  Another extra-inning double by A-Rod ended the series in game 4; this time he did all the work himself, stealing 3rd and coming home on a wild pitch.

Red Sox at Angels

The Red Sox were again the Wild Card, but they had the best run differential in all of baseball.  The Angels were back after missing the playoffs in their title defense in 2003.  They had the AL MVP in Vlad Guerrero.

It would be a quick series.  A 7-run 4th inning allowed Curt Schilling to cruise as the Sox took game 1, 9-3.  Former Cy Young winners Pedro Martinez and Bartolo Colon faced off in game 2.  The Angels took a 3-1 lead in the 5th, but Jason Varitek responded immediately with a 2-run homer to tie the game.  A sacrifice fly by Manny Ramirez gave the Sox all the runs they’d need.

Two days later, they closed out the series.  The Angels did fight back from a 6-1 deficit, but David Ortiz ended the Halos hopes.  Big Papi hit a walk-off 2-run homer in the bottom of the 10th to send the Angels packing.

Championship Series:

Both Wild Cards had advanced for the 3rd straight year, and both of these series were against division mates.

Astros at Cardinals

The Cardinals had a game 1 advantage; since they had won their division series in 4 games, they started ace Woody Williams.  The Astros, on the other hand, had to pitch Clemens and Oswalt pitched games 4 and 5 to get through the NLDS.  They started Brandon Backe, who had pitched half the season in the minors and was a reliever for most of his 2004 time in the big leagues.   It didn’t seem to matter either way, as game 1 was a slugfest.  Beltran and Pujols traded 2-run homers in the first inning, but a 3-run double by Jim Edmonds highlighted a 6-run 6th inning, and the Cardinals won, 10-7.

In game 2, it was the 5th and 8th innings that doomed the Astros.  Another Beltran homer helped Houston to a 3-0 lead, but 2-run homers in the 5th by Larry Walker and Scott Rolen that into a 4-3 Cardinals’ lead.  Homers in the 8th by Pujols (for the 3rd straight game) and Rolen (his 2nd of the game) broke a 4-4 tie.  Houston headed home ailing, down 2 games.

2004 NLCS Beltran 5th homer Berkman

The 7-time Cy Young winner was the cure.  Clemens gave up early solo homers to Walker and Edmonds, but that was all he allowed in 7 innings.  Beltran, Jeff Kent, Lance Berkman all homered to lead Houston to a 5-2 victory.  Beltran homered the next game, which gave him a record (recently broken by Daniel Murphy) of 5 straight games in the postseason.  His shot was the winning run in a 6-5 game that evened the series.

Williams and Backe were matched up again in game 5, with markedly different results from game 1.  Williams went 7 innings without giving up a run, while Backe went 8 innings without allowing a score.  Jason Isringhausen came in for Williams in the 8th, but couldn’t close the game out.  Kent hit a 3-run homer with 1 out in the 9th to put the Astros on the brink of the World Series.

They almost made their first World Series in game 6.  The Cardinals had a 4-3 lead in the 9th, but Jeff Bagwell singled home Morgan Ensberg to send the game into extra innings.  It took 3 more innings, but St. Louis stayed alive when Edmonds hit a walk-off 2-run shot.

Clemens was back on the hill in game 7, but he ran out of steam in the 7th inning.  Pujols hit a double to tie the game at 2, and Scott Rolen hit a 2-run homer for what would be the series clinching runs.  Pujols was the MVP, going 14-28 with 4 homers, 2 doubles and 9 RBI. But it was Edmonds homer in game 6 that proved to be the play of the series.  Unfortunately, it’s a series that has been somewhat forgotten over time.

Red Sox at Yankees

The reason the 2004 NLCS was forgotten was the historic nature of the 2004 American League counterpart.  The AL East champion Yankees were again facing off against the Wild Card Red Sox.  They were fresh off the infamous game 7 from 2003, when Grady Little had left Pedro Martinez in too long and Aaron Boone had homered to send the Sox into an offseason of question marks.  They fired Little, hired Terry Francona, traded for Curt Schilling, and then agreed to a trade for A-Rod only to see him land with the Yankees after their trade was blocked by the MLBPA.  The Yankees started the season on fire, and in midseason Theo Epstein made a number of defensive-minded trades.

2004 Topps Kings of NY

It seemed like that would all be for nothing.  Schilling was shelled for 6 runs in 3 innings of game 1.  Pedro was good but made a 6th inning mistake to John Olerud that was all the Yankees in game 2.  Back at Fenway Park, the Yankees exploded for 19 runs in game 3, and the series appeared to be over.  No team in baseball had ever come back from a 3-game deficit.  It had been 86 years since Boston had celebrated a World Series win, and at that point it looked like it would be at least 87.

But the Red Sox were self-proclaimed idiots and didn’t focus on that part of history.  Kevin Millar was recorded on camera before game 4 saying “don’t let us win today”.  Indeed, the Yankees actually had a good matchup in game 4, with Orlando Hernandez going against Derek Lowe, who hadn’t had a good 2004 season.  But Pedro and Schilling loomed on the horizon.  The Yankees jumped out in front behind an A-Rod homer with Jeter on base.  El Duque got into a little trouble in the 5th, and a 2-run single by Ortiz gave Boston a lead.  Hideki Matsui tripled in the 6th, and 3 infield singles later the Yankees had a 4-3 lead.  They held onto that into the 8th, bringing Mariano Rivera in to send the Yankees to another World Series.

2004 ALCS Roberts SB

Mo allowed just a single in the 8th, but walked Millar to lead off the 9th.  Dave Roberts, one of those midseason acquisitions, pinch ran and stole second base on Rivera’s first pitch.  Bill Mueller singled to bring Roberts around, and the Red Sox had gotten past New York’s formidable closer.  Despite some opportunities, the game remained tied until the bottom of the 12th.  After Ramirez singled, Ortiz hit a walk-off homer, his 2nd of the postseason, to win the game and keep the Sox alive.

2004 ALCS Ortiz game 4 walk off HR

Ortiz would find similar magic in game 5.  Pedro pitched well until the 6th, when he gave up a 3-run, base-clearing double to Jeter.  The Yankees led 4-2, but in the 8th Ortiz homered and a Millar walk / Roberts pinch-run again led to Boston tying the game.  The bullpens did their job for the next 5+ innings, until the bottom of the 14th.  Ramirez and Johnny Damon walked, and Ortiz singled to send Fenway celebrating after a record 5 hour 49 minute game.

2004 ALCS bloody sockBack in the Bronx, Schilling was scheduled to start game 6.  But even he was unsure if he could pitch.  He had a torn tendon in his ankle, which was held together by an unprecedented procedure allowing him to push-off in his pitching motion.  A controversial Mark Bellhorn homer gave him an early 4-run lead, and Bronson Arroyo and Keith Foulke came in for some shaky relief that included an interference call on A-Rod when he intentionally knocked a ball out of Arroyo’s glove in the 8th.  While the Roberts steal came to symbolize the Red Sox comeback, that play showed the desperation of the Yankee players.  This game belonged to Schilling, however.  He pitched 7 strong innings, allowing just 1 run in what would be known as the bloody sock game.

The Yankees didn’t really have a chance once it got to game 7.  An ineffective Kevin Brown started for the Yankees, giving up 2 quick runs to another Ortiz homer.  In the 2nd inning, Johnny Damon hit a grand slam, and the route was on.  The Red Sox ended up winning the game, 10-3, completing the greatest comeback in American sports history.

They were still four wins away from ending the curse of the Bambino, however.



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