Gary Sheffield belongs in the Hall of Fame.

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What if the 2004 Red Sox hadn't rallied against the Yankees in the ALCS?

October 12, 2018 - 12:15 pm

By Evan Marinofsky

Since the Red Sox just disposed of the Yankees in four games, I figured it's a great opportunity to start this weekly "what if" column where I explore alternative realities in Boston sports.

What better excuse to go back to October 2004?

Most Red Sox fans don't ever consider what could have happened after the 19-8 thumping the Sox took in Game 3. The local nine could've easily rolled over and dropped Game 4, ensuring a devastating sweep at the hands of the evil empire. They could've still won Game 4 in the same way and then not been blessed with another David Ortiz walk-off in Game 5.

Let's even say the Red Sox win Games 4 and 5. Imagine this: Curt Schilling's ankle doesn't hold up in Game 6 and the Sox lose the series 4-2.

Does the bloody sock become its own curse?

Hell, imagine if the Sox won three straight to eventually lose the seventh game and come oh so close to completing the greatest comeback in sports history just to have the curse strike at the worst time.

It's an uncomfortable consideration for Sox fans. But at the time, all of those scenarios were still more likely to happen than what actually took place.

If the Red Sox were to fall to the Yankees in the 2004 ALCS, it would've been crushing for Sox fans no matter the way they lost. Getting swept or forcing a Game 7 just to lose it would've been equally crushing. For the sake of this piece and your time, I'm going to just go with the Red Sox getting swept. 

Had the Sox been swept by the Bronx Bombers, history would be very different.

For one, fans would've begun to give up. If 2003 was a gut punch, 2004 would've been the bullet through the temple. Aaron Boone's walk-off blast in Game 7 was enough to put many fans in a winter depression. But even then, there was a glimmer of hope heading into the 2004 season with the signing of Schilling.

If 2003 didn't break the curse, 2004 surely would.

With 2004's sweep, fans would have a rough time swallowing the reality of just how much better the Yankees were than the Red Sox. Red Sox fans would've looked to the hallowed grounds of Foxboro as an opportunity for more positivity: a young, stud quarterback named Tom Brady and mastermind Bill Belichick gunning for their third title in four years.

That would be a much more attractive safe space for Red Sox fans than the depression of Fenway.

In response to this, the Red Sox would've placed a much greater emphasis on 2005. Pedro Martinez has said in the past that if the Red Sox didn't beat the Yankees in 2004, he'd retire. But if this scenario were to have played out, the Red Sox would've done everything they could to keep Pedro from jumping ship.

Also worth considering is that the moves from the previous offseason would've been examined under a totally different microscope.

The failure of the Alex Rodriguez-to-Boston trade would dominate the minds of fans, columnists and players. During the winter heading into the 2004 season, the Red Sox had a deal in place to send a package of Manny Ramirez and young pitching prospect Jon Lester to the Rangers for A-Rod. To free up shortstop for Rodriguez, the Red Sox also planned on shipping Nomar Garciaparra to the Chicago White Sox for Magglio Ordonez.

None of that ended up happening after the MLBPA shot down the A-Rod trade for contractual reasons. However, Sox fans would point to this as a major reason why their beloved team couldn't finally squeak past the curse. A-Rod would've ended up sweeping them in the ALCS, Nomar went out the door for a lesser player than Ordonez (Orlando Cabrera), and Manny wasn't all that effective in the series.

The hiring of Terry Francona would be heavily questioned as well. Even though Grady Little had his major gaffe leaving Pedro in too long in Game 7, he still managed them within a game of the World Series despite a glued together bullpen.

From losing in seven to being swept in four, fans would've seen the Little fire and the Francona hire as a step back for the franchise.

Lastly, if the Sox were to be swept by the Yankees in 2004, Ortiz's legend wouldn't be nearly what we think of it today. His walk-offs in Games 4 and 5 would never have happened. Yes, Ortiz had a clutch double in Game 4 of the 2003 ALDS, but nothing like what he accomplished against the Yankees in 2004.

At any rate, 2004 stitched together the open wound of the prior 86 years for the Fenway faithful. Just imagine if it had kept on bleeding.