Reliving the Greatest Comeback in MLB History: Red Sox over the Yankees in 2004 ALCS

This week, the biggest rivalry in all of Major League Baseball clashes again in Fenway Park. Get ready for the Yankees vs. Red Sox series. The Pinstripes and the Sox face off Thursday at 7:10 p.m. ET in the first game of a four-game series.

Their historic rivalry shows up in the AL East standings, with Boston in second place behind New York. 

But for any true Red Sox fan, the matchup is a reminder of the most memorable series in recent Red Sox history — the 2004 American League Championship Series against the Yankees. 

Never before or since has an MLB team rallied from a 3-0 deficit to win a playoff series. Cue the Red Sox motto: “Why not us?” The Red Sox also won the World Series that year and broke a nearly century-old curse.

Here’s how it all went down.

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The 2004 Boston Red Sox Regular Season

The 2004 Red Sox team is the stuff of legend. The team’s major players are now household names — left fielder Manny Ramirez, designated hitter David Ortiz, catcher Jason Varitek, and manager Terry Francona. 

But before the 2004 postseason, they were looking at an uphill battle to make the playoffs. Injuries and inconsistency in the middle of the season threatened their chances. 

The team rallied after a five-run comeback against the Yankees on July 24 and finished the season strong with a 98-64 record. The Red Sox trailed three games behind the Yankees in the AL East and qualified for the playoffs as the AL wild card. 

The Red Sox came into the playoffs swinging — hard. 

Their first challenge? Defeat the Anaheim Angels in the AL Division Series. The Angels were the AL West champions and had a regular-season record of 92-70. The Sox swept the Angels, defeating them 9-3, 8-3, and 8-6. 

The series sweep cleared the way for the Red Sox to take on the Yankees for a shot at the AL Championship and then the World Series.

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The 2004 ALCS: Red Sox vs. Yankees

Any series between the Red Sox and the Yankees plays out a high-stakes rivalry, but the 2004 ALCS was a particular revenge match. 

The year before, Boston fell to New York in the AL Championship Series in a heartbreaking 6-5 Game 7 loss. The rematch in 2004 was a chance for redemption, but it didn’t start well for Boston.

Games 1-3: Boston’s Hopes Seem Lost

Starting pitcher Curt Schilling favored a torn tendon sheath in his right ankle and allowed six runs in three innings. To add insult to injury, the Yankees’ starting pitcher, Mike Mussina, pitched six perfect innings, setting the score at an 8-0 lead for New York. The Sox miraculously scored seven runs late in the game but still lost 10-7. 

The Sox lost the second game 3-1 and then got demolished in Game 3 at Fenway Park, going down 19-8. 

Sports writer Rob Ryan wrote in The Boston Globe: “[The Red Sox] are down, 3-0, after last night’s 19-8 rout, and, in this sport, that is an official death sentence. Soon it will be over, and we will spend another dreary winter lamenting this and lamenting that.”

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Games 4-7: History in the Making

Nobody thought Boston could do it. 

Facing elimination in Game 4, the Red Sox were trailing 4-3 in the ninth inning with Mariano Rivera, the formidable Yankees’ closer, on the mound. The turning point in the series came when Dave Roberts stole second base and then scored on an RBI single by Bill Mueller. A home run by David Ortiz in the 12th inning clinched the win.

Game 5, still at Fenway Park, saw the Red Sox come back from another deficit in 14 innings. Again, it was Ortiz who clinched the win with an RBI single, putting the final score at 5-4. The game set a record for the longest postseason game at five hours, 59 minutes. 

The series traveled back to the Bronx, and most viewers thought the Yankees would end the Sox’s run back on their home turf. Schilling pitched with a “red sock” — red from a blood stain from the three sutures in his injured ankle. He only allowed one run in seven innings, and the Red Sox won 4-2.

The team famously watched Miracle before the final game — a 2004 film about the U.S. hockey team’s miraculous comeback win against Russia in the 1980 Olympics. 

Game 7 was a Red Sox rout.

They beat the Yankees 10-3 in an epic game, including a grand slam in the second inning. The series was the Yankees’ first ALCS loss in eight appearances — courtesy of their top rival.

They had done the seemingly impossible — come back to win after going down three games in a playoff series. No team had done it before, and none has since.

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The 2004 World Series: Breaking the Curse of the Bambino

The Red Sox swept the St. Louis Cardinals and won their first World Series since 1918, breaking “the curse of the Bambino.” 

In 1920, Red Sox owner Harry Frazee sold Babe Ruth to the Yankees, and Boston hadn’t won a World Series since. Before their 1918 win, they’d been MLB victors five times since their founding in 1901. 

Since breaking the curse in 2004, the Red Sox have won the World Series three more times — in 2007, 2013, and 2018.

AP Photo/Charles Krupa

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