The 2021 Red Sox begin the next step in their playoff run Friday night, playing in the ALCS for the first time since that blessed 2018 season, and facing a rematch with the villainous Astros, no less. So what better time to get myself liquored up and reminisce about my experiences with the Red Sox in the ALCS.
1986 ALCS vs. California Angels: My indoctrination into the Secret Club of Red Sox Heartache came as a young’un during the 1986 World Series. When Game Seven ended in New York, and the likes of Ron Darling, Gary Carter and Mookie Wilson engaged in a massive love pile-up on the field with a million boozed-up parolees, I remember quietly collapsing to the floor and remaining there a good thirty minutes before anyone thought to check if I was still breathing. It was the sort of pain I wouldn’t feel again until the 2003 ALCS.
But ’86 wasn’t all gloom and trash. Before the Sox elevated coming back from the dead to an art form, they stunned us all by overcoming a 3-1 deficit to the California Angels in the 1986 ALCS, after being literally one strike away from elimination. While the image of Dave Henderson’s now-immortal home run has been hard-wired into most of our brains, here’s a clip of Sox pitcher Calvin Schiraldi shutting the door on the Angels to secure the AL pennant, and the ensuing mayhem as Oil Can Boyd, Bob Stanley, Dwight Evans, Joe Sambito, Spike Owen and a few security-ducking fans kick it old school.
The one thing that got me back then was how the announcers — one of whom I believe was Al Michaels — seemed decidedly pro-California. Check how even as the Sox get ready to complete an inexplicable comeback, we’re told that we “have to feel for” Angel’s manager Gene Mauch. Why? Because he’s 107 years old? Because he spent the better part of his career as Gene Autry’s personal kick-bag? Screw that noise.
Back then, seeing the Red Sox in the ALCS — or even making a trip to the postseason — was a rare occurrence, and I still remember my first taste of it. The Red Sox shirt vendors on seemingly every corner. “The Possible Dream” signs in shop windows. Mayor Ray Flynn getting a Spike Owen tattoo on his ass during a live taping of “Chronicle.” Roger Clemens and Al Nipper earning Presidential kudos for disarming a Russian sub that they spotted in the waters off Revere Beach during a late night stop at Kelly’s Roast Beef. It was the kind of thing I thought could happen every year. Ah, the innocence of youth.
1988 & 1990 ALCS vs. Oakland A’s: I sometimes forget that the Red Sox played in these series because they were gone in the blink of an eye. The Sox were swept easily in both as the A’s juggernaut, led by pitcher Dave Stewart, always seemed to get the better of the Sox and Roger Clemens. The 1990 edition is famous for Clemens’ epic meltdown after arguing balls and strikes with umpire Terry Cooney. Cooney ejected the Rocket, the Rocket responded by losing his shit and threatening Cooney with a hearty “I know where you live.” Actually, now I know why these games are best left forgotten.
1999 ALCS vs. New York Yankees: The 1999 ALCS was a rather lopsided and maddeningly forgettable affair. Except for game three, when the prodigal son Roger Clemens returned to Fenway, squaring off against Pedro Martinez. In the first inning, when the Rocket took the hill, the crowd was out for blood, launching the now-infamous “Ro-ger” chant (which would become “Where is Roger/In the shower” a few innings later). And very quickly, Clemens found himself on the business end of a 2 run deficit, thanks to an Offerman triple and an over-the-Monster blast from Johnny V himself, as the crowd worked itself into a frenzy not unlike the the scene where Snake Plissken fights Ox Baker in Escape from New York.
2003 ALCS vs. New York Yankees: I think the best thing I can say about the 2003 ALCS is that it kicked my ass so badly, I needed to create this website to completely and effectively channel my rage. There are some people who say that it wouldn’t have mattered to them if the Sox lost the 2003 World Series to the Marlins, just as long as they beat the Yankees for the AL Championship. While I’m hesitant to say a Series victory isn’t the ultimate goal, beating the Yankees would have been a tremendous event, lifting generations of monkeys off our backs and smashing all this Curse nonsense to tiny pieces. It would have been a majestic good time, giving Red Sox fans everywhere the chance to know what it feels like to watch our heroes douse each other with champagne while George Steinbrenner looks on in amazement and disgust. It would have felt so friggin’ nice. But it was not to be. You can ask Grady Little about that.
2004 ALCS vs. New York Yankees: Yeah, this ALCS was alright.
2007 ALCS vs. Cleveland Indians: Believe it or not, there was a time when loving Josh Beckett was an okay thing. This was true in 2003 when he led the Marlins over the Yankees in the World Series, and in 2007 when we had the Red Sox in the ALCS again and he helped us step over the Indians en route to another championship season. The Indians were so frightened of Josh, in fact, they invited one of his ex-girlfriends to sing the National Anthem before game five in Cleveland. As attempts to get in a guy’s head, rolling out the ex is a pretty shrewd move. But it back-fired big-time. In fact, the extra shot of testosterone was just what Commander Kick Ass needed to finish off the Indians. Because, as everyone knows, Josh Beckett is fueled by testosterone, Coors Light and the blood of his victims. Anyway, it’s easy to forget that the Sox were down 1-3 in this series before taking the last three and getting all of Cleveland wondering what the hell they had to do to win a World Series.
2008 ALCS vs. Tampa Bay Rays: Among the great Red Sox Victories In Playoff Series We Eventually Lost, game six of the 1975 World Series stands tallest. But right below that–-and certainly before any indignities suffered in 1986 and 2003–-I’d put game five of the 2008 ALCS. In the list of Rays-Sox battles, I’d even put it above Pedro getting attacked by Gerald Williams then almost no-hitting Tampa Bay.
Again, it’s tough to cast a positive eye on it, knowing how the series ended. Especially since, at the time, the Rays had pretty much supplanted the Yankees as our most hated rivals. I was watching it at The Fours on Causeway, packed in with all the other drunks and diehards who knew that, in the wake of the 2004 ALCS, nothing was impossible. But in the seventh inning, we were down 7-0 and facing elimination, so the beers were draining faster and with extreme prejudice.
Then Pedroia knocked in a run. Then Papi cracked a three-run bomb. And we headed to the eighth down by 3. And one inning later, we had those runs too, courtesy of a JD Drew two-runner and a Coco RBI. By now, the crowd was frenzied. And I’ll be damned if I didn’t try to get a spirited call of “WHEN I SAY KOTSAY, YOU SAY FUCK YEAH” going.
By the time Drew pulled another rabbit out of his hat, knocking in the winning run with a walk-off double, the full grip of 2004 Mania was upon us. While we can never take away the magnitude of what the original band of “Idiots” achieved that magic post-season, that game five comeback in the 2008 ALCS was the second-biggest in playoffs history. And the possibility of going to the World Series in consecutive years, and the accompanying thought that we may be witnessing a dynasty in the making, was almost too much for my beer-soaked brain to process.
Let’s just say I spent the rest of the night roaming the streets of Boston literally unable to sleep, unable to contain my feelings, unable to wait for the first pitch of game six. Of course, the Sox won that game too, but they couldn’t crawl all the way back, eventually losing game 7. It ended in tears, and took another 5 years to see the Red Sox in the ALCS again, but man was game 5 a fucking magic show.
2013 ALCS vs. Detroit Tigers: The indelible memory from this ALCS is Torii Hunter going ass-over-elbows into the bullpen trying to track down David Ortiz’s insanely timely game two grand slam. And it’s true that this home run, one of the most memorable in Red Sox history, changed the course of the series after the Sox dropped game one. Look a little closer, though, and you’ll realize that the real turning point came in game three, when John Lackey outdueled Justin Verlander for a nail-biter of a 1-0 win. The difference maker was a towering home run by Mike Napoli, who earned every block of his shirtless run down Boylston with this hit:
2018 ALCS vs. Houston Astros: I’ll come right out and say it: I don’t care for the Astros. So I was pretty jazzed when we trounced them 4-1 in the 2018 ALCS. Interestingly, my lasting memory from this series is that I was in Seattle on business throughout it, and the time zone change — not to mention my job duties — severely hindered my ability to fully enjoy the games. The best example of this was when I was overseeing a client event at the Space Needle during game five and had to keep running to the men’s room to check the scores. By the end of the night the entire group figured I had a spastic colon, but it was worth it to get to see the Sox eliminate Altuve and crew.
Overall, it’s been kind of an embarrassment of riches, especially since our ALCS record since 2004 stands at a pretty solid 4-1. In each of the four years we won the ALCS — 2004, 2007, 2013, and 2018 — we went on the win the World Series. I’m not saying that’s gonna happen again, but I’m also not saying it won’t. Just make sure you have enough booze on hand to get you through the next several days. Starting tomorrow, we’ve got the Red Sox in the ALCS again, and it’s time to lock and load.