Pedro Martinez came to Boston in 1998 and immediately electrified Red Sox Nation. The franchise made the playoffs that season and again in 1999. Pedro won the Cy Young Award. For the starting pitcher, the arrival of a new millennium was more of the same. But for the rest of the 2000 Boston Red Sox it was a little rougher as they started a three-year stint of missing the postseason.
The pitching staff behind the ace lacked depth. Manager Jimy Williams tried everyone from Pedro’s brother Ramon, to lefty Pete Schourek to Rolando Arrojo to Tomo Ohka to shuttling Jeff Fassero and Tim Wakefield between the rotation and the bullpen. Nothing really clicked—Ohka was the only one with a decent ERA at 3.12 and he only made twelve starts. Rich Garces and Hipolito Pichardo were decent out of the bullpen, but also didn’t log a lot of innings.
It speaks volumes to how good Pedro Martinez was—and how offense-heavy baseball was at this time—that even only making 29 starts, his 1.74 ERA was enough to carry the Boston staff to the top of the American League. He won 18 games and took home another unanimous Cy Young Award. Derek Lowe was handling closer’s duties in 2000 and he had a good year at 2.56.
So even if Red Sox fans had reason to be nervous anytime someone other than Pedro or Lowe were on the mound, it still wasn’t the pitching that caused the modest decline. The blame for that lie with the offense.
Not with Nomar Garciaparra. The shortstop was brilliant. At a time when making his case over Derek Jeter or Alex Rodriguez as the top young shortstop in the game was still a credible argument, Nomar won his second straight batting title with an average of .372. He hit 21 home runs, scored 96 runs and drove in 104 more.
The Red Sox also acquired centerfielder Carl Everett from Houston and Everett had a monster season. His stat line was .373 on-base percentage/.587 slugging percentage. He hit 34 homers and had 108 RBI.
There were some other notable players around Nomar and Everett. Brian Daubach hit 21 home runs at first base. Second baseman Jose Offerman had a .354 OBP. The young rightfielder, Trot Nixon’s stat line was .368/.461. Scott Hatteberg’s OBP was .367. But again, in an era where offense abounded, this only placed the Red Sox 12th in the American League in runs scored.
A six-game road trip to the West Coast gave Red Sox fans a taste of what was in store. Pedro pitched a shutout on Opening Day. The Sox lost the next four. Pedro pitched another gem and won the final game of the trip.
Boston came home and won five of seven to get on track. In May they built some real momentum, winning three straight series, sweeping Baltimore four straight and then winning another series in Toronto. By the time Memorial Day arrived, the Sox were 28-18 and had the best record in the American League.
The downside was that the ever-present New York Yankees, two-time defending World Series champs, had the second-best record in the AL and were only a game back. Boston only had a three-game cushion in the wild-card standings.
And tougher times were ahead as the weather warmed up. The Red Sox didn’t win a single series in the month of June. They split six games with the Yanks, but lost five of six to Toronto, who rose up and moved into a first-place tie with New York by the All-Star break. Boston was 43-41, 2 ½ back in the AL East and four back of what was then just a single wild-card berth.
They were able to get re-established out of the break and won six of nine, including over future playoff teams from the National League in the Atlanta Braves and New York Mets. The Red Sox took a series from the Chicago White Sox, who ended up with the American League’s best regular season record. Boston didn’t bottom out on a road trip west, taking four of seven from the Oakland A’s and Seattle Mariners.
August was a little more touch and go and the Yankees started to catch fire. The Red Sox were six back in the AL East by Labor Day. But the record was up to 70-63, they had nudged a half-game ahead of the Blue Jays and those two teams joined the A’s and Cleveland Indians in a four-team race for the wild-card.
Any lingering hopes of catching New York seemed to be quashed when the Yanks came to Fenway and took three of four. But the Sox were still within 3 ½ of the playoffs when they visited Cleveland for three games.
The Indians had been the Red Sox’ playoff foil the last two years in the Division Series, with Cleveland winning in 1998 and Boston winning in ’99. There wouldn’t be room for both of them in the postseason this time and they were about to play eight games against each other.
Boston came out swinging in Jacobs Field, scoring six runs in the third inning and grabbing the opener 8-6 behind a two-run double from Nomar and a two-run blast by Dante Bichette. They also took the series finale 7-4. Everett was the hero here with four hits, including a home run and three RBI.
Cleveland was making the return visit to Fenway the following week and the Tuesday thru Thursday schedule would be jam-packed—doubleheaders on the final two days. In the meantime, both teams were watching the A’s get hot out west.
Nomar led the way on Tuesday night, with a two-run triple and three walks keying a 7-4 win. But Wednesday’s twinbill would prove to be the team’s undoing. Pedro’s gem in the afternoon was wasted in a 2-1 loss. That evening, the bullpen couldn’t hold a one-run lead in the seventh and lost 5-4.
It looked about to get worse on Thursday afternoon, when the Indians scored seven runs in the first inning. In a stunning turn of events, the Red Sox had an 8-7 lead by the end of three. Troy O’Leary, recapturing the memories of his big playoff grand slam in Cleveland the previous October, hit a three-run jack to key the rally. Boston won 9-8. But Wakefield was hit hard in the nightcap and lost 8-5.
The end result of the eight-game joust was the Red Sox and Indians winning four apiece and effectively knocking each other out. The A’s just kept right on rolling and moved into the playoffs.
But there was still a week to go. And in a completely unexpected plot twist, the Yankees were unraveling. From mid-September to the final weekend of the season, New York lost 11 of 14. Boston bounced back and opened the final week by sweeping a three-game set from the White Sox. It was a longshot, but the Red Sox had hope.
Coming into the finale down in Tampa, the scenario was simple. Boston needed to sweep the Devil Rays (as they were then called). New York needed to get swept in Baltimore. If that happened, the Yankees would have to play a makeup game. If they lost that, there would be a one-game playoff for the AL East title.
Lo and behold, Boston got the help they needed. New York continued spiraling downhill and lost all three at Camden Yards. But…the Red Sox lost their own series opener on Friday night. They took a 4-zip lead behind a couple hits from Nomar, but Arrojo and the bullpen couldn’t hold it and an 8-6 loss officially ended postseason hopes.
Boston ended up 85-77, 2 ½ back of New York. As pre-2004 Red Sox luck would have it, the Yankees immediately reversed course in the playoffs and won a third straight World Series. The Sox continued their downward trajectory through a rough 2001. They improved in 2002, but still missed the playoffs. Not until 2003 did the franchise return to the October stage.