There were two outs in the third inning during the grey, muddy scrum between the Yankees and the Red Sox on July 24, 2004. Bronson Arroyo, a journeyman curveballer, had had a disastrous time of it, giving up a single to Bernie Williams, a single to Derek Jeter, and another run as Gary Sheffield grounded into a double play that still scored Williams, bringing the score to 3-0, New York.
Bronson Arroyo, who had, at one time or another during the season, led the American League--indeed, at times, both leagues--in hit batsmen while his sharp curve to right-handers remained an unruly beast, is a skinny little pup with a button nose and goofy ears made goofier, later in the season, by some truly atrocious corn-row braids in his dirty-blonde hair. And while it's difficult to imagine in the scarecrow-like Arroyo the same snarling agression that inhabits, say, a Roger Clemens, it's difficult to ignore that he is the smirky type.
I don't think he can help it--it's just the way his face falls, especially when he's squinting in at the catcher for the sign. His lips tilt upward. His nose tilts downward. He has an impish aspect. He is the smirky sort.
Alex Rodriguez stepped to the plate after Sheffield there in the third inning. Was it the smirk that would set him off?
Or was it the fact that Rodriguez, a newcomer to the rivalry, may have been desperate to align himself with his new teammates?
Whatever it was, the normally decorous A-Rod began taking a distinctly slanted path toward first base, stripping off his armor and spitting curses toward the mound as he did so. Arroyo, palms up, continued his smirking, but attempted to affect surprise. It's hard to know what was going through his head, either.
Who knows what scent, what sudden change in the wind, sent Jason Varitek after A-Rod, prompted the Red Sox catcher to put his big body between Rodriguez and Arroyo, his brown mask with "Tek" inscribed in the leather padding bobbing over his face as he drew A-Rod's attention like someone diverting an angry dog, and A-Rod took the bait.
It's clear, however, from video footage what led to the bench-clearing brawl that unfolded next; as the two circled each other, A-Rod towering over Tek, Tek with chords and sinews standing out on his strapping neck, as much a primal, elemental brawl between alpha males as any that has taken place in any species, A-Rod whispered, "Come on."
It's hard to say why, really, what Varitek's glove in A-Rod's face had to do with Bill Mueller's gorgeous shot into the bullpen (where it was gloved by an ecstatic Doug Mirabelli) to take the game from Mariano Rivera six innings later, or what it had to do with the Red Sox' historic comeback for the pennant, and the brawl game even took place before the great Nomar Trade...It's completely unscientific, what can I say? But it's real, and it was there, and fitting, of course, that the Red Sox miraculous win would be crafted from much the same elements as any of their devastating, what-are-the-odds losses: a generous helping of the supernatural, mixed with more than a little bit of the uncanny.
Whatever you credit with the turnaround, it was not even a week after the Brawl Game that Nomar was given his one-way ticket, and something incredible began happening to the Red Sox--their amazing August-September win streak was about to begin.
(Excerpts from my "Pretty Good Year" Essay)
Remember Dale Sveum, leaping in furious joy by third base when that ball went out? Remember Doug Mirabelli catching the homer and then Mike Timlin catching him in his arms? Remember the "Keep the Faith" commercial that featured Billy's last steps toward the plate in sepia-toned slow motion?
That game has become a symbol. A talisman. I get goose bumps every time I remember that ending. (First anniversary post, from last year)
I will always commemorate this game. Every year, that's what the date "July 24" means to me. I still call it "the July 24 game" though there have been hundreds of Red Sox games on July 24. This is THE July 24 game and always will be.
And I will always commemorate this game with the transcript of the call by Joe Castiglione:
3 and 1 to Mueller. One out, ninth inning. 10-9 Yankees. Runner at first. Here's the pitch. Swing and a high fly ball deep to right! Back goes Sheffield near the warning track near the bullpennnnn--and it is GOOOONNNNE! And the Red Sox have won it! On a walk-off two-run homer! By Bill Mueller! Off Mariano Rivera, can you believe it. The Red Sox win it 11 to 10, they're mobbing Mueller at home plate.
You can still go here and scroll down a bit to find video of the Mueller home run, although it's got FOX audio on it, and therefore Joe Buck's call.