Today I got to cross an item off my bucket list -- I got to shake this man's hand:
And thank him for the World Series he won us.
I am not even remotely kidding or being hyperbolic when I say that. Keith Foulke is the reason we finally won the World Series in 2004, and you're never going to be able to tell me any different.
Let's review, shall we?
In 2004, in addition to anchoring the bullpen for the entire regular season, Foulke appeared in 11 of the Red Sox' 14 postseason games, threw a ridiculous 257 pitches over 14 innings, racking up 19 strikeouts, and gave up exactly one earned run.
I'm as much a fan or more of the Bloody Sock as the next Red Sox aficionado, but as Curt Schilling himself said it, later:
My overriding picture of the postseason was the ninth inning of any game, with Keith Foulke on the mound with the ball. To me there should be another award, he should have been the World Series MVP. Manny had a great World Series, he deserved it. But Folkey was the staple for us.
Every night when we walked off the field as winners it was because he shut the door, and seeing him with the ball in his hand... The guy had about a 12.00 ERA in spring training. I'm watching him in spring training going, 'Oh my gosh, man this guy is struggling.' And then here he is in the biggest games in the history of the franchise, night after night after night shutting people down.
Keith Foulke is also, considering his role in the 2004 Championship, one of the most underappreciated players in Red Sox history, from the fact that he was passed over for the World Series MVP award he so richly deserved to his reception in 2005.
I took up his cause with a vengeance that season. Keith Foulke quickly became more than one of my favorite ballplayers ever--he's my cause, my crusade, my talking point. I am prepared to be unfathomably obnoxious when it comes to Keith Foulke. Even when I've been a Bandwagon of One.
To me, it is a shame, in the truest meaning of the word -- a black mark on us, as Red Sox fans, as a city, that we treated him the way we did in the years he remained here after 2004. I cringe when I think back on the "Johnny from Burger King" debacle, mortified that things even came to that point. I'm still filled with anger at the "fans" I remember taunting him from behind his own home dugout, all because he'd sacrificed his career to put on that collective ass-saving performance just a year (or by the end, two) before, and couldn't pitch anymore on two bum knees.
As a fan base, we're sometimes lauded for our intelligence and savvy, and we appreciate many of the finer points of the game, like The Steal -- so how people keep missing the point about Foulke is beyond me.
Frankly, I'm surprised Foulke came back anywhere near Boston. Of course, he's talked about loving baseball on the first and fifteenth days of the month, and it's not like I think he showed up at LeLacheur Park purely out of the goodness of his heart today.
Still, when I thanked him, his smile seemed genuine, and he said pleasantly in his Texas drawl, "My pleasure. You guys enjoy it."
He has no idea, of course, just how sincerely I meant that thank you. And it doesn't make up for how so many other people have acted. But it was its own little triumph for me, nonetheless.