No matter what happens this October, Red Sox fans should constantly raise a glass and salute Keith Foulke. As much as any other member of the 2004 World Championship squad, Foulke was instrumental in pulling the Red Sox over the top.
Because of 2004, we Red Sox fans can see our team win it all in October, like in 2007 and 2013, lose a heart breaker like 2008 or get swept out of the playoffs like in 2005, 2009 and 2016, and not lose our minds.
We can watch Octobers passionately but never with a sense of “Is it possible to see my team win?”
Yes, there were the bats of Ortiz and Ramirez, the Dave Roberts stolen base, the bloody sock of Schilling, key hits by Bill Mueller, Mark Bellhorn, Trot Nixon and Johnny Damon as well as wins from Derek Lowe and Pedro Martinez.
Now let me ask you this, Red Sox fans. How often do you think of Rich Gedman’s home run in the 1988 ALCS? Have you thought about Tim Naehring and his homer in the 1995 playoffs? Mo Vaughn’s 2 homers in the 1998 Division Series? Is Troy O’Leary an immortal because of his 2 homers in the 1999 Division Series clincher? Remember Todd Walker’s post season’s heroics in the 2003 postseason?
If you are a die hard fan you remember those events but the casual Sox fans remember the plays of 2004. They are recounted to children like the Midnight Ride of Paul Revere as a critical part of Boston culture.
Guess what? The Roberts steal and all the 2004 heroics would be in the same bin as Troy O’Leary et al if Keith Foulke was merely good that October.
Dave Roberts would be remembered as often as 1990 playoff pinch runner Randy Kutcher if not for Keith Foulke.
Foulke was drafted by the Giants out of Lewis-Clark State in Lewiston, Idaho in 1994. Let me add parenthetically, Lewiston is a BEAUTIFUL town. I did a podcast from there once. I attended a Christian music festival there. Yeah, I’m an Atheist, but the music was good and the people were nice. Nothing but positive feelings about Lewiston. Back to the blog.
Foulke excelled in the Giants farm system, winning 13 games in 1995 for San Jose and putting up solid numbers at Shreveport, their Double A team in 1996.
By 1997, the 24 year old Foulke got the call to the majors. He did not fare that well as a starter but remained a promising arm for a rising San Francisco team. That summer, the Giants were engaged in a rough pennant race with heavily favored and star studded Los Angeles.
At the waiver wire deadline, the Giants sent 6 young players to the White Sox for veteran pitchers Wilson Alvarez, Roberto Hernandez and Danny Darwin. The Giants were praised for strengthening their bullpen and rotation without sacrificing much on the big league level. The White Sox were taken to task for giving up on the season when they were still in striking distance.
The Giants won the Division but were swept by the Marlins. A pair of walk of losses in Games 1 and 2 ended with Roberto Hernandez giving up the winning hit. Wilson Alvarez lost the other game. Danny Darwin did not appear in the playoffs. By the end of 1998, none of the three pitchers were on the Giants roster.
Meanwhile, Foulke flourished as a reliever for the White Sox. By 2000, he was getting Cy Young consideration while pitching the White Sox to the post season. He also had a top 10 Cy Young season in 2003 with the A’s and was named to the All Star Team.
That winter, he was a free agent being coveted by several teams, including the Red Sox. Boston had a solid team with a good bullpen in 2003 but they did not have a lockdown closer. A dominant 9th inning guy like Foulke could have made the difference.
The odd thing was his post season record prior to 2004 was hardly dominant. In the 2000 playoffs, he let up a pair of extra inning homers and then surrendered the walk off bunt single that eliminated Chicago.
In 2003, he had the A’s within 4 outs of advancing before surrendering a 2 run double to David Ortiz that forced a Game 5 that Boston won.
But the Red Sox were not deterred by a few bad games. He didn’t disappoint. Foulke saved 32 games, threw to a 2.17 ERA and struck out 88 batters in 86 2/3 innings, walking only 20. More important than any stat was how he gave the bullpen stability.
Foulke in the 9th meant Alan Embree and Mike Timlin could slide into their set up roles. Scott Williamson, Curtis Leskanix, Ramiro Mendoza and Mike Myers could all contribute. The Red Sox went into the post season with the deepest bullpen in team history.
Foulke made a pair of appearances in the 3 game sweep of the Angels, saving one and setting up the Ortiz walk off homer in the clincher. In both games he pitched more than one inning. That would be a pattern in the 2004 post season.
When the inevitable rematch with the Yankees took place in the ALCS, the refortified Red Sox looked overmatched. Down 3-0 in the series and trailing the fourth game 4-3, Boston manager Terry Francona threw the proverbial book into the garbage and brought his closer Keith Foulke into the game behind and in the 7th. They needed to get out the red hot Hideki Matsui and Bernie Williams and keep the game close.
Foulke pitched brilliantly in Game 4, allowing 2 walks and no hits over 2 2/3 innings, striking out 3. The Red Sox rallied in the 9th to tie the game and won in the 12th on an Ortiz homer. Foulke threw 50 pitches and under normal circumstances would sit the next day. These were not normal circumstances.
On no days rest, Foulke was ready to go in Game 5. The Red Sox took a 2-1 lead into the 6th, but Pedro Martinez tired. A three run double by Derek Jeter gave the Yankees a 4-2 lead and only a sliding inning ending catch by Trot Nixon kept the Yankees from breaking it wide open.
In the top of the 8th, the Yankees went for the dagger. Miguel Cairo doubled and Jeter bunted him to third to set up the red hot trio of Alex Rodriguez, Gary Sheffield and Hideki Matsui.
In retrospect, the 2004 Red Sox were the gallant warriors who stared down the odds. But at the moment, they were a team that was 2 days removed from a 19-8 humiliation in Game 3. The Roberts steal and Game 4 comeback felt like the delaying of the inevitable. It was a face saving victory as they avoided a humiliating sweep. But the Yankee bats were poised to erupt again and the pennant celebration was only a few innings away. With 2 on and 2 outs, Francona again threw “the book” into the toilet and brought his closer in the 8th inning and down by two runs.
Foulke got Matsui, who was a lock to win the Series MVP, to fly out and end the inning. In the bottom of the 8th, the Red Sox staged another remarkable rally, highlighted by an Ortiz homer, more outstanding base running by Dave Roberts, a Trot Nixon hit and run and a Jason Varitek sacrifice fly.
Foulke pitched the ninth and quickly got two outs. But Ruben Sierra walked on 5 pitches. Then with 2 strikes, Tony Clark, subbing for Jason Giambi at first, hit a long drive to right field. It was either going to be a go ahead homer or an RBI double. Instead the ball bounced barely over the wall for a ground rule double, preventing Sierra from scoring.
Given a reprieve by the baseball Gods, Foulke got Cairo to pop up and end the threat. He would be lifted after the ninth and the rest of Boston’s bullpen, especially Tim Wakefield, picked up where Foulke left off, winning in the 14th.
With no travel day between Games 5 and 6 because of weather, Foulke appeared in Game 6, once again with the season on the line. He was a little shakier in Game 6 but struck out Tony Clark to end the game.
He would throw in three straight days for a total of 5 innings allowing no runs, 1 hit, 5 walks and 6 strikeouts, with the season on the line for practically each of his 100 pitches.
Mercifully for Keith Foulke, the Red Sox blew out the Yankees in the finale and he could rest. He would eventually clinch the World Series and be awarded the Babe Ruth Award for post season MVP.
Foulke’s career was basically over after that post season. He showed up to spring training in 2005 injured and was clearly not the same pitcher and he struggled through an injury plagued year. He didn’t fare any better in 2006 and left Boston on a sour note. After a comeback attempt with Oakland in 2008, he was done.
Thankfully, Red Sox fans and Foulke have embraced each other and it is nothing but a love fest now. Foulke posts support of the Red Sox (and the Patriots for that matter) and is quick to respond to fans on Twitter (including your pal Sully.)
You can argue who the biggest hero of 2004 was. But if Foulke did not shut down the Yankees in Games 4, 5 and 6, 2004 would have been just another year that came up short.
Instead he delivered the highlight we were waiting for our whole lives… the Red Sox World Series title. For THAT, all Red Sox fans owe him our thanks.