As a whole, the 2004 ALCS is a painful memory for any Yankee fan. Up 3-0 in the series and on the verge of a World Series trip, the Yankees instead proceeded to suffer the first reverse sweep in Major League Baseball history, with Mariano Rivera blowing two saves, Dave Roberts' now-legendary steal, David Ortiz getting the clutchest of hits, and Alex Rodriguez's attempt to interfere being spotted by the umpires and killing a potential rally all coming along the way. But what was most gut-wrenching was Game 7, when the Red Sox completed the reverse sweep and won 10-3.
The game starts. Johnny Damon, who had been quiet all series long, smacks a single and steals second. He gets thrown out at home attempting to score. Then Ortiz comes in and cranks a two-run home run to give Boston a lead. Not the best of starts, but not insurmountable. Besides, Derek Lowe is pitching. Surely the Yankees can get through him!
Then the real trauma begins. Kevin Brown loads the bases and makes way for Javier Vasquez. The first pitch he throws is hit for a grand slam by Johnny Damon to make the lead 6-0. Suddenly, the Yankees are facing a large gap, and in playoff baseball, being down by six runs is a hole that almost no one can dig themselves out of.
The third inning offers a spark of hope after Derek Jeter singles home Miguel Cairo, but it’s extinguished the next inning by another Johnny Damon home run. It’s 8-1, and Lowe then settles in and shuts down the Yankees. During a transition to a commercial break around this time, "Heartache Tonight" is played. How ironic that it’s now referring to the Yankees.
The 7th inning then sees Pedro Martinez coming in for a vanity appearance. The "Who’s Your Daddy?" chants begin, and he gives up two runs. But he gets out of the inning, and then Mark Bellhorn gets a run back the next inning. It’s at this moment that it becomes evident that no comeback is going to happen. All that can be done is to wait for the inevitable. Red Sox win 10-3, finally vanquish their eternal enemies, and the Yankees go into the history books the wrong way.
So why is this gut-wrenching? The immediate reasons are obvious: the Yankees were bested by their eternal enemies, and blew a 3-0 series lead. The final game was an utter rout, with any hope being immediately extinguished. And with the momentum they built, the possibility of Boston breaking their curse became a very likely one. I remember my Uncle Sonny’s words well: "If Boston wins Game 1, they sweep the Cardinals." He was spot-on.
Years after the fact, the loss becomes even more gut-wrenching because more than a postseason series and potential championship was lost. The dominion the Yankees had over the Red Sox was irrevocably gone, never to be regained. Prior, the Red Sox obsessed and occupied themselves with the Yankees. Their fans frothed at the mouth the moment you mentioned the Yankees. But the day after Boston finished off the Cardinals, Mike Francesca stated that the rivalry would never again be as intense as it once was, because the one thing the Yankees could hold over the Red Sox was gone. He was absolutely correct: the Yankees are no longer the big meanie down the road. They’re just another obstacle towards championships. The fact that Boston won it again in 2007 and 2013 has even further tempered the heatedness of the rivalry. Ask a Boston fan about the Yankees now, and they’re no longer the primary obsession. They still don’t like the Yankees, and still want to beat them, but the championships are more important. Beating the Yankees is just a bonus now, not the focus.
It is because of the immediate trauma, and the reverberations of that loss that are still being felt today, that this loss is the most gut-wrenching defeat in Yankee history. A potential championship was thrown away, and the enemy had triumphed. The dynamic between the two teams changed forever, and what Yankees fans used to hold over Red Sox fans was permanently lost. Yankees/Red Sox will still be a great rivalry and still a box office draw. But put it all together, and with the loss of the series, the manner of that loss, and the immediate and long-term consequences, no matter how much time passes, Game 7 of the 2004 ALCS will always be painful, and thus is the most gut-wrenching loss in Yankee history.