This post first appeared on BaseballDigest.com
“Leskanic! You son of a bitch” – Johnny Pesky
5 years ago, as the Red Sox prepared for the 2004 season, Red Sox fans were still climbing out of a haze of defeat left after Aaron F. Boone deposited a floating knuckleball into the night at Yankee Stadium. Tim Wakefield gave up the long ball, but no Sox fan pinned blame there; he was the last line of defense and just about everybody anticipated the results.
In April 2004, October 16th, 2003 still seemed like yesterday. During an off-season, some more salt was poured into the wound as the Red Sox lost out on the A-Rod Sweepstakes as an injury to Aaron Boone created a need for the Yankees. Instead, the Sox acquired some guy named Mark Bellhorn, owner of a .221 average in 2003 and a striking resemblance to Rob Schneider. They also acquired Curt Schilling, the 2001 World Series co-MVP who had success in 2003, but in less than 25 starts. Ford & Dunkin Donuts commercials flooded the Boston airwaves with the notion that this big bellied pitcher in his late 30’s was going to end a curse.
That was the first wave of additions in the 2004 season. Most of the 2003 squad that took the ALCS to 7 games returned in 2004. Throughout the season, a few changes and acquisitions were made, all minor compared to the blockbuster deal that shipped fan favorite Nomar Garciaparra out of town for what seemed like a bag of balls. Doug Mientkiewicz and Orlando Cabrera were the biggest names that landed in Boston at the deadline. Dave Roberts arrived on the scene at that time too.
A month before the deadline, in one of the quiet deals nobody noticed, the Red Sox picked up Curt Leskanic, put on waivers by the Royals after a less than stellar start to the season. Fans may not have identified Leskanic at first, because more than half of his appearances were for an inning or less. His appearances were effective and as quiet as the announcement that he was signed by the team.
October 17, 2004 would change all that. Leskanic would cement his name is Red Sox history. The night before, Leskanic was among the parade of pitchers who took a 19-8 bashing from the Yanks. In game 4, Leskanic was the 6th pitcher to enter the game. Like Tim Wakefield a year and a day before, he was the last option. The stolen base by Roberts three innings before had set up an improbably comeback, and Leskanic threw the final pitches of his career in a rejuvenated Fenway Park.
Coming into the top of the 11th Leskanic faced Bernie Williams, who battered the Sox pitchers the night before with 4 hits. On top of that, the bases were full of Yankees. Leskanic managed to escape the inning when Williams flied out. After the Sox couldn’t push one across in the bottom half, Leskanic went back to work in the top of the 12th. A single by Jorge Posada was muted when Ruben Sierra and Tony Clark went down by groundout and flyout. All that stood between Leskanic and the dugout was Miguel Cairo. Sox fans waited for the other foot to drop. Waited for another player to be bestowed with a new middle name.
Fortunately, Miguel Cairo is still Miguel Cairo, without an F. Leskanic sat Cairo down via the swinging strikeout. Who knows what Leskanic’s 13th inning would’ve been like? Manny Ramirez and David Ortiz put an amazing cap on one of the greatest Red Sox games in history. Leskanic quietly earned one of the most significant wins in Sox history, paving the way for Big Papi and Co. to turn the tide in dramatic fashion.
For his 32 appearances in the regular season, his incredible career finale in game 4, and being the subject of one of the best Johnny Pesky quotes ever uttered, happy 41st Birthday to Curt Leskanic!