Twenty years ago today, the Boston Red Sox played the Cleveland Indians in the 5th and deciding game of the 1999 American League Division Series. This game became an instant classic due to the performance of the great Red Sox pitcher Pedro Martinez that helped clinched the series for the Red Sox. I was reminded of this game because of this oral history compiled by Ian Browne on MLB.com.
It brought back memories of watching this game with Susan (many years before we were married and were new to living in the Boston area) at the Sligo Pub in Somerville’s Davis Square. If I could find all the people who were in that dive bar that night and interview them for an additional oral history, I would, but I’m just going to have to rely on my own memory. Susan and I didn’t have a tv at the time so we went looking for a bar to watch the game, but all the watering holes in Davis Square were so packed it was impossible to see the tv. The one exception was the Sligo, a pub we’d never before entered. The other bars were full of college kids, but the clientele of the Sligo was slanted toward middle-aged and the accents were clearly those of lifelong locals. Nevertheless, we were welcomed to take a seat at a table and watch the game.
The Red Sox were the 81st year of their World Series drought, and lost to Cleveland in the 1998 ALDS. Pedro’s excellent season – including striking out 5 of 6 National League sluggers in the All-Star Game at Fenway Park – instilled hope among Red Sox fans that this would be the year. But then Cleveland won the first two games, and worse, Pedro injured his pitching shoulder. Somehow, the Red Sox came back and won the next two games in Boston, including a 23-7 drubbing in Game 4. And so the series returned to Cleveland for the deciding game 5. Pedro wasn’t expected to be able to pitch again and the Red Sox started the struggling Bret Saberhagen and hoped for the best.
The box score says that Pedro Martinez entered the game in the top of the 4th, but honestly those first 3 innings felt like a whole game in its own right. The Red Sox scored 2 runs in the 1st, but the Indians came back and scored 3 in the bottom of the 1st and 2 more in the 2nd. In the top of the 3rd, the Red Sox rallied again, and the Red Sox leftfielder Troy O’Leary came to bat with the bases loaded. O’Leary hadn’t hit well in the series so far, but a man at the bar had faith in him.
“O’Leary is due! He’s gonna hit a homah!”
Lo and behold, O’Leary knocked the first pitch to right-center for a grand slam.
“You did it!” exclaimed several men at the bar.
“I didn’t do it, O’Leary did it. I’m just some drunk guy at a bah!” the prognosticator demurred.
The Red Sox now had a 7-5 lead but it didn’t last long because the Indians scored another 3 runs in the bottom of the inning. Then the Red Sox tied the game in the top of the 4th at 8-8. It was in the bottom of the 4th when everyone was stunned to see Pedro Martinez heading to the mound to pitch. Everyone was nervous, fearing that this slugfest was no place for an injured pitcher, hoping against hope that Pedro wouldn’t get smacked around too.
But Pedro had a calming effect on the game. Cleveland failed to score in the bottom of the 4th – the first time they put a 0 up in any inning – and neither team scored in the 5th and 6th innings. Things got so quiet that the barfly at the table opposite us put her head down for a rest. At least she tried, but loquacious sportscaster Tim McCarver wouldn’t stop talking.
The woman lifted her head and shouted “Shut the feck up, McCavah! You’re such a Chatty Cathy!” She punctuated this by putting her head back on the table. As Susan noted, there was a sense that no truer words have ever been spoken.
The Red Sox took the lead again in the 7th inning on a 3-run home run by none other than Troy O’Leary. O’Leary tied a postseason record with 7 RBIs in a single game. Meanwhile, Cleveland didn’t score at all. In fact they weren’t able to get a hit off the amazing injured arm of Martinez. The fans in the bar grew more optimistic that the Red Sox would win this game and advance to the American League Champion Series. One guy prematurely anticipated that the Red Sox would beat the New York Yankees in the ALCS and then the New York Mets in the World Series.
“New York, New York – DOUBLE HAMMER!!!” he repeated like a mantra.
The Red Sox did indeed win the game and the ALDS with Pedro no-hitting the Indians for the six innings he pitched. The game went down in history as the Martinez Milagro. Susan and I pledged to return to the Sligo to watch the Red Sox if they had a chance to clinch the ALCS. Sadly, the Red Sox lost the ALCS in five games to the Yankees, although the one game they won was another classic in which Pedro outpitched hated former Red Sox Roger Clemens.