I think most Sox fans can point to lines on their faces or “stress release” chunks taken out of their walls that were the direct result of watching the 2004 ALCS. Not to take anything away from the most spectaculous post-season ever, but the game that turned me into a four-packs-a-day guy was the infamous basebrawl affair of July 2004, featuring Tek and A-Rod. There’s a reason King and O’Nan used that now infmaous “smell the glove” photo on the cover of Faithful. It’s because that image — and in fact the entire game — was the goddam mission statement of the 2004 Red Sox. And this game was like some sort of Wagnerian opera, all thunderbolts and raw knuckles and smashed beer cups [and this is just in my living room], nudging us to the brink of total mental collapse one minute, jabbing an adrenaline needle in our hearts the next. And somewhere along the way, you had the gut-wrenching feeling that if they’d somehow lost, you’d just retire to the attic and shiver in the corner, gnawing rats and woodchips for the next 24 hours.
And it did almost slip away. Until the very end. Until Bill Mueller stepped in against Mariano Rivera.
The image of his game-winning home run sailing up into the sky… well, I’m sure it was awesome if you were at the game. At home, from the perspective of a NESN camera, we just watched Gary Sheffield going back… back… back… until he ran out of real estate. He just kinda stood there, as if in disbelief, watching it sail away. And that’s when the jumping started. And Bill Mueller was immediately, albeit mentally, bronzed.
That’s how I’ll remember the guy. Mobbed at home plate by his teammates. Having a NESN microphone almost jammed up his nose while the rest of us collapsed into our sofas, reeking of stale beer and sweat, but somehow finding the energy to light that victory cigar. At the epicenter of one of the single greatest Red Sox games I’ve ever watched.
My name’s Red. And that was my Bill Mueller moment.