Sunday, Oct.17, 2004. Down 4-3 in the 9th inning to the New York Yankees, down 3-0 in the American League Championship series. Terry Francona had a choice. Be history, or make history.
No team had ever overcome a 3-0 series deficit ever in baseball. To make matters worse, Mariano Rivera was on the mound. Look around Fenway Park for just one second. See the faces of Boston Red Sox fans, still suffering in the agony of an 86-year drought, remembering the fate from the previous year when Aaron Boone's moonshot sent them home.
Francona made the decision to insert Dave Roberts to pinch-run for Kevin Millar, who, prior to the game, ripped into Boston Globe columnist Dan "Shank/Scoop" Shaughnessy for calling them "frauds" following their 19-8 loss in Game 3. The decision to insert Roberts would go down as one of the many great decisions that Francona would make in his career.
After 23 seasons as manager, including two World Series titles and another appearance in Cleveland, Tito is calling it a career.
Red Sox fans took time to head to Twitter and share their appreciation for the man who had a role in helping warm their hearts and celebrate for generations that failed to enjoy the same success the current generation could relish in.
Terry Francona retirement: Red Sox fans say their goodbyes
Francona's role in baseball will forever live on, but for many, it still goes back to the cold night as the clock hit 12. On Rivera's first pitch to Bill Mueller, Roberts stole second as Jorge Posada's throw just missed. If it connected, the drought would have gone on.
Instead, Mueller hit a single through Rivera, allowing Roberts to come to the plate and tying the game at four. Three innings later, David Ortiz shot a ball off Paul Quantrill as the Red Sox lived to fight another day. Clearly, Francona's Sox were different than Grady Little's bunch a year before; they just didn't know it.
Following a win in Game 5, Boston headed for New York where Curt Schilling, (yeah that one), pitched an unbelievable Game 6 in a bloody sock, but Francona's temperament was on full display when his reasoning helped overturn two crucial calls, including the Alex Rodriguez slap, that led to Boston forcing a Game 7.
However, while Francona managed Game 7 with ease, his decision to insert Pedro Martinez raised doubts, including when Hideki Matsui and Bernie Williams each scored. However, the move turned out to be just a small footnote as Boston went on to win 10-3, overcoming a 3-0 deficit, and bringing joy and relief for the Red Sox, 2003 Game 7 losing pitcher Tim Wakefield (bless him), whom Francona shared a sentimental moment with knowing that Wakefield deserved the moment.
Days later, Francona stood atop the baseball world as Boston would beat the St. Louis Cardinals in four games to win their first World Series title since 1918. Three years later, through several clever moves, Francona and the 2007 Red Sox would win the World Series title over the Colorado Rockies in four games.
While Francona's tenure in Boston ended unceremoniously in 2011 with a 90-72 record, the impact he left on the city and its inhabitants can't be underestimated. Prior to his arrival, the Red Sox had suffered through so much heartbreak at the hands of the Yankees and the rest of the baseball world. 1946, 1967, 1975, 1986, all four years could have ended the nightmare, especially 86, but the ball rolled through and away.
But Francona ended all that grief, and he did it in a way that the hardcore Boston and hardcore baseball fans can admire. Class, loyalty, and intense passion. Francona has never been someone to make it about him. It's the team. The ability to relate to players and guide them through rough stretches, notably Dustin Pedroia's rookie struggles in 2007, is well-documented.
Terry Francona may be stepping away from the game of baseball, but his legacy will someday be rewarded with a place in Cooperstown as a member of the Baseball Hall of Fame. He managed in Philadelphia, and he gave Cleveland glory, but his place in Boston will be the talk of his career, not just for winning, but for giving the city a new image, one of a winner.