Ten Magic Sox Moments (Part Two)

The Red Sox led the AL East for the final 166 days of the season, but don't let the nearly wire-to-wire run fool you: There were plenty of pivotal twists and turns along the way to the franchise's first division title in 12 years. Here's 10 particularly memorable moments. Part two of three. (FREE PREVIEW OF COMMEMORATIVE CHAMPIONSHIP ISSUE CONTENT!)

June 1-2: Proctor Plunks Youkilis, Lowell Levels Cano
After two months of sub-.500 ball, the Yankees finally punched back against the Sox June 1. With the Yankees up 9-5 in the ninth inning, Scott Proctor was called on by acting manager Don Mattingly—Joe Torre had been ejected and had no say in the matter, wink wink—and promptly hit Kevin Youkilis on the helmet. Youkilis, the fifth batter to get plunked in the game, was livid and had to be restrained from going after Proctor, who was ejected.

Torre and Proctor both swore there was no intent, but the timing sure was curious. Proctor had already served a four-game suspension for throwing at Mariners shortstop Yuniesky Betancourt in May and had thrown in more games than any other big leaguer since the start of 2006.

How would the Sox react? Mike Lowell delivered the forceful answer in the fourth inning of the Sox' 11-6 win the next day. Lowell got hung up between first and second on Jason Varitek's slow roller to Robinson Cano. Lowell slowed down, which forced Cano to move a couple steps toward Lowell to tag him. But as he was tagged, Lowell lowered his left shoulder and body checked Cano, who was still able to throw to first and complete the double play.

The force of the hit sent Lowell's helmet flying. He walked slowly off the field, leaving the helmet on the infield and never looking back, and was greeted by a bevy of high-fives as he stepped into the dugout. Cano, meanwhile, stared out at left field and later complained to reporters about the hit.

Lowell also had three hits and four RBI, but rest assured nothing resonated as much as a play that didn't show up in the boxscore. The hit on Cano provided a clean yet decisive response to Proctor as well as a glimpse at the Sox' inherent toughness.

It also cemented Lowell's status as a team leader.

"[Lowell] was huge on both sides of the line," Curt Schilling said.

June 7: Schilling one-hits the A's
The Sox fell to the Yankees in the series finale June 3 and lost the first three games of the subsequent series in Oakland. It was the first slump of the season for the Sox and the beginning of a half-season stretch in which they went just 43-38. But the Sox righted themselves every time the season seemed to be teetering on the edge of disaster—and they did so June 6 behind a poignant and nearly historic performance by Curt Schilling, who had a no-hitter broken up with two outs in the ninth inning of the Sox' 1-0 win over the Athletics.

It was the closest Schilling has ever come to a no-hitter, and the one-time fireballer did it in fashion atypical of his reputation: He whiffed just four. But he would have been working on a perfect game in the ninth if not for a fifth-inning error by Julio Lugo and his effectiveness—Schilling needed just 23 pitches to record outs 19 through 26—had the Sox convinced he would finish it off.

But Schilling shook off Jason Varitek, who wanted Schilling to throw a slider to Shannon Stewart. Schilling wanted to go with the fastball, which Stewart laced just past a diving Alex Cora for a clean single to right. Schilling retired Mark Ellis on a pop-up two pitches later to complete his first shutout since 2003.

It was almost certainly Schilling's last and best chance at a no-hitter. Two weeks later, he went on the disabled list due to right shoulder soreness. He pitched beyond the sixth inning just twice in nine starts following his return in early August.

So while Schilling said all the right things about how the most important thing June 7 was to stop a losing streak, he also admitted to some pangs of regret "I'm more disappointed a couple weeks after than [he] was the day of, because it would have been cool," Schilling said in late July. "That's a pretty exciting thing. I've never been on the mound for the final out of anything like that—[even a] postseason game. I've never been on the mound in the ninth inning."

July 16: Gabbard blanks the Royals
The Sox suffered through perhaps their flattest stretch just before the All-Star Break and during the bulk of a season-long 11-game home stand immediately after the Midsummer Classic. The Sox went 3-8 against the Tigers, Royals and White Sox from July 6-19, but who knows how much worse it could have been if not for the unexpected contribution of Kason Gabbard, who tossed a three-hit shutout against the Royals in a 4-0 win July 16.

Gabbard—who moved into the rotation following Curt Schilling's injury—carried a no-hitter into the fifth and faced the minimum 12 batters through the final four innings thanks to a pair of double plays. He whiffed eight and walked just one in the first nine-inning shutout by a Sox rookie since 1993 (Paul Quantrill) and the first nine-inning shutout by a Sox rookie at Fenway since 1984 (Roger Clemens). It was a feel-good performance for the Sox player development staff: Gabbard was drafted by the Sox in 2000 but didn't move beyond Double-A until 2006 due to a series of injuries.

"The kid has had a lot of roadblocks coming through the minor leagues," Terry Francona said. "He has very good stuff."

As it turned out, Gabbard was too good for his own good. He tossed another gem five days later, when he limited the White Sox to three hits and one run over seven innings in an 11-2 win. On July 31, he was the key player sent to Texas in the deal that brought Eric Gagne over from the Rangers.

He finished his Sox career 5-0 with a 1.60 ERA at Fenway Park. "You know what, I wish I could have every start here," Gabbard said July 21. "I love pitching here…it's just one of those things I feel real comfortable here."

(Part three will appear Sunday)

Diehard managing editor Jerry Beach can be reached at diehardmag@yahoo.com. To receive a free issue of Diehard, call 888-501-5752. To subscribe to Diehard or diehardmagazine.com, please CLICK HERE

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