Ten Magic Moments (Part Three)

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 three of three. (FREE PREVIEW OF COMMEMORATIVE CHAMPIONSHIP ISSUE CONTENT!)

Aug. 24-26: Onslaught buries White Sox
The Sox spent most of the season wondering when their high-octane offense would click on all cylinders. It finally did so—and with a historic vengeance—in a four-game sweep of the hapless White Sox in Chicago.

The Red Sox outscored the White Sox 46-7 and became the fourth team ever—and the first AL team since 1922—to score in double figures in every game of a four-game series. The Sox hadn't scored 10 runs in four straight games since 1950. And the 46 runs were the most by the Sox in a four-game series since 1949.

Everyone got in on the action, including J.D. Drew, who hit his first homer since June 20 in the finale, and Bobby Kielty, who went deep in the finale for the first time since Sept. 19, 2006.

"I don't know that I'm a big ‘wow' [person]," Terry Francona told reporters afterward. "Maybe at the end of the year. I'll tell you what, though, we did a good job. I'll tell you what it is—gratifying."

The Sox followed up their White Sox onslaught by scoring 49 runs in their next nine games. But the explosion in Chicago provided a hint at what the Sox would unveil early in the playoffs.

Sept. 1: Buchholz throws a no-hitter
The beauty of baseball is its unpredictability. And no one—not even the most ardent follower of top-rated Diehard prospect Clay Buchholz, who has soared through the system since he was drafted in 2005—could have foreseen what would happen on this magical night at Fenway, when Buchholz became only the second pitcher ever to throw a no-hitter in his second big league start as the Sox whipped the Orioles 10-0.

Buchholz didn't learn he was going to pitch for the Sox until the night before, when he was summoned from Pawtucket to replace an injured Tim Wakefield. He'd never before thrown more than seven innings or reached 100 pitches in a start as a minor leaguer. Yet there he was, throwing his 115th pitch (a paralyzing curveball to Nick Markakis for a called strike three) to complete his no-hitter—something no other Sox pitcher had done in 1,197 starts entering the evening.

Buchholz, who mixed his dominant change-up with a fastball, curveball and slider, struck out nine, walked three and hit a batter in snapping the Sox' second four-game losing streak of the season. The fielding gem of the game was made in the seventh inning by Dustin Pedroia, who dove for Miguel Tejada's grounder behind second, whirled and fired to first to beat a sliding Tejada.

"If anybody would [have] ever said something like that to me, that I would come out and [do] what happened today, I would have called him a liar," Buchholz said. "That's what you want to go out and do. You dream about things happening like this—perfect games and no-hitters."

Only Theo Epstein knows how close he was to penning an unceremonious ending to Buchholz' outing. Epstein and Terry Francona spoke after the seventh and eighth inning as Buchholz waded into foreign pitch count territory. Epstein said afterward Buchholz would not have been allowed to go beyond 120 pitches, but Buchholz rendered all the worrying irrelevant by getting better as the game went on: He recorded four of his strikeouts in the seventh inning or later and needed just 44 pitches to retire the final 11 batters he faced.

"We feel that we have a huge responsibility to this young kid," Francona said, "but somebody else might have had to put a uniform on and come take him out, because that would have been very difficult."

In the ninth, Buchholz struck out Brian Roberts and retired Corey Patterson on a fly to medium centerfield before whiffing Markakis to set off a raucous celebration. Jason Varitek, who caught his third no-hitter, lifted Buchholz, who arched his back ever so slightly, let his arms fall limp and allowed himself to sway before he was swallowed up by the Sox, who pounded him and chanted his name.

Pretty impressive for someone with all of 291 2/3 professional innings under his belt and less than two months removed from his final Double-A start. "I wanted this [reaching the majors] to happen this year," Buchholz said. "And I reached all my goals so far. I didn't see any reason why I couldn't reach this one."

Plus one more.

Sept. 15: Beckett blisters Yanks again
The truest test of an ace pitcher is how he responds when his team needs him the most. Josh Beckett passed it with flying colors twice in a five-day span in mid-to-late September.

With the Sox reeling from a shocking 8-7 loss a night earlier in which Hideki Okajima and Jonathan Papelbon combined to give up six runs in the eighth inning, Beckett dominated the Yankees by allowing one run on three hits and two walks while whiffing seven in a 10-1 win. Five days later, with the Sox in the throes of their third four-game losing streak of the season, Beckett tossed six strong innings to beat the Devil Rays and earn his 20th win.

Those two wins might have saved the AL East for the Sox, whose lead over the Yankees was down to 1 ½ games—their smallest margin over the second-place team since April—when Beckett took the mound against the Rays. But the win over the Yankees Sept. 15 confirmed Beckett's status as a legitimate no. 1 pitcher and Cy Young Award candidate.

"I thought Beckett did exactly what we kind of have come to expect and also needed," Terry Francona said. "He pitched like an ace of a staff today. Against the best lineup in baseball, he went out there and did exactly what we needed."

Sept. 28: Finally! Sox clinch the AL East
The last regular season sign the Sox might be headed for something special in October was also the most surreal. Less than two hours after the Sox clinched a tie for the AL East with a 5-2 win over the Twins, the Orioles capped a stunning comeback against the Yankees in Baltimore when Melvin Mora laid down a perfect bases-loaded bunt single to give the Orioles a 10-9 win and lock up the AL East for the Sox.

The thousands of fans who stuck around Fenway to watch the game on the scoreboard went wild—but not nearly as wild as Sox players, most of whom stayed in the locker room to watch the game. Within seconds of the winning run crossing home plate, the Sox were dousing one another with champagne and unleashing six months of tension.

Jonathan Papelbon, clad only in a midriff-baring T-shirt and a jock that left his rear end exposed, poured champagne on owner John Henry. Papelbon and the Sox later took the celebration to the field, where Papelbon broke out the instantly tiresome "Riverdance" routine.

There was no dancing for Terry Francona, just some rare relief for the manager who seems to age a year with every defeat. "I don't think I've ever been a part of something like that," Francona said as he smoked a cigar and reclined in a cushy desk chair outside his office. "That was the most surreal situation, Theo and [pitching coach] John Farrell and John Henry and [chairman] Tom Werner in there. It was like a bunch of 13-year-olds. Never seen so many old men, myself included, cheer for a bunt. Getting to watch these guys do this is as gratifying as it can get."

The celebration of the Sox' first division title since 1995 went deep into the night. "This was a very big accomplishment," Francona said. "We need it to just be the beginning."

And it was.

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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