Sox's dramatic year ends in playoffs

Sox's dramatic year ends in playoffs

Another year, another season when the Red Sox found themselves being legitimate championship contenders.

Such has been the case since 2003.

And since the franchise began, you can count on drama with the Red Sox, too.

The 2008 season had everything for Boston. There was winning -- which the Red Sox did a lot of in making it to the postseason for the sixth time in the past seven years. There was losing -- most notably a Game 7 loss to the American League East-rival Rays in the AL Championship Series, ending Boston's hopes of a repeat World Series championship.

There was tension -- like a massive on-field fracas with the Rays, and a heated argument between Manny Ramirez and Kevin Youkilis. There were abrupt departures -- none more than Ramirez finally reaching the boiling point with the Red Sox front office and being dealt to the Dodgers after 7 1/2 seasons with Boston. And there were welcome additions -- like Ramirez's replacement, Jason Bay, and rookies Jed Lowrie and Justin Masterson.

Take that -- along with plenty more -- and wrap it with the never-say-die attitude of Red Sox Nation and the allure of Fenway Park, and you've got yourself another memorable season in Boston.

It was a pretty quiet first month of 2008 for Boston, and, unfortunately, it was also quiet for former Red Sox legend Jim Rice.

Rice, who played his entire 16-year career in a Red Sox uniform, just missed out on getting the nod to enter the Hall of Fame, falling 16 votes and less than three percentage points shy. But, with 72.2 percent of the vote and with his name being mentioned on 392 ballots, the former right-handed-hitting outfielder -- who finished his career with a .298 batting average, 382 home runs and 1,451 RBIs -- is getting closer to going to Cooperstown, N.Y.

Boston also re-signed backup catcher Doug Mirabelli -- whose specialty was handling knuckleballer Tim Wakefield -- and bolstered its bullpen by signing lefty specialist Javier Lopez and acquiring right-hander David Aardsma from the White Sox for a couple of prospects.

The Red Sox locked down two big parts of their team in February.

First, they officially brought back Youkilis when they signed him to a one-year, $3 million deal. Youkilis would end up having the best season of his career -- playing both corner infield positions admirably and finishing third in the AL Most Valuable Player Award voting.

Then, on Feb. 24, Terry Francona -- who guided the team to its first two World Series championships since 1918 -- received a well-deserved three-year contract extension, with team options for 2012 and '13.

With players slowly making their way to Spring Training in February, nobody created a bigger buzz than David Ortiz, who was back on the field after undergoing surgery on his right knee. Unfortunately, Curt Schilling would never get that opportunity, as he was sidelined with a right shoulder injury early in the month and was unable to recover.

Boston also solidified its bench by signing first baseman Sean Casey and outfielder Bobby Kielty -- who delivered a pinch-hit home run in Game 4 of the 2007 World Series -- to one-year deals.

The Red Sox also signed Bartolo Colon to a Minor League contract, giving him a chance to compete for a spot in the starting rotation.

It was a hectic ending to Spring Training, as the Red Sox learned the coaching, training and clubhouse staffs wouldn't receive stipends for making the trip to Tokyo to open the regular season.

Following a players-only meeting and talks with Major League Baseball and the Players' Association, it was resolved everybody traveling overseas would be paid.

The Red Sox ended up splitting the two-game, season-opening series against the Athletics, winning the first game in 10 innings thanks to a game-tying homer by Brandon Moss in the ninth and a go-ahead RBI double by Ramirez in the 10th.

The Red Sox also reached one-year agreements with Jonathan Papelbon, Dustin Pedroia, Jacoby Ellsbury and 15 others, then surprisingly released Mirabelli on the March 13 after the veteran catcher had spent the better part of six years with the club. Kevin Cash became the backup catcher, meaning it was his responsibility to handle the tricky knucklers of Wakefield.

No. 1 starter Josh Beckett (back spasms), center fielder Coco Crisp (tightness in both groins) and right fielder J.D. Drew (lower back strain) dealt with lingering injuries during the month, but looked on track to return soon.

After embarking on an 18-day, four-city, three-country road trip that covered more than 16,000 miles, the Red Sox finally headed home to Boston for the Fenway opener on April 8. That day, the Sox got their World Series rings and ended up with a 5-0 win over the Tigers, thanks to a solid start by Daisuke Matsuzaka.

The Red Sox went 16-11 in the first month of the season, going on a six-game winning streak in the middle of April before being swept by the eventual AL champion Rays toward the end.

Highlighting the month was a ninth-inning, go-ahead home run by Ramirez in Cleveland, the Red Sox battling back after being down five runs late to beat the Rangers, 6-5, and, on April 29, Youkilis hitting a walk-off single against the Blue Jays that ended Roy Halladay's shutout and the Red Sox's five-game losing streak.

April also saw several Boston players go on the 15-day disabled list, including Mike Lowell (strained left thumb) -- though he returned in early May -- Alex Cora (right elbow) and Casey (right hip strain).

Ortiz didn't get injured, but his bat seemed like it was, as he ended the first month of the season batting just .184 (19-for-103). In unrelated news, Big Papi's old No. 34 jersey, which was recovered after being secretly buried in the new Yankee Stadium to "curse" the ballpark, was sold at an April 24 charity auction for $175,100.

On May 19, young left-hander Jon Lester became the 18th pitcher in franchise history to hurl a no-hitter when he blanked the Royals, 7-0. The achievement capped a historic comeback from anaplastic large cell lymphoma about 20 months earlier. But, five days later, Lester announced that his father was suffering from lymphoma, too.

The Red Sox got some good news with the health of a couple of starters, as Schilling was successfully throwing bullpen sessions and Colon, on May 21, made his debut and picked up the win. But late in the month, Boston was forced to put Matsuzaka -- who started off the season 8-0 -- on the 15-day DL because of a mild strain of his right rotator cuff.

The Red Sox also had a pair earn Player of the Week honors, as Lester (after the no-hitter) and Youkilis (.375 with 10 RBIs in the second week of the month) were rewarded.

The Red Sox went 17-11 in the month and remained in the hunt for the AL East crown, with one of the more memorable moments coming on May 1. That's when captain Jason Varitek hit a two-out single for yet another walk-off win against the Blue Jays -- this time a 2-1 victory.

The Red Sox had another milestone on the last day of the month, as Ramirez became the 24th player to reach the 500-homer mark when he clubbed an 82-mph first-pitch offering from former teammate Chad Bradford in the seventh inning in Baltimore.

Ellsbury set the Boston rookie steals mark by swiping his 32nd bag on June 15.

But the month proved to be a testy one for the Red Sox.

First, the Sox and Rays went at it with their fists at Fenway Park on June 5, with Crisp and James Shields taking center stage. Crisp charged the mound after being struck by a Shields fastball in the right leg during the second inning. Both benches and bullpens cleared, and Crisp ended up with the biggest suspension at seven games.

Shortly after that, it was Ramirez and Youkilis who got into a heated discussion in the dugout and had to be separated -- although both said the event was behind them afterward.

Then, later in the month, Ramirez pushed longtime traveling secretary Jack McCormick to the floor in the visitors' clubhouse in Houston following a spat over a ticket request.

As if that weren't enough bad news, Ortiz would miss the entire month because of a partially torn ECU tendon in his left wrist. Then, on June 20, Schilling announced during a radio interview that he would have surgery on his ailing shoulder, officially ending his season and putting his career in huge jeopardy.

Matsuzaka made his return later in the month -- having the shortest outing of his Red Sox career on June 21 -- and Youkilis saw his record-setting 238-game errorless streak at first base come to an end on June 7.

Things between the Red Sox and Ramirez finally reached a boiling point on July 31, when Boston traded the future Hall of Famer to the Dodgers -- right before the non-waiver Trade Deadline -- as part of a three-team deal that saw the club acquire Pirates left fielder Jason Bay in exchange for outfielder Brandon Moss and right-hander Craig Hansen.

Ramirez played 7 1/2 years with the Red Sox, winning two World Series rings and hitting at least 30 home runs while driving in 100-plus runs each full season except 2007. But, apparently, "Manny being Manny" had run its course in Boston, and the Red Sox were said to have been ready to suspend the left fielder had he not been traded.

On a brighter note, the Red Sox dominated the All-Star Game even though it was played at Yankee Stadium. Not only did Francona lead the AL club to a 4-3, 15-inning victory, but Drew -- who was named the AL's Player of the Month for June -- took home MVP honors after going 2-for-4 with a home run and a great catch up against the wall. Youkilis and Pedroia were elected as starters, while Ortiz -- though he didn't play -- Papelbon and Varitek were also named to the team.

July also saw shortstop Julio Lugo (strained left quad) go on the 15-day DL on July 12, Papelbon register his 100th career save on July 13, and Ortiz make his return to the lineup on July 25 after missing the previous 46 games.

Boston went 11-13 in July, its only sub-.500 month of the season, and found itself three games back in the AL East entering August.

In a month that saw the Red Sox go a season-best 18-9, they got a big boost from some key veteran additions in starter Paul Byrd and center fielder Mark Kotsay.

But it was the guy who came over in the Ramirez deal that made the most headway.

Bay started his Red Sox tenure by scoring a walk-off run in his first game, belting a homer in his second game and finishing August with a .315 batting average and 29 RBIs. With Lugo on the shelf, rookie Jed Lowrie also stepped up as a suitable replacement at shortstop, seeing action in 26 games during the month, while batting .299 with 23 RBIs.

But Lowell (right hip flexor), Drew (back) and Wakefield (right shoulder) were forced to go on the 15-day DL, and Clay Buchholz -- who struggled to a 2-9 record with a 6.75 ERA -- was optioned to Double-A.

While Buchholz struggled, Lester continued to shine, as he picked up AL Pitcher of the Month honors for July after going 3-0 with a 2.05 ERA.

The Red Sox were also able to sign all 14 of their top Draft choices by the deadline.

It was a month of celebration for the Red Sox, as Sept. 23 saw them clinch the team's sixth playoff spot in the past seven years after a 5-4 win over the Indians at Fenway Park. Boston was in the thick of things for the AL East crown for most of the month, pulling into a tie for first place on the Sept. 16. But the Rays took home the division, and the Red Sox were assured the Wild Card spot on Sept. 27.

Though they knew they'd be in the playoffs, the Sox weren't sure about the availability of two integral parts of their lineup, as Drew (back) and Lowell (hip) suffered setbacks all month long and were big question marks heading into the postseason -- which featured an AL Division Series matchup against the 100-win Angels.

Early in the month, Fenway Park set a Major League record five years in the making when it hosted its 456th consecutive sellout. Then, on Sept. 28, it honored a person whose last name will always correlate with the historic ballpark, as Johnny Pesky's No. 6 was retired. Pesky spent 57 of his 69 years in baseball with the Red Sox, and he has the right-field foul pole, "Pesky's Pole," named after him because of the light-hitting shortstop's rare game-winning home run in 1948 -- according to legend.

On Sept. 16, Timlin -- who was left off the ALDS roster -- set the record for career appearances by a right-handed reliever with 1,050, passing Kent Tekulve.

It couldn't have been a better start to the postseason for the Red Sox, as Lowell and Drew found themselves in the lineup for Game 1 of the ALDS.

Though Lowell would eventually be scratched for the rest of the playoffs and have to undergo surgery for his ailing hip, Drew would step up big with several key hits, and Boston took care of the Angels in four games. The finale was the most memorable, with a botched suicide squeeze in the top of the inning leading to a walk-off single by Lowrie in the bottom half.

But the Red Sox eventually met their match in the up-and-coming Rays after a dramatic seven-game ALCS.

Boston started off the series with an impressive Game 1 victory at Tropicana Field behind a stellar shutout by Matsuzaka. But Tampa Bay would take Game 2 thanks to a walk-off sacrifice fly by B.J. Upton in the 11th inning, and dealt the Red Sox lopsided losses in Games 3 and 4 -- outscoring them by a combined 22-5.

Game 5 was nothing short of historic.

Despite being down, 7-0, heading into the bottom of the seventh, Boston rallied in historic fashion while Tampa Bay's bullpen collapsed. In the end, it was Drew who provided the heroics when his two-out line drive sailed over right fielder Gabe Gross to cap the top comeback win in postseason play since 1929.

The Red Sox then took Game 6, 4-2, behind strong pitching from Beckett, who gutted it out despite severe pain in his right oblique. But the Rays showed just how valuable winning the AL East crown is, as they got the deciding game in their home stadium, and, despite Boston taking an early lead on Pedroia's solo homer in the first inning, rallied for a 3-1 victory to end the Red Sox's season.

Varitek and Schilling filed for free agency shortly after the end of the season.

November was the month that saw it all pay off for Pedroia. First, he snagged an AL Gold Glove Award at second base, then he claimed the Louisville Slugger Silver Slugger Award, and five days later, the big prize came when he captured the AL Most Valuable Player Award.

In just his second season in the Major Leagues, Pedroia -- standing a generous 5-foot-9 -- hit .326 with 17 home runs and 83 RBIs while scoring 118 runs and stealing 20 bases.

The Red Sox also got the ball rolling in the trade market when they took care of the logjam in center field. Boston sent Crisp to Kansas City in exchange for right-handed reliever Ramon Ramirez, who went 3-2 with a 2.64 ERA in 2008.

The Red Sox also exercised their option on Wakefield and acquired right-hander Wes Littleton from the Rangers.

November also saw Francona finish fourth in the AL Manager of the Year voting, and Ellsbury finish third in the running for the Rookie of the Year Award after the 25-year-old hit .280 with nine home runs, 47 RBIs and 50 steals.

After a stellar year, the Sox made sure they locked up their second baseman, signing Pedroia to a six-year, $40.5 million deal three days into December. The Red Sox also offered arbitration to Varitek and Byrd, then signed 22-year-old Japanese right-hander Junichi Tazawa on Dec. 4.

Alden Gonzalez is an associate reporter for This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.