An Oral History of the 1999 Red Sox, Part 1: Building A Contender

Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images

By Sean Sylver, 98.5 The Sports Hub

It’s the winter of 1998. An intrepid 15-year old sportswriter from Cape Cod ventures over the bridge to attend a sports journalism conference at Northeastern University. There, a distinguished panel of local media, headed by the great Bob Ryan, takes questions from the audience. A brave student asks, “In one word, how would you describe the state of Boston sports?”

One panelist answered: “Bleak.”

Ryan said: “Nomar." 

Welcome to Boston sports in the '90s - a land before time, where Tom Brady is maybe a guy you’ve heard of as the Michigan QB who isn’t two-sport prospect Drew Henson.

Sure, the Patriots had recently visited the Super Bowl, but Bill Parcells jumped ship to the Jets, with two-time Pro Bowl running back Curtis Martin behind him, and the team was headed to Connecticut.

The Bruins were fine, but they hadn’t won a Stanley Cup since seven years before 38-year old team icon Ray Bourque made his NHL debut. The NBA was in a lockout, and when the ice thawed, the Celtics would continue to spiral into disarray under Rick Pitino.

The Red Sox were No. 1. They had All-World pitcher Pedro Martinez and the aforementioned savior in Nomar Garciaparra, the kid shortstop combination of Ted Williams and The Flash, who’d hit .323 with 35 home runs for a Wild Card team the year before.

But the organization also carried the millstone of 80 years of coming in second, while the Yankees had just capped one of the greatest seasons of all-time. The Sox frequently got an invitation to the dance, but the fanbase was getting tired of Irish goodbyes. Since the 10th inning of Game 6 of the 1986 World Series, when everything went haywire, the local nine were 1-16 in postseason play.

Adam “12” Chapman, WFNX: I’m a Gen-X Red Sox fan. I was 9 years old in 1986 when the Red Sox lost the World Series to the Mets. I’m sure a lot of people in my generation have similar stories to tell. But that damaged my relationship with the team.

It’s one thing to hear stories about ’46 and ’67 and ’75. But to go through it, it’s like, “Oh my God, this is way worse than I thought it would be.” Especially when you’re a nine-year old kid and your world is so small. When something as monumental as your baseball team getting to the World Series comes along, and they lose, it crushes you. I fell out of love with the team for a while.

Oc. 27, 1986: Howard Johnson of the New York Mets celebrates after scoring at home plate during the Mets 8-5 win over the Boston Red Sox in Game 7 of the World Series at Shea Stadium in Flushing, New York. The Mets won the series 4-3. (T.G. Higgins/Stringer/Getty Images)
Oc. 27, 1986: Howard Johnson of the New York Mets celebrates after scoring at home plate during the Mets 8-5 win over the Boston Red Sox in Game 7 of the World Series at Shea Stadium in Flushing, New York. The Mets won the series 4-3. (T.G. Higgins/Stringer/Getty Images)

Pat Bonner, Red Sox fan: I'm turning 40 this year. So the 1999 Red Sox quite literally divides my fandom in half. The first 20 years was all about "The Flops," as my dad called them. The 1986 team is one of my earliest baseball memories, and the fact my parents let me stay up late to “watch the Sox finally win a World Series.” Oops. They got me hooked. That came along with expecting the worst. The Sox were going to lose. Somehow. Every time.

Marshall Hook, reporter, Forever Baseball: The Yankees were what the Yankees were. The Red Sox got to go to the party, but nobody gave them a real chance of winning. A popular sports radio topic of the time was, “Which team is closest to a championship?” And nobody really was.

Jared “Akrobatik” Bridgeman, Boston hip-hop artist: While I do remember the hunger of going so long without a ‘chip, I also remember that era as a time when the loyalty wasn’t as rabid. For instance, a thorough Google image search might find me wearing a Giants, Dolphins or Spurs jersey just as quickly as any Boston gear. Jerseys were trendier at the time and it was about color coordination, though my loyalty has always been with the home squads.

Adam 12: You use your local sports team as a surrogate to feel good. It’s the pathology of a sports fan.

Brian Rose, Red Sox pitcher: It was a city that was just desperate for a championship. Twenty years later, that’s all they do here in Boston - win championships.

Tony Massarotti, Boston Herald: At the time there was immense pressure to win, because they hadn’t in so long.

Rose: Everybody listens to the talk radio shows and watches TV. There was a lot of outside noise.

Glenn Stout, author, Red Sox Century: There was no better feeling, after an excruciating Red Sox loss, than to open the Globe or Herald the next day.

Dan Duquette, Red Sox general manager: The fans in Boston are tough. I remember Nomar was hitting .400 as late in the season as any right-handed hitter in recent history. There was a Saturday afternoon game at Fenway. He started 0-for-3, walked out to the on-deck circle and one of the fans goes “Hey Nomar, you bum, when are you gonna get a hit?”

He went from .400 to .395 that day. I went, “Nomar, what’d you do to that guy?”

Garciaparra would need to carry an even greater share of the offensive load in 1999, as first baseman Mo Vaughn, the 1995 MVP, had just departed for a six-year deal worth $80 million from the Anaheim Angels.

Duquette: That was a challenge. Mo had some great years with the Red Sox. He was a quality player. Our concern was how long he was going to be able to sustain that elite performance, given his age and body type. He won that MVP in ’95 over Albert Belle and enjoyed an esteemed status in the city based on his accomplishments, but the question for the team was how long he could sustain it. Our concerns were real.

Massarotti: They were worried about Mo getting fat and becoming solely a DH by the end of the deal. They just deemed it to be bad baseball investment. And they were ready to walk away. They were probably right.

Jon Wallach, Boston sports anchor: Mo came on the radio and famously said, “It’s not about the money.” I was pissed. A lot of Red Sox fans were pissed. Here’s our guy, an MVP winner. He came through the system, turned into a big star, and he left, after saying it wasn’t about the money. And it turned out to be all about the money.

Maurice Baxter, Red Sox clubhouse attendant: Mo was a huge loss for the team and the community. Now that I’m older, I realize he probably made a business decision, but I wish the Red Sox had kept him to try and bring a championship to the city.

Stout: It’s funny that he’s almost utterly forgotten now, but it’s hard to overstate how important Vaughn was at a certain place and time in this town. Let’s face it, he was the kind of player Boston didn’t usually have. And he embraced the role of being the leader. He would answer the media questions after every single game. Mo was the face of the team.

Akrobatik: I loved him while he was here. Mo was a beast.

Massarotti: I always wondered…Mo went to Anaheim and rolled his ankle, going after a pop fly, right at the beginning. It really set him back. He didn’t fit in in Anaheim. He was used to being the straw that stirred the drink in Boston. The guys in Anaheim didn’t respond to him.

Would it all have gone the same way if he stayed here? People make that assumption and I’m not sure that’s fair. History has shown, if you get a left-handed hitter who can hit the ball off the wall or over it, he’s going to do extremely well at Fenway Park. Had Mo stayed, I think he could’ve been something akin to what David Ortiz was. Even if he was a DH. So what?

Mo Vaughn of the Anaheim Angels is shown from behind during the game against the Kansas City Royals at Edison International Field on May 21, 2000 in Anaheim, California. (Photo by Tom Hauck/Getty Images)
Mo Vaughn of the Anaheim Angels is shown from behind during the game against the Kansas City Royals at Edison International Field on May 21, 2000 in Anaheim, California. (Photo by Tom Hauck/Getty Images)

Boston’s AL East rivals had spent big that offseason. The Yankees re-signed Bernie Williams at seven years and $87.5 million, while the Orioles shelled out five years and $65 million for Belle and his bad hip. The Sox ultimately came away with infielder Jose Offerman, coming off a career year in Kansas City, on a four-year, $26 million pact.

Jerry Trupiano, Red Sox radio broadcaster: They were sort of against spending big money in free agency. Maybe it had something to do with Dan Duquette’s Montreal experience. But the team was not the cash cow it is now.

John Harrington, Red Sox CEO: We spent every penny we could make to put a good baseball team on the field. We did the best we could. “Polishing the apple” is what I called it.

Trupiano: You know, while the strike was going on (in 1994), they made it possible for free agents to sign with teams. Duquette signed Sammy Sosa, Kevin Appier and John Wetteland. But all of the deals were voided.

Stout: They had bought into this idea that they were a small-market team.

Massarotti: I would say mid-market. Players wanted big contracts and Duquette wasn’t necessarily interested in giving them the deals. Now, that’s how they all do it. "Moneyball" launched after that, all the analytics stuff.

Looking back on it, I think Duquette was a little bit ahead of his time. And in Boston, where a star player had always gotten the royal treatment, it was a real culture shock. Duquette came in and said the superstars aren’t running the team anymore, and that ruffled a lot of feathers. As time went on, people started to see the point he had, but it was a public relations nightmare when the success didn’t come as quickly as he needed it to.

There was also a growing sentiment that 87-year old Fenway Park needed to be updated in order to for the team to compete. The '90s had kicked off a league-wide construction project that resulted in the replacement of nearly two-thirds of existing Major League Baseball facilities with retro-style parks - intimate facilities like Fenway - with modern features like luxury boxes and expanded concessions. Oh, and the seats were comfortable. Baltimore’s Camden Yards and Cleveland’s Jacobs Field were two early examples.

Stout: They couldn’t sign Mo Vaughn because they didn’t have the revenue stream. The message was that they needed a new ballpark to get the revenue stream. They also didn’t try to monetize the park, which is something everybody does now. There was no signage. That was an homage to the old regime.

Other than a Jimmy Fund billboard above right field, Fenway had been devoid of advertisements since the 1950’s. To look at the park 20 years ago is jarring to the modern eye accustomed to having every square inch of green covered with ads. With Fenway hosting the All-Star Game in ’99 for the first time in 38 years, a simple logo for the event on the left field wall was a big deal.

Massarotti: I don’t think they understood what a golden goose they had. The new owners made improvements with the idea that Fenway was the whole attraction. They were right.

The plan for a “New Fenway” rolled out in May to initial praise, but the proposal would ultimately get bogged down in political wrangling.

A general view of the baseball diamond taken during the All-Star Game at Fenway Park on June 20,1999 in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by: Al Bello/Getty Images)
A general view of the baseball diamond taken during the All-Star Game at Fenway Park on June 20,1999 in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by: Al Bello/Getty Images)

Reviews were similarly mixed on the makeup of the Opening Day roster. Prognosticators had the club pegged for 85 wins and third place. In lieu of the big name acquisition, Duquette sought value from players he felt had been overlooked. With a Vaughn-sized hole in the lineup and at first base, the ’99 Sox found production from an unlikely source. 

Brian Daubach, Red Sox first baseman: It was a crazy year. I was in the minor leagues a really long time, had a short call-up with the Marlins, didn’t get a lot of playing time and was ultimately released at the end of the year.

I played winter ball two years in a row down in the Dominican. Dave Jauss, who was the first base coach in Boston at the time, was our manager. I was real close to playing in Japan, like, within hours. I’d been given promises in the past about opportunities that I really didn’t get.

So I was going to Japan, and Dan Duquette called me and that was the first time a Major League GM ever said, “Hey, how’d you like a chance to make the team?”

So I signed with the Red Sox instead of going overseas. It wound up being a great decision on my part! Obviously, Mo had left that offseason. Reggie Jefferson - who was a close friend of mine when I first moved out there - was injured in Spring Training. The year before, they’d been part of a playoff team. I had a really good spring and they told me I’d be on the Opening Day roster for the Red Sox.

David Jauss, Red Sox first base coach: We signed Daubach before cell phones were really a thing, so I’m talking to Duquette on this phone that was about a foot long, plugged into a car charger. Daubach’s agent was telling him to go to Japan, and I’m telling Dan this guy could start at first base. And boy, did he put up some numbers for us that year.

Duquette: Both he and Troy O’Leary were left-handed hitters who would do pretty well at Fenway Park if they could be disciplined and hit the ball the other way. They were both good fastball hitters, and you need some of those guys to balance out your lineup.

He’d faced some adversity in his career. To his credit, he took the opportunity and made the most of it.

Duquette also took a flier on Ramon Martinez, Pedro’s brother, who’d compiled some standout years with the Dodgers but was coming off a rotator cuff injury that projected to keep him out until at least the middle of the season.

Trupiano: He was a quiet, stoic, classy individual. Very workmanlike. He wasn’t the dominant pitcher he’d been in L.A.

Duquette: He’d won 20 games with the Dodgers. He knew how to talk to the younger players and provide leadership, mentor some of the younger guys. He also knew how to pitch when it counted because he was smart and had experience. He was a good, solid veteran addition to that team. 

With other gaps in the rotation due to free agent departures and injuries, Duquette looked to chew innings with low-cost options in 36-year old Mark Portugal and journeyman Pat Rapp.

Wallach: This is where Duquette could be frustrating as a general manager. I mean, Pat Rapp?

Trupiano - I always think back to an interview I did with Mike Stanton - remember him? This guy had been a starter in the Atlanta system and had four pitches: Fastball, curveball, change-up, slider. We’re doing the pregame show and he’s in the bullpen. I said, “I know you’ve got four pitches, so what do you feature out of the bullpen?”

Johnny Pesky’s standing there, and he goes, “Fastball, slider, back up third.”

With Mark Portugal or one of those guys, it was probably, “Fastball, slider, back up home.”

But the Sox also boasted two superheroes at the height of their powers. While Garciaparra was set to submit a signature season, Martinez started filling out the fine print on his Hall of Fame plaque.

28 Feb 1999: Pitcher Pedro Martinez #45 of the Boston Red Sox poses for the camera on Photo Day during Spring Training at the City of Palms Park in Fort Myers, Florida. (Brian Bahr/Getty Images)
28 Feb 1999: Pitcher Pedro Martinez #45 of the Boston Red Sox poses for the camera on Photo Day during Spring Training at the City of Palms Park in Fort Myers, Florida. (Brian Bahr/Getty Images)

Bret Saberhagen, Red Sox pitcher: You want to talk about just dominating every game. His command was ridiculous and I’ve seen a lot of great pitchers: Nolan [Ryan], Randy Johnson, [Greg] Maddux. He is by far the best pitcher I was able to watch pitch and fortunately he was on my team, so I got to see him do it on a regular basis.

He was one of the three greatest players I played with. George Brett … Bo Jackson was a ridiculous athlete and that was another guy where you never wanted to miss an at-bat or a play in the outfield because he was always doing something spectacular. It was just a joy to be teammates with them.

Dan Roche, WBZ Radio: That was one of the greatest seasons I’ve ever seen. ’99 and 2000 were two of the best in the history of the game, especially when you look back on it. It was the Steroid Era, and he was doing it against those guys. It was like throwing a wiffle ball, the way that he pitched.

You paid to go see him. It was an event. Every time he was on the mound, the whole city seemed to be there. And it was like a soccer match, with all of the Dominican flags.

Daubach: Pedro was the best. He was always joking around, keeping people loose, but when it was his day to pitch, it was “game on.”

Jeff Frye, Red Sox second baseman: Pedro was the ultimate competitor on the mound. And we wanted him on the mound because when he was in our dugout, he was the most annoying teammate ever! He would never stop talking. He was yelling at every guy. Sometimes he’d carry on a conversation in Spanish with the Dominican shortstop he knew over in the other dugout.

Remember the time everybody taped him up? That’s because he wouldn’t shut up!

Hook: Everyone loved Pedro - maybe not the other teams, as much - but he was able to combine being such an affable, nice guy off the field with this bad ass on the field. He had no problem knocking people down. He looked mean out there. Then he’d come off the mound like “Hey guys, what’s happening?” And his skill was other-worldly.

Frye: I remember we were playing in Oakland and there was a guy named Olmedo Saenz. He’s in there against a soft-tossing lefty. Inside fastball, Saenz pokes his knee in there and gets hit on purpose. Pedro’s in the dugout going, “You want to get hit? We’ll take care of that tomorrow.” Next day, Saenz comes up and Pedro smokes him right between the numbers. We didn’t like when he was dusting dudes because that could’ve come back at one of us.

Hook: Everyone has their best pitcher they ever saw and for me it was undoubtedly Pedro. You had Maddux, Johnson and [Roger] Clemens. Every one of them would have won more Cy Youngs had the others not been around. Pedro was the best of them all. Maybe he didn’t sustain it for the [same] amount of time, but it was such a joy watching him pitch.

Pedro Martinez of the Boston Red Sox winds back to pitch the ball during a game against the Seattle Mariners at the Safeco Field in Seattle, Washington on Sept. 4, 1999. Martinez struck out 15 in 8 innings as the Red Sox defeated the Mariners 4-0. (Otto Greule Jr./Allsport)
Pedro Martinez of the Boston Red Sox winds back to pitch the ball during a game against the Seattle Mariners at the Safeco Field in Seattle, Washington on Sept. 4, 1999. Martinez struck out 15 in 8 innings as the Red Sox defeated the Mariners 4-0. (Otto Greule Jr./Allsport)

Jauss: When [Nomar] came up, we were on the road in Seattle, a great place to drive the ball the other way. [Bench coach] Grady Little and I were talking, like, “Boy, can he hit to the right side. He’s gonna be a great shortstop, he’ll hit some out, but it’s too bad he’s not playing at Yankee Stadium. He’s going to add power, but it won’t help him at Fenway.”

Nomar was that good of a player that within two months of his first year, he learned to pull the ball. He never pulled in the minor leagues; he was an opposite field hitter. He still hit the ball all over the park, but he knew he had 81 games at Fenway every year, so he learned to pull. He was that talented a hitter.

Roche: He was a different hitter. The fascination was tremendous. Every kid was out in his backyard or playing Little League, adjusting their batting gloves or going back and forth with their feet.

(Later in his career) He needed wrist surgery. My son was going to Catholic school for a couple of years in Andover. They brought the entire grade out every day and would send up intentions, you know, if your Uncle was going to the hospital and needed surgery. And my son was the one who said, “Can we pray for Nomar because he needs wrist surgery?”

Stout: He hit with power, hit in the high .300s and you’re thinking, “This could be the best player the Red Sox ever had.” He’s even kind of forgotten now, which in the context of that time seems unbelievable. It certainly made the pill of losing Vaughn easier to take, because you had another big player step up like that.

Roche: Everything you could want in a Red Sox player, he was able to do. The injuries broke him down and he became bitter about the whole contract situation but when he was in his prime, he was as good as you could get around here.

Infielder Nomar Garciaparra of the Boston Red Sox at bat during the Spring Training game against the Cincinnati Reds at the Ed Smith Stadium in Sarasota, Florida on March 6, 1999. The Reds defeated the Red Sox 6-4. (Scott Halleran/Getty Images)
Infielder Nomar Garciaparra of the Boston Red Sox at bat during the Spring Training game against the Cincinnati Reds at the Ed Smith Stadium in Sarasota, Florida on March 6, 1999. The Reds defeated the Red Sox 6-4. (Scott Halleran/Getty Images)

Jimy Williams returned for his third season as manager. Like Duquette, he didn’t try to score points with the media. But before the year was out, he’d be named AL Manager of the Year.

Massarotti: Jimy was a real intense baseball guy, so he was just better around baseball people. He did not suffer fools well. So if somebody came in asking superficial media questions, he had no use for you. If you wanted to talk about guys who could turn a double play, he was more than happy to talk about it.

Trupiano: I loved him. Great guy. The media stuff …he was a country guy and he came in and said some things like, “The frog bumped his booty.”

Daubach: Jimy has always been a teacher. He’s been a baseball guy his whole life. He really loved teaching the young kids. That year, we had a young group. We had a lot of good veterans, too, but he took it upon himself to do stuff that other managers didn’t. The early BP; he hit ground balls every day.

You could just tell he was a hard worker and you really wanted to give your all for a guy like that.

Frye: I loved Jimy. He was kind of quirky; sometimes he went against what you’re supposed to do.

I remember we were in Toronto against a right-handed pitcher. I think it was Frank Castillo. All of us righties figured we weren’t playing that day. Me and Darren Lewis and some other guys went out and played golf that morning, thinking, “We’re not playing.”

We get to the park and get called into the office and we’re like, “Oh, crap.” He goes, “Look, right handers are hitting like .189 against this guy we’re facing tonight, so I figured what the heck, we’re putting all righties in the lineup.” And we wound up getting 13 hits and won the game.

He didn’t care about getting second guessed by the media. He just did what he thought was right. He had a hunch and he went with it.

Rose: I loved Jimy Williams as a manager. He was a players’ guy. He told you how it was and you felt like he was in your corner. He was a guy who’d been with the Atlanta Braves when (Tom) Glavine and (John) Smoltz were young. So we had a lot of conversations about what it’s like to fail as a young player and learning from those failures.

Massarotti: The two best managers the Red Sox had during my time covering the team were Tito Francona and Jimy Williams. Both guys knew how to handle a pitching staff and both knew how to manage a bullpen.

Frye: My favorite manager I ever played for was Jimy Williams, no question.

Manager Jimy Williams of the Boston Red Sox talking at home plate during the Spring Training game against the New York Yankees at Legends Field in Tampa, Florida on March 6, 1999. The Red Sox defeated the Yankees 7-4. (Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images)
Manager Jimy Williams of the Boston Red Sox talking at home plate during the Spring Training game against the New York Yankees at Legends Field in Tampa, Florida on March 6, 1999. The Red Sox defeated the Yankees 7-4. (Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images)

And so Williams embarked on the 1999 campaign with a roster featuring two superstars and a host of players with something to prove.

Daubach: In ’99 we had a lot of guys who fit that category. Troy O’Leary was one who had already been there a few years. A lot of starting pitchers, too.

Jauss: It was a mix of veterans making their way back and young guys coming along.

Rose: We had a lot of great players - maybe not All-Stars every year, but mainstays: O’Leary in left field, John Valentin at third base. Mike Stanley at first…

Trupiano: Stanley - he was a good, solid guy. Good teammate.

Roche: Mike Stanley was the classic veteran clubhouse presence. He contributed in a big way that year.

Frye: Stano was one of my favorite teammates ever. The most respected guy in our locker room. Not the vocal leader, but our leader.

Roche: I loved Darren Lewis. He was a great defensive player who could handle the bat, too.

Rose: Then you had young guys like me, [Jason] Varitek and [Derek] Lowe just looking to contribute. You had an old-timer like Mark Portugal. Saberhagen was like 35 at the time, but still really good.

Bret Saberhagen had been a two-time AL Cy Young Award winner and World Series MVP with the Royals. He was also one of the most dominant video game characters of all-time, as evidenced by his appearance in the 1987 classic RBI Baseball.

Saberhagen: One thing that pissed me off about the game was my stamina. I took a lot of pride in that - I think I had 73 complete games (actually 76) in my career, primarily all before I hurt my shoulder and had surgery. But my character got weak in about the sixth inning. It was like, “Come on!”

By the late-'90s, Saberhagen was a little closer to the guy in the sixth inning. He’d been through back-to-back shoulder surgeries in 1995 and ’96, including a complete reconstruction. But he undoubtedly made his mark during his time in Boston.

Saberhagen: The Red Sox came to the table with decent money and incentives. The ’97 season, I was able to get back on the mound by August and throw a few games. So that was nice for me, mentally, knowing that I came back and threw and didn’t have the discomfort I had prior. I wasn’t a nine-inning pitcher, a complete game guy anymore. I could get six to eight innings from time to time.

1998 was a fun year. I was able to win Comeback Player of the Year and help the team out. It was nice to be healthy. Pedro took a lot of pressure off me because he was the ace. I just kind of fit in as one of the starters.

Duquette: Saberhagen was another veteran addition. He’d won 20 games and the Cy Young Award. He brought a winning attitude and presence to the team and he was another guy who knew how to compete against the Yankees.

Baxter: Pedro, Tim Wakefield, Jim Rice, Grady Little, Tom Gordon, Troy O’Leary, Bret Saberhagen…the players were good, down to earth guys.

Rose: Wendell Kim was a wonderful clubhouse guy - the third base coach. Some guys you never forget. He was a magician on the side so when we had a delay, he'd start doing little tricks and stuff.

Jauss: Grady, in his tremendous way, when Wendell got another runner thrown out going into home, he'd say, "Wendell, why are you making all these runners disappear? Keep the magic tricks for the dugout before the game!" The whole dugout would crack up.

Frye: Everybody really liked each other. It was a hodgepodge of guys, a bunch of journeyman guys; it seemed like, that just kind of meshed well together. We could hit, you know?

Bonner: They didn't put up gaudy stats. Nobody hit over 30 homers. Saberhagen was the only other pitcher (besides Pedro) with double-digit wins. It was a team that won together instead of individually. They played for each other. Won for each other. And that is what made them memorable.

Roche: There were so many pieces to the puzzle that made the team fun. It was one of those years where I thought everybody and anybody contributed in some way.

Pitcher Bret Saberhagen of the Boston Red Sox pitching the ball during the Spring Training game against the New York Yankees at Legends Field in Tampa, Florida on March 6, 1999. The Red Sox defeated the Yankees 7-4. (Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images)
Pitcher Bret Saberhagen of the Boston Red Sox pitching the ball during the Spring Training game against the New York Yankees at Legends Field in Tampa, Florida on March 6, 1999. The Red Sox defeated the Yankees 7-4. (Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images)

Martinez came out of the chute with wins in four of his five April decisions, the last a complete game victory over Cleveland where he threw 135 pitches and whiffed David Justice with 95 mile per hour gas for the final out.

New acquisition Offerman sparked the offense with a .341 average for the month. But the club languished around .500 as injuries forced Williams to mix and match like never before. Garciaparra was shelved the first half of April, and the catching platoon took a hit when Scott Hatteberg experienced issues with his throwing arm.

The spotlight was suddenly on former number one pick Jason Varitek.

The young catcher announced his presence with authority by leveling postseason tormenter Justice in a brawl during the Cleveland series, and he’d catch almost every one of Pedro’s starts the rest of the way.

Trupiano: He had power from both sides of the plate. And I loved Scott Hatteberg. But Varitek was elite defensively.

Saberhagen: Having Varitek behind the plate was just a blessing. There were four catchers that I absolutely loved pitching to: Bob Boone, Jim Sundberg and Charlie O’Brien - he was Greg Maddux’s personal catcher - those were veteran guys who taught me a lot when I was young. And then there was Jason Varitek.

To put it in perspective with Tek, he could go 4-for-4 and if the pitcher didn’t do all that well, he would be in the clubhouse all pissed off thinking about what he could’ve done differently to help the pitcher out. Or he’d go 0-for-4 and one of us would throw a gem, and he’s ecstatic that his pitcher did well. He was an unbelievable receiver.

He took a lot of pride in knowing the opposing team. Those four guys I talked about - they knew what I wanted to throw in certain situations and what pitches were working for me throughout the game. If I shook off five times in a game that would be a lot. We’d get into a rhythm and he was a lot of fun to throw to.

In the meantime, Saberhagen, who’d started the year with two brilliant outings, hit the shelf. The Sox called up 22-year old Juan Pena. The 6-foot-5 righty responded with two strong turns in the rotation, striking out eight in six innings against Anaheim at Fenway and following up with seven scoreless frames in Toronto at Skydome. They would be the only two Major League appearances of his career, as Pena also fell victim to an injury.

Enter Brian Rose, long one of Boston’s prized prospects alongside Carl Pavano, who’d been dealt to Montreal in the Pedro deal. Rose grew up in Southeastern Massachusetts, pitched at Dartmouth High and was Duquette’s third-round pick in 1994.

Rose: We didn’t have a lot of money growing up. I always went to one game a year with my grandfather, through his company. This was back when we only had 13 TV stations. TV-38 was on in our house every night.

Watching those guys on TV, growing up a fan, playing as those guys in video games…suddenly, I’m in the locker room, sitting next to Nomar.

In ’98, about halfway through Spring Training I felt something pop in my elbow. I kept pitching anyway and by mid-July, I couldn’t do it anymore. They found out I had a broken bone in my elbow that was attached to the ulna. I basically took the rest of the year off.

I started ’99 and was sent down to the minor leagues. I felt healthy. I thought I had done everything you could do at that level, but the injury set me back a bit, so I said, “I’m going to go out there and pitch the best I can, wherever I am.”

Middle of May, a couple of the starters went down for the big club and they needed a spot starter against the Yankees at home. I got called up. I remember going up there and I didn’t even unpack my bag. I took my cleats out; I took out my shirt that I used to pitch in. I ended up winning that day.

I was sitting by my locker after the game, ready to get sent back down, and no one ever came to get me. I remember asking Saberhagen, and he goes, “Show up tomorrow. Looks like you’re going to get another start.”

The next start was at the Yankees in the Bronx. First at-bat, [Chuck] Knoblauch takes me deep. I’m thinking, “Here we go again,” because you’re pitching on edge and you don’t want to get sent down. I wanted to be with the club that I grew up watching my whole life. I settled down after that. I think I threw six innings that day.

I went to my locker and sat there, waiting for the call to the office. Didn’t get it again. I think [Tim] Wakefield walked by and said, “Welcome to the club. You pitched your ass off out there.” It was at that moment I knew I was a Major League pitcher. That I could do it.

Pitcher Brian Rose of the Boston Red Sox pitching the ball during the Spring Training game against the Minnesota Twins at the City of Palms Park in Fort Myers, Florida on March 8, 1999. The Twins defeated the Red Sox 6-3. (Brian Bahr /Allsport)
Pitcher Brian Rose of the Boston Red Sox pitching the ball during the Spring Training game against the Minnesota Twins at the City of Palms Park in Fort Myers, Florida on March 8, 1999. The Twins defeated the Red Sox 6-3. (Brian Bahr /Allsport)

Amidst the injuries, the Sox caught fire in May. Garciaparra returned from the shelf and delivered a three-homer, 10 RBIs night against the Mariners on May 10th, Boston’s fifth win in a row on a stretch that would see them go 20-6. And Daubach was right in the thick of it.

Daubach: I actually got sent home for a short time that year. It was really early on, during the first homestand. Jimy and Dan are in the office and I think, “Oh, no. I’ve been down this road before.”

They said, “We’ll see you in 10 days; we just need to clean up our pitching." I was back in 10 days. By mid-to-late May, I’m hitting third for a team going on a playoff run, right in front of Nomar and I’m thinking, “Man, this is surreal.”

The Sox climbed into first place, overtaking the Yankees midway through the month and holding the lead into June. Martinez continued to post superhuman numbers, becoming the first pitcher since Nolan Ryan to strike out 10 or more batters in seven consecutive starts. By Memorial Day, he’d also collect 10 wins.

Tom “Flash” Gordon was another mainstay of the roster. An All-Star in ’98, the veteran pushed his Major League record streak of 54 consecutive saves into the spring of ’99, but an elbow injury felled the curveball artist in June, leaving Williams to think outside the box yet again.

Read Part 2 of this Oral History here.

Sean Sylver can be heard on 98.5 The Sports Hub. You can follow him on Twitter @TheSylverFox.