ROCHESTER, N.Y. — It’s been almost nine years since the 2004 Boston Red Sox pulled off the most remarkable comeback in the history of postseason baseball to stun the Yankees in the 2004 ALCS and win the team’s first World Series title in 86 years. The stories of the so-called “idiots” have become something akin to baseball mythology — from the “Cowboy Up” rallying cry to the half-naked jacuzzi party sparked by Manny Ramirez to Curt Schilling’s famous bloody sock.
At the Pepsi MAX Field of Dreams Game at Frontier Field in Rochester, N.Y. on Saturday, Red Sox legend Pedro Martinez revealed one of his favorite stories from that team.
“We took a shot of Mama Juana every single game, before the game,” Martinez said in an interview conducted in the dugout of the AL legends team, for whom Martinez pitched in Saturday’s exhibition game. “We call it Mama Juana — it’s made of roots, with latin rum.”
Martinez’s version of the team’s ALCS pre-game drinking ritual differs from that of former Red Sox teammate Kevin Millar, whose revelation that the team had done pre-game shots of Jack Daniels before Game 6 of the ALCS against the Yankees caused a stir following the team’s historic championship run.
According to Martinez, the Mama Juana custom started before Game 4 of the ALCS when Ellis Burks, a member of the 2004 team who was not on the team’s postseason roster, decided to try a shot of the Dominican rum concoction. After the team’s thrilling 6-4 win in 12 innings over the rival Yankees to begin the epic comeback (Game 4 is widely regarded as one of the greatest postseason games in baseball history by non-Yankee fans), a new tradition was born.
“Everybody took a little bit from the top of the shot after we won the first game,” Martinez said. “Somebody did it before the game — it was Ellis Burks who wasn’t on the roster at the time who took the first shot. And then Millar jumped in. And then Johnny Damon jumped in. And everybody started jumping in, so we did it as a team unity to actually keep the same tradition going for the team. So we had to do it for the four games we beat the Yankees.
“We started when we were down 3-0,” Martinez continued. “And Ellis decided to taste it to see what it tastes like, then Millar wants to taste it and everybody wants to taste it so we all do it. And the hell with it. And we ended up winning.”
Martinez clarified that the Mama Juana shots weren’t strong, nor were they actual full shots.
“It wouldn’t get you drunk because it was just a little sip,” Martinez said. “But we did it.”
Retired from the game since 2009, the eight-time All-Star and three-time Cy Young Award winner rejoined the Red Sox organization this year as a special assistant to General Manager Ben Cherington. The future Hall of Famer, now 41, discussed his new role with the team, which involves mentoring young pitchers in the Red Sox organization. He’s a pretty decent role model for young pitchers, with two Cy Young awards, a World Series title and an 117-37 record with a 2.52 ERA over seven seasons in Boston.
“I really told them to get ready most of all for the long haul,” Martinez said of working with the pitchers during spring training. “The season gets so long after a while and I think those kids sometimes are not ready mentally to know that they’re going to be working for a long long time, a long period of time and consistently. I advised them about preparation. I advised about discipline. The three and a half hours that they’re going to be in the game, dedicated to the game only, exclusively to the game, it’s really important.”
When he’s not working with talent within the Red Sox organization or making appearances, Martinez loves watching the crop of flame-throwing pitchers currently featured throughout the majors.
“If I start mentioning every one of them, I might not finish today,” Martinez said when asked who he most enjoys watching. “But there’s a few of them that I can bring up. I can bring up the kid from the Mets [Matt Harvey], the one from the Marlins [Jose Fernandez], Strasburg in Washington. So many great pitchers coming up. I never get enough of seeing Verlander and King Felix and Cueto and Chapman. The kids in Tampa — Price and those guys — it’s always nice to see. As far as pitching, I’m all over everybody.”
Despite his 219 wins, 2.93 ERA and 1.054 WHIP over an 18-year career, Martinez remains modest about his talent compared to the young studs.
“I think they’re more talented than I was — by far,” Martinez said. “Those kids deserve all the credit. The scouting systems are doing a great job of picking up those guys and especially at such a young age they’re so good. It’s really impressive what they’re doing at that age.”
Martinez is high on the prospects of Rubby De La Rosa, acquired by the Red Sox in the Adrian Gonzalez mega-deal last summer.
“We always have some great talent in the organization,” Martinez said. “Guys like Rubby De La Rosa, easy 100 miles an hour. We got so many guys that really stand out from the rest of the pack. But it’s all over the big leagues that you see arms now close to 100 miles an hour. Something that didn’t happen so often back in those days.”
Martinez says he’s thrilled to back with the organization that defined his career, even if it means being back under the spotlight of the Boston media.
“When you mention Boston, it’s the B. It’s the Red Sox,” Martinez said as he pointed to the Red Sox “B” on his cap. “The Patriots can do well, the Bruins, the Celtics, everybody can do well but the only ones that get mentioned 24/7 is the Red Sox. And it’s a small city with a whole bunch of media chasing the Red Sox. It’s always interesting in Boston.”
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Amanda Rykoff is a New York City-based writer. She’s a sports fan, proud Penn alum, recovering attorney, devoted aunt, and voracious consumer of media. She has contributed to ESPN.com, GuySpeed, ONE World Sports, The Outside Corner and previously co-hosted the ESPN podcast “Play Ball!” Follow her on Twitter (@amandarykoff).