Before the Boston Red Sox finally ended "The Curse" in 2004, there was 86 long years of disappointment and heartbreak.
One of the most gutwrenching moments in Red Sox history came in Game 7 of the 2003 American League Championship Series against the archrival New York Yankees. Boston ace Pedro Martinez took a 5-2 lead into the eighth inning, the Yankees rallied, and Sox manager Grady Little made the decision to stick with his star.
New York finally forced Little to remove Martinez after tying the game at 5. Later on in the 11th, Aaron Boone stepped up to the plate against Tim Wakefield and... well... you know the rest.
What would have changed if Little pulled Martinez with the Red Sox ahead 5-3? Our partners at Strat-O-Matic simulated the scenario, and it turns out that decision indeed would have changed the course of Red Sox history.
Alan Embree replaces Pedro Martinez in the 8th
In the real-life Game 7, Little turned to Alan Embree when it was too late. The left-hander entered with the game tied at 5 and got Jason Giambi to pop out to end the nightmare eighth inning.
If Little had pulled Martinez earlier, Embree likely would have been the guy to limit the damage. He entered Game 7 having not allowed a run in four other ALCS appearances and seven total postseason games. That's why Strat-O-Matic decided, unlike Little, to replace Martinez with Embree to face Hideki Matsui with the 5-3 lead.
It was a success.
Embree got out of the jam, striking out both Matsui and Jorge Posada to maintain the two-run lead going into the ninth. Scott Williamson took it from there and though he made Sox fans sweat by letting up a Karim Garcia home run, the righty held on and fanned Alfonso Soriano to send Boston to the World Series.
Red Sox end "The Curse"
Grady Little's decision to stick with Pedro Martinez is one of the biggest "what if?" scenarios in sports history. If Little takes Martinez out of that game, do the Red Sox go on to end "The Curse" after 85 years?
According to Strat-O-Matic's simulation, the answer to that question is yes.
Thanks to Embree's clutch performance, the Red Sox advanced to take on the real-life champion Florida Marlins in the World Series. The two clubs went at it for seven games and, poetically, Martinez took the hill for Game 7.
There was little drama for Little and Martinez this time around as the Sox ace capped the series with a two-hit shutout, striking out 13 in an 8-0 victory. That wasn't the only instant classic in the simulated series, either. In Game 2, Boston scored five runs in the top of the ninth to stun Florida, 8-7.
Pedro Martinez, Trot Nixon among World Series heroes
It turns out Martinez would have been pretty darn good if he had the chance to redeem himself on baseball's biggest stage.
The three-time Cy Young award winner was stellar in the World Series simulation. In his two starts, he allowed only three runs on six hits while striking out 23 in 16 innings. The two-hit Game 7 shutout would have been a signature moment for the legendary right-hander.
Either Martinez or Trot Nixon likely would have been named 2003 World Series MVP. Nixon went 9-for-27 in the series with three home runs and nine RBI with two of those homers coming in Game 7.
Manny Ramirez and Bill Mueller stepped up as Boston's other offensive stars. Ramirez surprisingly didn't homer in the series, but he did go 12-for-30 and drive in seven runs with four doubles and even a triple. Mueller was 9-for-27 with three solo homers.
Now the question after Strat-O-Matic's alternate ending is, do the Red Sox still go on to win it in '04 if Boston ends the curse in '03?