The historic 2004 Boston Red Sox season was former Red Sox pitcher Bronson Arroyo’s tenth year in professional baseball but his first complete season in the major leagues.
“I was so fortunate to be a part of that season,” Bronson said in a 2019 interview. “It was a season that Red Sox fans will never forget. And I got to play with some great ballplayers. It’s a wonderful memory.”
Arroyo was a key member of the World Champion’s starting rotation. Looking back 15 years, Bronson said, “I was a part of a rotation with two Hall of Fame caliber pitchers [Pedro Martinez and Curt Schilling], and two others [Tim Wakefield and Derek Lowe] who had outstanding careers.
“When you add Jason Varitek and his ability to work with pitchers, I was in an ideal situation. Yes, I was very fortunate,” he said.
Bronson Arroyo will always be remembered for his contribution to the iconic 2004 Boston Red Sox, but just 18 months earlier he had been released by the lowly Pittsburg Pirates. Fortunately the Red Sox recognized his potential and the team signed him before spring training in 2003.
Great scouting and coaching by the club, and hard work by Arroyo, provided an important piece in the solution to the World Championship puzzle.
Bronson Arroyo was born in Key West, Florida, on February 24, 1977, and he spent his early years in that southernmost location in the continental United States. When Bronson was a youngster the Arroyo family moved to Brookville, Florida, about 40 miles north of Tampa.
“It was a great place to grow up,” Bronson says. “There were lots of opportunities for kids to play sports.”
His first clear memory of playing baseball goes back to T-Ball at age six. “I had very good eye-hand coordination and I was able to hit the ball right away. I was always among the best players for my youth teams.”
Bronson first became aware of baseball scouts’ interest during his junior year. “When I was a junior at Hernado High School, I noticed there were a few scouts, and in my senior year there might have been 15-20 at each game.”
THE LONG ROAD TO THE MAJORS
Arroyo had plans for college after graduation, but when the Pirates drafted him in the June 1995 MLB draft, he decided to sign and begin his professional career. “I went in the third round and I felt the Pirates believed in me.”
Did he ever get discouraged working his way through the Pirates minor league system? “Not really,” he said, “because I knew it would take time when I signed. I was mature mentally, but I knew I had a lot of work to do skill-wise.”
In his sixth minor league season the Pirates brought Bronson to the majors in June 2000. He pitched in 20 games as a rookie, and then split his time between the minors and Pittsburgh for the next two seasons. When the Pirates placed him on waivers in March 2003, the Red Sox grabbed him.
He remembers the 2003 Red Sox spring train camp as breath of fresh air. “The Red Sox mixed up the order of the drills and veterans like Tek [Jason Varitek] were open to communication.” When he was sent to Pawtucket general manager Theo Epstein told him to be prepared for a call-up later.
At Pawtucket he pitched the second perfect game in PawSox history, and he was named the International League Pitcher of the year. He pitched in six games in the regular season for the 2003 Red Sox after he was called up in August.
When he followed that with three strong relief appearances against the Yankees in the ALCS, he became an important part of the Red Sox pitching plans for 2004.
FORT MYERS 2004
The 2004 Red Sox spring training camp featured a new manager, Terry Francona, two new pitchers, veteran starter Curt Schilling and closer Keith Foulke, and a single goal of bringing a World Championship to Boston.
If there was any lingering emotion from the 2003 ALCS loss to the Yankees, Bronson didn’t see it. “Everyone was very upbeat,” he says, “and since I finished 2003 with the team I felt comfortable and I could concentrate on my pitching.”
Arroyo was competing with Byung-Hyun Kim for the fifth spot in the starting rotation and in late-February, Epstein told the media, “Kim has a good shot at the fifth spot in the rotation. And we have excellent protection in Bronson Arroyo.”
Clearly the Red Sox were trying to salvage their failed acquisition of Kim, knowing that Arroyo could handle spot starts and relief. “I understood the situation but I wanted to be a starter,” Bronson says.
Arroyo did pitch well in camp, Kim injured his shoulder, and Bronson became the fifth starter. In addition, manager Francona named him to start the home opener.
In 12-months he had been waived by the team that had drafted him, pitched his way from Triple-A to the Red Sox 2003 playoff roster, and achieved the honor of starting the opener at Fenway Park!
The Red Sox arrived home from Baltimore at 8 am on the day of the home opener. Bronson had flown home early and felt rested as he watched the pomp and ceremony at Fenway.
Arroyo gave the Red Sox six solid innings, holding the visiting Blue Jays to four runs, and saving an over-taxed Red Sox bullpen. Looking back Bronson says, “I was disappointed, I wanted to pitch better.”
But Francona told the media, “He did fine. He gave us a chance to win and that’s what we needed.” Bronson continued in the rotation and on May 15th he faced the Blue Jays again, this time in Toronto. He pitched a gem, allowing only three-hits over eight innings to earn his first win as a Red Sox starter.
“One reason I remember that start so well is that I was battling the flu. But in the second inning I settled in and I was fine.” Catcher Doug Mirabelli said, “Spectacular,” describing Bronson’s performance to the media, “he didn’t throw a bad pitch all day.”
Arroyo pitched well over the next three months, and he started an important game at home against the Yankees on July 22. Bronson didn’t have his best stuff but he will be forever remembered for his role in a game the Red Sox ultimately won on a Bill Mueller ninth-inning home run.
“We were trailing 3-0, in the third inning when ARod came up,” Bronson says. “I threw a sinker that hit him on the big pads on his left arm. He started down to first chirping at me, and Tek told him, “Enough.” ARod gave Tek a smart answer, Tek stuck his big catcher’s mitt in ARod’s face, and the battle was on!”
Over the balance of the season Bronson contributed to the Red Sox drive to the Wild Card with a 7-2 record. He was the winning pitcher in the postseason clincher, a 7-3 win over the Rays in Tampa.
“That was a great feeling,” Bronson says. “The celebration was quiet compared to 2003, but we knew we had more business to take care of.”
AN HISTORIC CHAMPIONSHIP
The Red Sox began their 2004 postseason in Anaheim, CA, where they beat the Angels in the first two games of the ALDS. They headed back to Boston for their postseason Fenway Park opener and Bronson Arroyo was selected to be the starter.
Arroyo pitched well in the opener, holding the Angels to five base runners in six full innings, and when he was relieved the Red Sox held a 6-1 lead. “I felt good about my performance in Game Three,” he says.
“When I came into the dugout after I was through, Tim Wakefield was the first teammate to shake my hand. He could have been named the starter for that game,” Bronson says, “and that showed what a class guy he is.”
The Red Sox could do no wrong in the ALDS but they couldn’t seem to do anything right in the first three games of the ALCS against the Yankees. Arroyo took his lumps, along with most of the other Red Sox pitchers, giving up six runs in two innings in Game Three in Fenway Park.
The Red Sox won two dramatic victories in Game Four and Five at home, and in Game Six, Curt Schilling, bloody sock and all, limited the Yankees to one run in seven innings. Arroyo was brought in to pitch the eighth to hold on to a 4-1 Red Sox lead.
That inning started routinely enough, but when ARod came to the plate the Yankees had cut the lead to 4-2, and Derek Jeter was on first base. Bronson still distinctly remembers the events that followed. “I threw him a 70 mph curve that he hit off the very end of his bat. The ball was heading towards first base, spinning like a top, and I was totally fixated on it,” he says.
“I grabbed the ball, tagged ARod with the ball in my glove, and suddenly I didn’t know where the ball and glove had gone! Then I realized he had knocked my glove off. Fortunately the umpires got together, called ARod out, and sent Jeter back to first.”
Bronson got the third out, Keith Foulke earned a save, and the series was tied at three each. The Red Sox won Game Seven 10-3, and they celebrated on the grass at Yankee Stadium. “Just to be part of the greatest comeback ever was a thrill,” Bronson says.
Bronson agrees that no team could have beaten the Red Sox in the World Series given the momentum the team had, and the Cardinals were swept in four-straight. “Winning the Championship, ending the curse, all with great teammates, is something I will always remember,” he says.
In 2005, Bronson won 14 games while making 32 starts as a regular member of the Red Sox rotation. But in March 2006, he was traded to Cincinnati for Reds outfielder Willy Mo Pena. That day is still firmly etched in Bronson’s mind.
“Theo told me, ‘I really wish I didn’t have to tell you this but we have traded you to Cincinnati.’ I have to say that call came from out of left field. I never expected it. I was disappointed, sad, and mad. I loved playing in Boston and I loved my teammates,” he says.
Bronson may have been disappointed but he still had one of his better years in the big leagues in 2006, winning 14 games and earning All-Star honors. He went on to have a nice nine-year career with the Reds, winning 108 games in total. But he prefers to talk about the relationships that he formed in the Queen City.
“Cincinnati is a great place and I made friendships that will last a lifetime. I get back there about once a month and I go in and help the clubhouse staff clean cleats and distribute the towels.”
BRONSON ARROYO TODAY
When Bronson Arroyo retired after 2017 season, he had accumulated 148 major league victories and a legion of friends. Former Red Sox outfielder [2013-2014] Jonny Gomes played with Bronson for two seasons in Cincinnati and he said, “Everyone loves Bronson. He could fit in and add to any group at any level.”
Former Red Sox reliever Lenny DiNardo was a Rule 5 pick in 2004, and didn’t know any of his teammates. “The two of us bonded pretty quickly,” Lenny says about Bronson, “and I credit him with helping me to adapt. We are still in good touch.”
Bronson acknowledges that it was tough to end his active baseball career. “I had been playing catch since I was five and I spent my whole adult life pitching. I was ready for another 200 inning season mentally, but physically it just wasn’t there.”
He may be retired but Bronson is still a very busy man. “I wish there were ten of me so I could do everything I want to do,” he says. “Family is first, my friends are a close second, and there are a lot of places I want to visit.”
Music is important to him as well. Red Sox fans have seen him perform at the “Hot Stove and Cool Music” benefit concert and the Bronson Arroyo Band is performing throughout New England this summer.
Asked about his time in Boston Arroyo answers, “I loved Boston and I still do. I get back as often as I can.
“Red Sox fans are great. They are the most passionate fans anywhere,” he says. “I still feel privileged to have been a part of the Red Sox team that ended “the curse.”
“I really enjoyed everything about my time in Boston!”