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Filling the (MLB) Void: The Night Jason Varitek and Steve Harvey Became Forever Linked in MLB History

The 2008 ALCS had several classic moments. One of the most memorable had absolutely nothing to do with baseball.

Tropicana Field Nighttime by Eric Kilby is licensed under CC BY SA-2.0

Filling the (MLB) Void: The Night Jason Varitek and Steve Harvey Became Forever Linked in MLB History

Estimated Reading Time: 6 Minutes

Having a hard time with the Major League Baseball lockout? Yeah – us too. Especially when Spring Training should have started and there are still so many questions left to answer before the season can begin. So, we here at The Turf thought we’d offer a way to help ease that tension. While we may not have any of the current MLB baseball to watch live, there is PLENTY of archive footage available at our fingertips. We’ve scoured the internet and assembled some of the most iconicnoteworthy, and remarkable baseball games we could find. We also found some mundanerun of the mill stories, that seemed banal at first watch. However, at this point, we’ll take anything that resembles an MLB game, right? Until the lockout ends, we’ll feature one of the contests and provide you a link where you can relive the glory, exhilaration, and thrill from the comfort of your couch.

Now let’s revisit a special night in 2008 when an offensively-struggling team captain and a sitcom star became connected for all-time in the pages of MLB history. This is us reliving Game 6 of the 2008 ALCS, or as it’s also called, “The Steve Harvey Game”.

The 2008 ALCS featured the defending world champion Boston Red Sox and the Tampa Bay Rays. This was the first season Tampa Bay’s team had dropped the “Devil” from their team nickname. It was also the first time since the franchise’s inception that the team had a winning record.

For the first decade of major league baseball in Tampa, there was not much to take note of aside from a staggering level of futility. The Devil Rays averaged 97 losses from the 1998 through 2007 seasons. The 2008 season was a different story as the Rays won 97 games, were the AL East champions, and were facing off vs. the Red Sox in the ALCS.

Finally, the Tampa Bay Rays had changed their narrative of being a joke franchise.

To quickly recap, Boston won Game 1 behind what was possibly Daisuke Matsuzaka’s best performance as a Red Sox. Tampa came back to win Game 2 in 11 innings, before destroying the Red Sox by a combined score of 22-5 in Games 3 and 4.

The Rays looked to finish off Boston in Game 5, leading 7-0 going into the bottom of the 7th. The Red Sox would then score eight unanswered runs in an astounding comeback to force the series to a Game 6.

This is where we begin our story.

The Red Sox headed into Game 6 with the ace of the previous postseason, Josh Beckett, on the hill. Beckett had won all four of his 2007 playoff starts, striking out 35 in 30 innings while only allowing four earned runs. The 2008 playoffs had been a different story as Beckett allowed eight earned runs in Boston’s Game 2 loss vs. Tampa.

What made things even more daunting for Beckett was how insane the top of the Rays order had been. Leading up to Game 6, here’s how Tampa’s 2/3/4 hitters had fared in the 2008 playoffs:

BJ Upton614.342.409.895
Carlos Pena38.414.514.759
Evan Longoria610.278.350.833

The Red Sox were dealing with quite the opposite performance from team captain Jason Varitek. From 2003 through 2007 Varitek was one of the best all-around catchers in baseball. He had an .825 OPS and hit 94 home runs over these seasons while making two All-Star teams.

In 2008, Varitek’s offensive output would hit a brick wall as from June 1st to the end of the season he slashed .191/.291/.298. Then in the playoffs before Game 6 he had a .115/.207/.115 slash line with ZERO extra-base hits and ZERO RBI.

For Boston to extend the series they were going to need their starting battery to look more like the 2007 version. And these key Red Sox were able to turn back the clock.

Beckett would throw five innings, but only allow two earned runs (both on solo home runs). However, when Beckett exited the game the teams were tied 2-2.

In the bottom of the sixth, Varitek stepped into the batter’s box with 2 outs after already going 0 for 2 vs. Rays’ starter James Shields. Varitek was able to lay off Shields’ first two offerings and with a 2-0 count, he gave Boston a 3-2 lead with a home run to deep right.

Three batters later, David Ortiz would single home Coco Crisp and give Boston a 4-2 lead they would not relinquish. All of Varitek’s offensive struggles no longer mattered as his game-winning home run pushed the Red Sox to a do-or-die Game 7.

So, what does all this have to do with comedian Steve Harvey?

Great question – and one I’ll answer with a personal story. I was living in New York City during this time which I wouldn’t recommend if you’re a Boston sports fan. Luckily, a bar called Professor Thom’s offered a haven while living in the belly of the beast.

I was there for Game 6 of the 2008 ALCS and you can’t underestimate the level of nervous excitement in the bar as we waited for the first pitch. A pitch that no one in the bar would end up seeing.

As the clock struck 8 pm and we waited for the game to start something odd happened on the TV. TBS was not showing the game but instead had a rerun of “The Steve Harvey Show” playing. We all thought these games never start on the dot so surely this would correct itself by the first pitch at 8:08 pm.

But the game started, and we still saw Steve Harvey. This was also before Twitter had become popular so we couldn’t just check our phones to see what was happening, especially when the first iPhone was only released a little over a year earlier.

One person did have a smartphone though, and at that moment a hero rose in that bar. This intrepid Sox fan took their smartphone straight to the bartender. Then through what I can only assume was some type of magic, they hooked the phone up to the stereo and we suddenly could at least listen to the game.

We heard we’d missed a BJ Upton home run off Beckett (par for the series at this point). Luckily, the TV feed was back up during the bottom of the first and remained for the rest of the game.

TBS would later share the issue was “Two circuit breakers in our Atlanta transmission operations tripped, causing the master router and its backup which are necessary to transmit any incoming feed outbound to shut down.”

The memory of the “Steve Harvey Game” is especially worth remembering because the Red Sox ended up winning the game. Jason Varitek deserves a multitude of thank you’s from Red Sox nation for what he contributed during his career in Boston. But my favorite Varitek game will always be one that started like this…

Terry is from Massachusetts and is a passionate fan of the Patriots, Celtics, Red Sox and Bruins. He also will admit he only pays attention to Syracuse basketball when they're good. If there's a Twitter trade rumor even remotely associated with one of his teams, he's likely fallen for it. Finally, he believes 100% that if the Celtics had beaten the Heat in the 2012 Eastern Conference Finals they would have swept the Thunder in the Finals.

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