In the off-season, Port was replaced by Yale graduate Theo Epstein. Epstein, raised in Brookline, Massachusetts, and just 28 at the time of his hiring, became the youngest general manager in MLB history.
The Red Sox celebrate their clinching of the 2003 AL Wild Card with a victory over the Baltimore Orioles.
The "Idiots" of 2004 arose out of the "Cowboy Up" team of 2003, a nickname derived from first baseman Kevin Millar's challenge to his teammates to show more determination. In addition to Millar, the team's offense was so deep that 2003 batting champion Bill Mueller batted 7th in the lineup behind sluggers Manny Ramírez and the newly acquired David Ortiz.
GM Theo Epstein, noticing that Mueller was hitting very well in a limited role, traded Shea Hillenbrand to the Arizona Diamondbacks for Byung-Hyun Kim. Receiving much more playing time following the trade, Ortiz contributed significantly in the second half of the season. The trade ended up greatly benefiting the team, as the Red Sox broke many batting records and won the AL Wild Card.
In the 2003 American League Division Series, the Red Sox rallied from a 0–2 series deficit against the Oakland Athletics to win the best-of-five series. Derek Lowe returned to his former relief pitching role to save Game 5, a 4–3 victory. The team then faced the Yankees in the 2003 American League Championship Series. In Game 7, Boston led 5–2 in the eighth inning, but Pedro Martínez allowed three runs to tie the game. The Red Sox could not score off Mariano Rivera over the last three innings and eventually lost the game 6–5 when Yankee third baseman Aaron Boone hit a solo home run off Tim Wakefield.
Some placed the blame for the loss on manager Grady Little for failing to remove starting pitcher Martínez in the 8th inning after some observers believe he began to show signs of tiring. Others credited Little with the team's successful season and dramatic come-from-behind victory in the ALDS. Nevertheless, Boston's management decided a change was in order and did not renew Little's contract. He was replaced by former Philadelphia Phillies manager Terry Francona.
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