"A New York Treasure" --Village Voice

Waiting to Exhale

There was not a dramatic turn-around for Randy Johnson on Wednesday night at Fenway Park. He pitched inconsistently and poor enough to allow five runs in five innings, but he did strike out eight (matching his season high) while only walking two. As fate would have it, Johnson pitched just well enough for him to earn the victory in the Yankees’ 8-6 win. Fortunately for New York, Boston’s starter Matt Clement had more than his fair share of problems-—mostly throwing strikes. Batting in the lead-off spot in place of Johnny Damon—who Joe Torre felt sorely needed a rest–Melky Cabrera drove in four runs and was the offensive hero of the game. Cabrera also made a fine running catch to rob Mike Lowell of a hit to end the seventh (it wouldn’t be Lowell’s only lost hit of the night). The Yanks survived three extra base hits from Manny Ramirez, including two home runs, and Kyle Farnsworth struck out David Ortiz with the bases loaded to end the eighth, the dramatic highlight of the game. After getting served by Curt Schilling on Monday night, the Yanks wind up winning the series and they leave town just a half-a-game behind the Sox.

The Sox got to Johnson early. Kevin Youkilis, who Cliff recently called a right-handed version of Nick Johnson, singled and reached third on Mark Loretta’s line drive off the Green Monster. Loretta was thrown out at second and then Ortiz whiffed–one of four K’s on the night for Cookie Monster. But Ramirez belted a home run over everything in left and just like that Johnson was in a hole. (For what it is worth, Ramirez put his head down and ran after both of his dingers on Wednesday.) The Yanks put up four in the second thanks in large part to Clement’s wildness—he walked two batters, hit another, got smacked in the leg by an infield single by Bernie Williams and surrendered a key, two-run single to Cabrera.

The lead didn’t last long. After striking out the first two men in the bottom of the second, Alex Gonzalez singled and then stole second. Johnson got ahead of Youkilis 0-2 but could not put him away. It’s become customary to see Youkilis—like Jason Giambi—extend virtually every at-bat to a full-count situation. Johnson’s payoff pitch was a flat slider and Youkilis crushed it for a game-tying homer.

When the Sox connected for three consecutive hits to start the third inning, Johnson looked cooked. Boston had regained the lead, 5-4 and had runners on second and third with nobody out. But then Johnson retired the next three men—the bottom of Boston’s order—all, on strikes to escape further trouble. He worked a perfect fourth, and after the Yanks chased Clement from the game in the fifth, scoring four times off of five hits, including another two-run single by Cabrera, Johnson pitched around a lead-off walk to Ramirez and left the game with an 8-5 lead. It was far from impressive—Johnson gave up hits on 0-2 counts several times–but there were positives to be taken from Johnson’s performance, especially innings 3, 4 and 5. And at this point, I think it’s only realistic to expect baby-steps from the Big Unit, despite his reputation and his terrific career.

Scott Erickson—can you dig it?—Mike Myers and Scott Proctor worked the sixth and seventh innings. Proctor gave up another home run to Ramirez but it was a solo shot and it was the last run that Boston would score all night. However, the Sox did have a ripe opportunity for more runs in the eighth. After an error, a single and a stolen base, Boston had runners at second and third with just one out against Kyle Farnsworth with the top of the order due up. But Farnsworth got Youkilis swinging at cheese. He got ahead of Mark Loretta, Bill Mueller’s replacement as the resident Everyman-looking Yankee-killer, but then was wild with the fastball upstairs on consecutive pitches. The 3-2 pitch went over catcher Kelly Stinnett’s head but Willy Mo Pena hesitated at third base and did not score. He would have scored easily if he had had a good jump.

Regardless, Fenway Park got very loud with David Ortiz coming to bat. Yankee-Red Sox games have become like NBA playoff thrillers. Generally speaking, just skip the first three hours and tune in around 10:15 to feel the tension and watch some excitement. How many times has Ortiz delivered in this kind of situation? Farnsworth got ahead of him and Ortiz fouled off three pitches before being frozen by a hanging slider for strike three. For one night at least, Ortiz did not have the Yankees’ number. It was an enormous strike out for Farnsworth.

Mariano Rivera pitched the ninth inning and after throwing strike one on the inside part of the plate to Ramirez, Rivera brushed the slugger back. Manny got on top of the next pitch, a cutter out over the plate, and fouled it off. Then, Rivera threw another pitch inside for ball two. The fifth pitch was a cutter, again over the plate. It was a pitch that Ramirez has been killing all series long. He put a decent swing on the ball, but was perhaps just a little bit tentative after the two inside pitches. The result was a fly ball to Bernie Williams’ glove in center field instead of a home run to the bleachers.

Jason Varitek followed and grounded out and then Mike Lowell slapped a ground ball past Alex Rodriguez in the hole. Derek Jeter—who ended the night one hit shy of 2,000 for his career—gloved the ball, and moving to his left, jumped in the air and threw to first as he was falling towards left field. It is the play that Jeter is famous for, the one that looks so impressive. (Of course, it is a wonderfully athletic play, it’s just other shortstops would be make it less dramatically, though Jeter can’t be faulted for having a long, over-sized body for his position.) The throw didn’t short-hop Andy Phillips, who replaced Giambi at first, but it bounced before him awkwardly. Phillips made a defensive stab at it and caught the ball a fraction of a second before Lowell’s foot hit the base.

Lowell, who in spite of making his fourth error of the season, has been a vacuum at third base (and is considerably slicker there than his counterpart on New York), got a taste of his own medicine, robbed for the second time of the night. Mariano Rivera watched the play unfold with his right arm behind his head at a right angle. His fist was clenched and it looked like he was doing a pre-game stretch. When the out was recorded, Rivera’s arm came forward like a hammer as he yelled with satisfaction. For the Yankees, it was some kind of way to end what turned out to be a successful trip to Boston.

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"This ain't football. We do this every day."
--Earl Weaver