I must say, I think the Yankees acquitted themselves rather well this weekend. Facing the Red Sox three best starters, the offense scored at least five runs in each game and, save for the eighth inning on Friday and Scott Proctor’s outing last night, the bullpen shut the Red Sox out over 9 1/3 innings. Unfortunately, that eighth inning on Friday and Proctor’s outing last night led directly to two of three loses in a weekend sweep that will loom large as the AL East race heats up toward the latter part of the season.
The Yankees got out to an early 2-0 lead on Daisuke Matsuzaka in the top of the first on a two-out Jason Giambi double and added a third run in the third when Giambi singled home Johnny Damon, again with two outs. Chase Wright, meanwhile, stranded two runners in each of his first two frames, then started the third by getting Kevin Youkilis and David Ortiz to fly out. Then Manny Ramirez homered. Then J. D. Drew homered. Then Mike Lowell homered. Then Jason Varitek homered.
To get the trivia out of the way, it was just the fifth time in major league history that a team had hit four consecutive home runs and just the second time ever that all four homers were surrendered by the same pitcher. No pitcher has ever given up more than four homers in a single inning, consecutive or otherwise (the last to do it was Randy Johnson against the White Sox two years ago). The first time a team ever hit four consecutive homers, the fifth batter was Joe Torre, and the one previous time that a single pitcher surrendered four consecutive homers, the third was hit by Terry Francona’s father Tito.
Wright struck out Wily Mo Peña to end the onslaught, the inning, and his start. Colter Bean came on in relief in the fourth, and Derek Jeter tied the game up with a solo homer of his own to lead off the fifth. The Yankees then took the lead in the sixth on singles by Robinson Cano and Doug Mientkiewicz (who had his second multi-hit game as a Yankee going 2 for 3 with a ground-rule double to dead center).
With the top of the Boston order due up in the bottom of the sixth, Joe Torre brought in Andy Pettitte for his second throw-day relief appearance of the season. Pettitte issued a one-out walk to Kevin Youkilis, but got David Ortiz to ground into a double play on the next pitch, ending the inning after just nine pitches, seven of them to Youkilis.
The Yankees entered the seventh inning nursing a slim 5-4 lead, but before one could begin to wonder about handing that lead over to Mariano Rivera, Scott Proctor came on to surrender a single to Ramirez, a double to Drew, and a three-run homer to Mike Lowell to make it 7-5 Red Sox.
Luis Vizcaino finished the inning without further damage, and the Yankees mounted a rally in the eighth. Alex Rodriguez led off with a single that drove Matsuzaka from the game after 108 pitches. Hideki Okajima came on and got Jason Giambi to pop out, but Robinson Cano followed with a single. Joe Torre then turned to Jorge Posada, whose thumb is still too swollen to allow him to catch, but not so bad that he can’t hit, to pinch-hit for Mientkiewicz. Posada, making his fourth pinch-hit appearance of the young season, drew a walk to load the bases (he also has a pinch-hit double on the year), driving Okajima from the game in favor of Brendan Donnelly. With Miguel Cairo running for Posada, Melky Cabrera grounded into a fielder’s choice that plated Rodriguez to make it a one-run game.
That’s when Torre, who had already made two great moves by using Pettitte out of the pen and the sore-thumbed Posada to pinch-hit, made his most impressive move of the day. With the still hitless Wil Nieves due up, Torre didn’t concern himself with the fact that Posada was out of the game (and couldn’t catch anyway). With two outs and the tying run at third, he sent Josh Phelps to the plate to hit for Nieves, knowing full well that Phelps would have to catch for the first time since 2001 in the bottom of the inning. Phelps fell behind quickly 0-2, but sent Donnelly’s third pitch screaming toward center field just to the right of second base, but as the ball started to sink toward the grass in shallow center, Boston second baseman Dustin Pedroia lept seemingly out of nowhere to make a game-saving, inning-ending catch.
In the ninth, Bobby Abreu drew a two-out walk against a dominant Jonathan Papelbon to bring Alex Rodriguez to the plate as the potential winning run. Rodriguez, like Phelps, fell behind quickly 0-2, then grounded to third to end the game and a series that was far more exciting than the word “sweep” would suggest.
Incidentally, according to Pete Abraham, Wil Nieves dislocated his left thumb in the fourth inning, but trainer Steve Donahue reset it and Neives, knowing Posada was already out with a left thumb injury, caught four more innings. Neives also hit a pair of screaming line drives off Matsuzaka, but they were right at Lowell at third and Pedroia at second, thus his hitless streak is intact. As for Phelps, he caught the bottom of the eighth without incident. Supposedly Phelps was moved off the position because of his terrible throwing arm. Still, now that I’ve seen it done, I do tend to wonder if the Yankees would consider having him catch an entire game in Posada’s stead just to see if he might make a viable backup catcher since Posada’s thumb has been slow to heal and Nieves’s is likely sore as well. Then again, it could be a disaster. The Devil Rays could steal bases in the double digits off Phelps if they get on base enough against Igawa, and the last thing the Yankees need after those four consecutive homers last night is to set another unwanted record.
Finally, I was rather impressed to learn that the Red Sox had not swept the Yankees at Fenway Park since 1990, when the Red Sox were AL East Champs and the Yankees had the second-worst record in baseball (to the Braves). The Yankees were outscored 29-5 in that three-game series and the winning Red Sox pitchers were Gene Harris, Mike Boddicker, and Tom Bolton. That said, those Stump Merrill-era Yankees have come up once too often this past week, even if both mentions have produced a positive contrast (the aggregate score of this weekend’s series was 21-17).