Here’s what I wrote about tonight’s pitching matchup in my series preview on Friday:
ESPN’s Sunday night game pits Sidney Ponson against Jon Lester. Lester is one of the great stories of this season, having rebounded from non-Hodgkins lymphoma to not only throw a no-hitter, but have a great season overall. Lester has a 3.20 ERA on the season, a 2.93 ERA at home, and needed just 105 pitches to shutout the Yankees on five hits and two walks while striking out eight in his only start against the Bombers this season. That said, he’s been inconsistent of late. Lester’s no-hitter came in the middle of a run of 11 starts from the end of April to late June in which the lefty posted a 2.13 ERA. Since then, however, he’s alternated dominant starts (including his shutout of the Yankees) with non-quality outings. If the pattern holds, he’s due for a stinker, but his dominance of the Yankees in their last meeting and overall success this season is the better indicator of what he’s likely to do Sunday night.
That means Ponson has his work cut out for him. Before his last start, I wrote that Ponson’s surprisingly successful season has been the result of a sharp increase in his groundball rate. The problem is that Fenway Park has a notoriously hard infield, which can cause trouble for groundball pitchers (Chien-Ming Wang’s career ERA at Fenway is 5.11, and in his complete-game two-hitter there this April, he got more outs in the air than on the ground). Ponson hasn’t faced the Red Sox this year, but historically, the Sox’s lineup owns him (David Ortiz: .444/.563/.722; Manny Ramirez: .404/.481/.511; Jason Varitek: .317/.364/.561; Kevin Youkilis: 4 for 9 with a double; J.D. Drew: 3 for 7 with a double; Dustin Pedroia: 3 for 3), the only exception being Mike Lowell, who is 0 for 7 with a walk against Ponson. Lester would have to implode completely for the Yankees to overcome what’s likely to happen to Ponson on Sunday night.
That means the Yankees hopes for a series win lie in the first two games . . .
Everything’s gone according to plan thus far. The Yankees got a dominant outing from Joba Chamberlain on Friday night and a quality start from Andy Pettitte buoyed by ten runs of support yesterday to take the first two games and thus the series, but with them having done that, pushing their second-half record to a perfect 9-0 and closing their deficit to the Red Sox in the Wild Card race to just one game . . . doesn’t it seem possible that they just mind find away to win tonight despite all of what I said above?
Here’s another question: If on Opening Day I told you that, on the final weekend in July, Yankees would be on the verge of a three-game sweep at Fenway that would tie them with the Red Sox in the standings, and that the lineup they were running out in an attempt to win that game featured Xavier Nady, Richie Sexson, Jose Molina, and Sidney Ponson in place of Hideki Matsui, Jason Giambi, Jorge Posada, and either Chien-Ming Wang, Phil Hughes, or Ian Kennedy, (or anyone else, really), what would your reaction have been? Elation? Disgust? Confusion? Frustration? Shock? Concern?
The game’s being threatened by rain, but if it’s the storm that passed through New Jersey this afternoon, it won’t last too long. Given the ESPN start time and the team’s involved, any kind of delay at the start should push the end of the game well past midnight.