For all the interest in how A.J. Burnett was going to handle his return to Fenway or how the Yankees were going to handle Jon Lester, the starting pitchers ultimately proved to be irrelevent in Tuesday night’s game as both lasted just five innings and left a 4-4 tie in their wake. Burnett struck out five Red Sox against just one walk, but also gave up seven hits including a two-run homer and an RBI double, both by Victor Martinez. Those runs added to the one manufactured by Jacoby Ellsbury and a Jorge Posada throwing error in the first.
Lester looked dominant at times, but was lucky to escape the second with only one run scoring. After Nick Swisher doubled in Robinson Cano, Lester walked Marcus Thames (who drew the start in left field against the left-handed Lester), but struck out Curtis Granderson, who was batting ninth against the lefty, on a weak check swing and got Derek Jeter to ground out to end the threat. Granderson and Jeter got their revenge in the fifth when they started the inning with singles off Lester, who then drilled Nick Johnson in the ribs to load the bases. Granderson scored on a Mark Teixeira fielder’s choice that erased Johnson. Jeter scored on an Alex Rodriguez double to left, and Teixeira scored on a sac fly by Robinson Cano. That gave the Yankees their first lead of the game, but Martinez’s double in the bottom of the fifth tied it up and handed the game to the bullpens.
The Yankees immediatly mounted a threat against Manny Delcarmen when Nick Swisher led off with a double and moved to third on a Brett Gardner pinch-hit groundout. Granderson followed by creaming a ball to the right side but almost directly at Kevin Youkilis, who caught the sinking liner to hold Swisher. Jeter then grounded out to end the threat. Alfredo Aceves answered that goose egg as well as one from Daniel Bard in the seventh, passing the tie on to Hideki Okajima in the top of the eighth.
Okajima is legitimately one of the better set-up men in the league, but he has struggled against the Yankees in his brief major league career. In 23 1/3 career innings against the Bombers prior to last night, Okajima had allowed 14 runs (not counting inherited runners who have scored), good for a 5.40 ERA. Curiously, though he’s blown saves against the Yankees, he’d never taken a loss against them prior to last night, a night when he didn’t actually pitch all that poorly.
Okajima started the eighth by getting ahead of Jorge Posada 0-1 and 1-2, but Posada battled back and yanked a ground rule double into the seats behind the Pesky Pole in right. Nick Swisher followed by fouling off a bunt attempt and taking strike two only to hunker down and engage Okajima in an 11-pitch battle that the Red Sox lefty ultimate won via a groundout to short that kept Posada at second with two outs. Okajima then got ahead of Brett Gardner 0-2, but Gardner, too, battled back to 2-2 before fighting off a single into shallow left field beyond Marco Scutaro’s outstretched glove. Because he wasn’t sure if Scutaro had a play, Posada held yet again. Okajima then threw a first-pitch strike to Jeter and got him to ground to shortstop, but Scutaro pulled his throw and Youkilis was unable to come up with it, loading the bases and giving the Yankees another chance. With that Okajima imploded, walking Nick Johnson, who never took his bat off his shoulder, on five pitches to walk in the go-ahead run. Scott Atchison, who spent the last two years pitching in Japan, then came on and got Mark Teixeira to fly out to deep right to end the threat.
Joe Girardi played matchups in the bottom of the eighth. David Robertson was brought in to face righty-swinging Kevin Youkilis, but gave up a single that put the tying run on base. Girardi then brought in Damaso Marte to face David Ortiz, who was still looking for his first hit of the season, but after throwing ball one, Marte threw a limp-wristed changeup to first base to check Youkilis. If you’ve ever tried to play catch with a four-year-old you know exactly how Mark Teixeira felt as Marte’s weak throw dove, bounced, and ultimately skipped by him allowing Youkilis to get to second base. Marte recovered to get Ortiz to fly out just shallow enough in center to hold Youkilis (Curtis Granderson has shown a half-way decent arm; I’m guessing Youkilis would have move up had Johnny Damon or Bernie Williams caught Ortiz’s fly). Girardi then called on Joba Chamberlain to pitch to the right-handed hitting Adrian Beltre.
Per the scouting report I linked to regarding Sunday’s game, Beltre is a first-ball, fast-ball hitter, and Chamberlain and Posada started him off with a curve that dropped into the zone for strike one. Chamberlain then just missed low and inside with a 95 mile-per-hour heater and came back with another curveball that Beltre fouled off for strike two. Chamberlain came back with the fastball, but put it low and away, well outside Beltre’s weak hack for strike three. That pitch hit 96 on the YES gun. Chamberlain stuck with the fastball against J.D. Drew, burrying one low for ball one, then beating Drew in the zone on a 95 mph pitch down the middle that Drew fouled off well down the left-field line. After a 96 mph heater well outside seemed to get away from him, Chamberlain whipped out the slider, breaking off a good one, an 87 mile-per-hour pitch that dove as soon as it reached the plate. Drew, protecting against the fastball, was unable to check his swing in time, giving Yankee fans flashbacks of how foolish hitters looked against Chamberlian in 2007. A second, identical slider struck out Drew swinging and stranded Youkilis, handing the game to Mariano Rivera, but not before Robinson Cano crushed a Scott Atchison pitch into the right field seats to inflate the Yankee lead by a run.
Rivera gave up a one-out double to left to old nemesis Marco Scutaro, but against the other three batters he faced he threw just seven pitches, all strikes, resulting in one strikeout and two fly outs. With that, the 2010 Yankees recorded their first win, beating the Red Sox 6-4 to set-up a rubber game in the series finale Wednesday night. What do you think the chances are that one’s decided by the bullpens as well?
There were two great AP photographs from tonight’s game. The first was Charles Krupa’s shot of Nick Johnson getting hit in the ribs:
The other is this outstanding Elise Amendola snap of Derek Jeter fouling off a ball in the sixth: