About three hours and 20 minutes. Twenty four base runners, 14 runs. Six different pitchers threw 266 pitches. What is this, the Giants visiting the Dodgers in 1965? Where was the soul-grinding we signed up for?
Josh Beckett had faced the Yankees four times already this year. He was 3-0 and the Red Sox won all four games. He’d allowed three runs total over all four games. As much as the Yankees expected to win last night with their ace on the mound versus John Lackey, the Red Sox were that confident squared going into tonight’s tilt.
Phil Hughes was the tissue paper in front of the roaring semi of Boston’s offense and Beckett’s guaranteed victory. His season is already lost to the ages as a piece of crap and where he goes from here is a complete mystery. If he gets to pitch a meaningful inning in the Postseason, it would be a shock. The question was not whether he would be effective tonight, the question was how long until he was flayed.
In the third inning, Jacoby Ellsbury set up Sox with a perfectly placed laser into the left field corner, just inside the line and just short of the wall. That put runners on second and third with nobody out and Boston cashed in both of them for a 2-1 lead. In the sixth, tied at five, it was Ellsbury again inflicting the telling wound, a two-out, two-run homer off one of last night’s heroes, Boone Logan, to clinch the game. Varitek added a two-run icer (the Sox third two-run homer of the evening) and Boston cruised home 9-5.
If he did not play for the Red Sox, I think Ellsbury would be one of my favorite players. I love his dangerous swing and he drills the ball to all fields. He has an open stance and lets the ball get very deep into the hitting area before committing to swing. Watching the double in the third in slow motion, I kept waiting for him to begin his swing until finally I thought they queued up the wrong replay. But then at the last second he lashed out at the fastball on the outside corner and whacked it right down the line.
To pull this off he’s got to have excellent bat speed and he’s got to protect the inside corner as well. It’s easier to hit the outside pitch with authority deep in the hitting area because if he makes contact out there, it’s going to be on the barrel. But if he’s late on the inside fastball, he’s jammed. He’s got to identify the inside strikes and get the bat head out to meet them. He’s finally figured it out this year and has 24 home runs to show for it and has become a breakout star.
The Red Sox kept beating on Hughes as long as he was in there, but in fairness to the him and the other Yankee starters, the Red Sox are simply better at hitting than these guys are at pitching. CC Sabathia is a world class pitcher and he can’t get through this lineup without 128 pitches and a whole lot of luck. Was Phil Hughes bad, or just not good enough for this level of competition? I think the latter. On top of that, Jason Varitek’s P.O.S. “double” past Chavez and Gardner in front of Ellsbury’s game winning homer was the kind of bad luck he just can’t overcome against this team.
The challenge of beating Boston in the ALCS is clear. The Yankee starters can’t get through more than five innings, but the bullpen isn’t deep nor durable enough to pitch four innings in every game. For example, if the Yankees played this game to win, Hughes should not pitch the sixth. But the Yankees needed three innings out the pen last night, and it’s a good bet they’ll need a lot more than that tomorrow night. So Girardi sent Hughes out there to cough up the lead and then turned to one of their lesser relievers because it was too early to call the big guns. Twenty seven outs is about six too many for the Yanks to cover.
Do the Yankees get any love for scoring five off Beckett, taking two one-run leads, and putting the outcome of this game in doubt for a few minutes in the sixth? They are now 3-11 against the Red Sox, 0-4 against Beckett, and assured themselves of ending this series in second place. But at least they’ll have the muscle memory of crossing home plate with him on the mound should they meet in the ALCS. OK, I’ll give them Fresca-level love for that. But they only had six hits as a team against 11 strikeouts and folded completely after the Ellsbury homer – nine up and nine down. So even Fresca may be too good for them.