With first place on the line at Fenway Park, the Yankees and Red Sox played a taut, tense four-hour-plus doozy. Each team had reason to expect victory, and several chances to seize it, but the Yankees handed Mariano Rivera a lead, however slim, and that usually tips the scales. Mariano didn’t hold the lead and the Yankees lost 3-2.
Sometimes your team stumbles into a late lead in a huge game in such a way that you don’t feel the edge is deserved nor secure. Game Seven in 2001 was one of those games. This was one of those games. So when Mariano took the ball and the 2-1 lead into the ninth, I felt nothing but black dread. As is often the case, he didn’t pitch poorly, but he picked the wrong ballpark to let up a deepish fly ball to left. In every other stadium in the league, Marco Scutaro’s lead off double is an out. This fly ball plunked off the Monster before it could fall into Gardner’s glove, and the Red Sox swiftly executed two sacrifices to tie the game.
On Ellsbury’s sacrifice bunt, which set up Pedroia’s sac fly, Mariano plucked the ball off one hop and spun to look at third. Eduardo Nuñez broke in on the bunt and Derek Jeter did not cover the bag. Mariano is an aggressive fielder and we’ve seen him go for the out at third, but with no one there, he had to turn and go to first. I wonder if someone was supposed to be there? Or if Boston’s bunt caught New York off-guard?
With the game tied, the Yankees were out of their “A” relievers, but Boston had Daniel Bard in reserve. He flamed a scoreless tenth and the Joe Girardi turned to Phil Hughes. Phil Hughes has an ERA around 7.00. Mariano Rivera had thrown nine pitches in the ninth. The Red Sox scored quickly off Hughes and won the game.
The epic journey that has been and will be Phil Hughes need not end tonight. But, as I’ve mentioned, I’d sooner change his name, shave his head, and place him in a safe-house in Wyoming before giving him the ball in extra-innings in Fenway Park. Girardi disagrees.
And I lost my wallet today, so I guess that means my vacation is officially over. If you’re not already burying your head in your coffee, there’s four other hours of baseball to peruse below.
The Red Sox sketched out a run in the second. García lost Youkilis for a walk. The Yankees employed their half-assed shift in which Jeter stood right up the middle and Canó played an extra-deep second base. Nuñez stayed somewhat close to third. Ortiz pulled the ball to exactly where Canó would be playing in a full shift and notched the safety. Carl Crawford followed with a 70-foot Baltimore Chop that bounced in all the wrong places and the Sox were set up with loaded bases and no outs. Freddy almost got out of the jam, but Scutaro squirted a grounder between Teix and Canó to push the lead-off walk across the plate.
Unlike other Beckett starts this season, that Yankees had base runners and made bids to tie the score. With Russell Martin on third in the third, Jeter’s two-out liner looked like a hit, but Pedroia didn’t have to move too far to snag it. With Granderson on third in the fourth, Swisher’s two-out smash looked like extra bases, but Ellsbury ran it down with a few feet to spare in that godforsaken triangle.
The Yankees finally found some two-out magic in the fifth. Eduardo Nunez sent a 1-0 cutter high into the sky and just deep enough to dink it off the light tower over the Monster. That was all they would get off Beckett, who made a several big pitches for strike outs with men on base, but at least they made him work for his dinner. He was done after six innings.
Garcia didn’t make it as long. Like Bartolo Colón in the first game of the series, he might have had a few more pitches in his arm when Girardi gave him the hook. But I thought both were about to run into trouble. Boone Logan started the sixth and brought trouble with him. Cory Wade was next in line. He found himself with bases loaded and a 3-0 count on the super-hot Ellsbury. He sucked it up and threw four strikes and got Ellsbury to pop to left to end the inning.
Matt Albers replaced Josh Beckett and got two quick outs. He looked so effective that the Boston faithful struck up a rousing chorus of “Yankees Suck” during Brett Gardner’s at bat. Like Henry V’s St. Crispen’s Day speech, “Yankees Suck” strikes a deep emotional chord in all who hear it. Perhaps Matt Albers was moved to tears and his vision blurred as he delivered a floating meatball that Gardner launched into the Red Sox bullpen. Possibly Albers was still teary when he beaned Jeter. Ah well, wait ’til the tenth, noble souls.
The Yankees had a chance to extend the lead later in that inning with newcomer Franklin Morales walking the bases loaded on nine pitches. He threw a few strikes to Canó and got him to ground out. The bullpens were fully fired up at this point. The Yankees called on Soriano for a 1-2-3 seventh. Dan Wheeler went one better in the eighth and struck out the side.
David Robertson let up a one-out single to Carl Crawford. He struck out Josh Reddick next, but the nasty deuce eluded Martin and Crawford advanced to scoring position. With two strikes on Varitek, another big breaker bounced off Martin and Crawford was 90 feet away from tying the game. I was worried that Robertson would go after Varitek with another unhittable/uncatchable curve and the Red Sox would tie it up on a strike-out-passed-ball. But Martin wisely called for heaters. Overpowered, Varitek popped out.
Papelbon stranded Gardner at second in the ninth and the Yankees asked Mariano to bundle this crude 2-1 scoreline into a victory. You know the rest.
The Yankees are 2-10 against the Red Sox this year, but this was the only game that meant anything at all to me. I still think the Red Sox will win the division and will be big favorites if they meet in the Postseason. Jon Lester is that much better than anyone the Yanks have to go at him. Winning this game wouldn’t have changed any of that, and it wouldn’t have found my wallet. But I’d be smiling just the same.
Artwork by Ando Keskküla