It didn’t start well for John Lackey. He allowed a walk and single in the first and had runners on the corners with one out when Mark Teixeira hit a ball to the wall in right center field. It hit the top of the wall, a few inches away from being a home run. Two runs scored and the throw came in to Jason Varitek at home as Teixeira tried for third. Varitek had him easily but airmailed the ball into left field instead and Teixeira scored.
And that’s the way things have been going for the Red Sox.
Except Lackey recovered and pitched well after that. Couple of double plays helped him out and eventually, the Sox put some runs on the board. They scored one in the the fifth, another in the sixth. A wild pitch that bounced right back to Austin Romine at home plate was good enough to end the sixth when he tagged a leaping Dustin Pedrioa on the ass. It was good enough to get Ivan Nova out of trouble but Joe Girardi wouldn’t leave well enough alone, even after Nova’s pitches hung up in the strike zone, and a pair of doubles followed by an RBI single by Varitek gave the Sox a 4-3 in the seventh.
Boone Logan relieved Nova and got Jacoby Ellsbury looking and then picked off pinch-runner Joey Gathwright to end the inning.
Eric Chavez led off the bottom of the seventh with a weak ground ball that snuck into center field for a base hit and Tito Francona walked to the mound to remove his starting pitcher. Lackey moved away shaking his head. “You’ve got to be shitting me,” is what I saw his lips say as he stomped back to the dugout.
Brett Gardner, pinch-running for Chavez stole second on the first pitch Alfredo Aceves threw. The pitch also happened to go wild, so the tying run was at second with nobody out. Jesus Montero fisted a 2-2 pitch to short but it was hit softly enough for Gardner to reach third. The Sox brought their infield in but it didn’t much matter when Chris Dickerson hit a fly ball to center field for the sacrifice fly.
Tie game. Rafael Soriano got ahead of Carl Crawford 0-2 but then left a fastball over the plate and Crawford singled to center. He took off for second on Soriano’s first pitch to Pedrioa, got a good jump too, but Romine made a perfect throw, Cano made a quick tag, and Yankee fans had reason to cheer. They continued to be happy as Pedrioa and Ortiz grounded out to end the inning.
Aceves got the first two men out in the bottom of the eighth and then Josh Bard retired Robinson Cano on a grounder to second.
Mariano replaced Soriano and served-up an opposite field base hit to Adrain Gonzalez to start the ninth (fastball on the outside part of the plate but way up in the zone). Lars Anderson pinch-ran for Gonzalez and Mike Aviles sacrificed him to second. J.D. Drew, making his first start since Christ was a Cowboy, grounded out to first, pushing Anderson to third. Girardi walked to the mound and the infielders joined him. Mariano smiled because Marco Scutaro was coming to bat and the sombitch has a happy history against Rivera. That brought up Jarrod Saltalamacchia, who took a fastball right down Broadway for a strike. Then he took a fastball on the outside corner for strike two. Took anther fastball, just off the outside corner for a ball. A pitch Rivera usually gets. And then the unfair one: a cutter, low and inside, breaking late, almost at Salty’s ankles. He swung right over it for the third out.
Teixeira battled Bard to led off the bottom of the inning and after twelve pitches drew a walk. Greg Golson came in to run and Swisher came to bat as Jonathan Paplebon quickly warmed-up in the bullpen. A throw to first, a strike, then Bard stepped off the rubber before throwing a pitch in the dirt. Another throw to first, this one Anderson had to scoop to keep from going past him. A fastball just under Swisher’s armpits for ball two. A bigger lead for Golson and a throw to first. Paplebon almost ready. Golson ran and Swisher hit a ground ball to first, one out.
Gardner–0-5 lifetime against Bard–took a fastball for a strike and then tapped out weakly to first, Golson to third. And then, an intentional walk to The Jesus. The young Brandon Laird up, but what’s this? Jorge Posada. Pinch hitter. The old man. Believe it.
Fastball, way outside for a ball. Another heater, again, way out of the strike zone, ball two. Another heater missed so they walked him intentionally.
Enter Paplebon. Mr. Romine, this is your life, son.
Slider, up, hanging, fouled off. Fastball, low and inside. Fastball, right there, fouled back. Had a good swing, too. Fastball, in, 97mph, fouled back. Then a breaking pitch in the dirt, swung on and missed. He had his chances, had some good pitches, but he got beat.
Raul Valdes came in for Mo and the deflated sound you heard was the commenters on the Banter. You know how it goes. Ellsbury blooped a single over Nunez’s head but was cut down at second when Crawford tried to sacrifice him over. Crawford reached first and Cory Wade replaced Valdes. Crawford did not run and it took seven pitches for Wade to strike Pedrioa out. Then Ortiz flew out to left to end the inning.
Paplebon tossed a scoreless frame and then Wade did the same so Paps did it again. Wade got one out in the 12th and then gave way to Aaron Laffey. And now the Banter Crew was just plain annoyed. Even more so when Salty lined a single to left. But then Ellsbury hit into a 4-6-3 double play. Go figure, indeed.
Franklin Morales, a lefty, was Boston’s new pitcher in the bottom of the inning. He threw stack cheddar and The Jesus got some good hacks in, fouling pitches off, and he laid off a 2-2 curve ball before blooping a single to left. Ramiro Pena, in his first time hitting, stabbed at the first pitch and popped it foul, just out of Salty’s reach. Morales slung a pick off throw to first that Anderson grabbed, saving another potential throwing error. Then Pena bunted a ball right at Morales, who bobbled it, but still had plenty of time to nail Montero at second for the first out. Romine had a good pass at a fastball but struck out looking at a high slider and Nunez, hacking wildly, popped up to Pedrioa.
I mean, Aaron Laffey, right? He got Crawford to line out to third and then Pedrioa had one of those Kevin Youkilis at bats, 9 pitches, hits a soft ground ball to third, Pena fired it to first, Pedrioa did his best Pete Rose and dove to the bag. The throw beat him, easily, but Tim McClelland called him safe. Unlucky 13, it was nothing short of a horrible call. Swisher yelled and Girardi got thrown out of the game. Ortiz flew out just shy of the warning track in left. Pedrioa led off first, unable to get a good break. Laffey threw over, fell behind Anderson but then regrouped and struck out the first baseman for the third out.
Pedrioa made a slick play, picking a hard-hit ball by Granderson for the first out in the bottom of the inning. Morales still in there. Cano walked and Andruw Jones stayed on the bench as Golson came to hit. And Golson worked the count full, fouled off a fastball and took a curve ball with no bite for ball four.
Swisher. 0-5 Swisher. Called out at first earlier in the game at first when he was safe. Playing first when Pedrioa was called safe. So Swisher hit a fly ball to right for the second out, Cano moved to third. And Gardner whiffed.
How long could Laffey hang in there, tempting fate? Really, now. But he got an out and then Tony Pena took him out in favor of the human white flag, none other than our old pal Scott Proctor. Now, I’m sure Proctor is a decent guy. He once burned his glove on the field after a bad game in the old Stadium. And he’s a recovering alcoholic who sat alone in the player’s lounge a few days ago when the Yanks clinched the AL East. Sympathetic guy. But not the guy who is going to get outs before he gives up hits and runs anymore.
Darnell McDonald, pinch-hitting for Drew, singled to left. Scutaro walked. Do you want to know more? Isn’t it obvious where this is going? Okay, we’ve come this far, I won’t leave you hanging. Salty hit a ball a long way, in the park, but far enough to chase Granderson to the warning track in center field, far enough to allow McDonald to tag to third. And then Ellsbury. You know, the MVP candidate. Maybe he’ll win the award after hitting a ball over the fence in right center field for a three run homer.
Yeah, the Rays won’t be sending Scott Proctor a Christmas present. And I suppose ol’ Scott won’t make the playoff roster, not that he would have if he’d pitched well here.
You can’t blame Proctor for being himself. Jones, Rodriguez, Martin and Jeter never got off the bench and while the Yanks would have liked to win this one, it was clear that Girardi did not want to win at all costs. He’s got more pressing matters than the Red Sox. For Boston, however, a long day’s journey into night, ended with a sigh of relief. They remain a game ahead of Tampa. Ellsbury gets their biggest hit of the year and as I’ve said all week, I’d be surprised if they don’t make the playoffs.
Final Score: Sox 7, Yanks 4.
[Photo Credit: Alex Duprey]