Thirty-five years ago to the day, as the Yankees were busy reeling in the Boston Red Sox, they stopped in Fenway Park and thrashed the Sox so soundly that the series will be forever known as the Boston Massacre. The Yankees were four games behind the Red Sox when they arrived in town, but after sweeping the series (and outscoring the Sox 49-26) they left in a flat-footed tie. We all know how that season ended up.
The Yankees would rip out Boston’s heart again in August of 2006, taking the field in Fenway with a slim game and a half lead over the Sox but leaving four days later with commanding 6 1/2 game advantage after an unprecedented five-game sweep in which they outscored Boston by an identical 49-26 margin.
On Sunday afternoon in the Bronx, the Yankees looked to avoid being on the other side of one of those season-ending, soul-crushing, series sweeps. After inexplicable losses on Thursday and Friday, followed by an old-fashioned beating on Saturday, the Yankees took the field on Sunday as a desperate team.
Hiroki Kuroda was on the mound for the Yanks, and he was probably just as desperate as the Yankees were. He had been excellent through the first three months and dominant in July (3-0, 0.55 ERA, 0.88 WHIP), but he was a completely different pitcher in August as he finished the month 1-4 with a 5.12 ERA and 1.42 WHIP. He was a man in need of redemption, and Sunday looked like a good place to start.
He seemed to struggle a bit early on, as consecutive doubles in the second inning (David Ortíz and Mike Carp) produced a run, but he was lights out after that as he cruised through the next three innings before coughing up another run in the sixth.
Mark Reynolds doubled in a run for the good guys in the fourth, and Robinson Canó plated two more with a double of his own in the following frame, but it wasn’t until the eighth inning that the game really started to get interesting.
Did I mention that the Yankees were desperate? Clinging to a 3-2 lead, Joe Girardi brought in Mariano Rivera and hoped for a six-out save. Rivera worked around a harmless single in the eighth, but anyone who had watched the first three games knew that nothing — not even a Mariano save — would come easily in this series. In fact, the save wouldn’t come at all.
Rivera’s third pitch to Will Middlebrooks leading off the top of the ninth looked like it produced a lazy fly ball to right and what would be the first out of the inning. Ichiro slowly floated back on the ball, and no one seemed overly concerned — until it landed in the stands. The camera caught the normally placid Rivera in utter disbelief.
The game was tied, and — with Phil Hughes warming in the bullpen — all appeared lost. But Rivera recovered to finish out the ninth. The bottom half wasn’t exciting, except for the end result. Ichiro singled with one out, stole second, advanced to third on a sacrifice fly from Vernon Wells, then scored when the next pitch from Brandon Workman got past Jarrod Saltalamacchia for a walk-off wild pitch. Yankees 4, Red Sox 3.
Sure, it was an ugly weekend, but the bottom line is this. Even after three straight heart-breaking losses (who’d have thought they could score 25 runs and still lose all three games?) and a litany of injuries (Jeter’s ankle is injured yet again; David Robertson and Boone Logan are also out) the Yankees are still — still — just 2.5 games behind Tampa Bay for the wild card spot.
There’s hope, people. There’s hope.
[Photo Credit: Seth Wenig/AP Photo]