It started early on Tuesday night as the Yankees found themselves in Fenway Park for the first time this young season. After being greeted with more boos than cheers, Jacoby Ellsbury reintroduced himself to his old fans by lashing John Lester’s third pitch of the game high off the wall in center field. A fan in the front row was so intent on making the play that he reached three feet below the top of the Green Monster, nearly tumbling over in the process, and deflected the ball back towards left field. Ellsbury raced all the way around the bases for what might’ve been an inside-the-park homer, but the umpires rightly sent him back to third, ruling that the Sox wouldn’t have been able to hold him to a double had the fan not interfered.
Manager John Farrell argued the point, but Derek Jeter rendered that point moot, lacing a line drive into center field and scoring Ellsbury before Farrell could even sit back down. After moving to second on a wild pitch, Jeter then scored the game’s second run on a sharp single from Carlos Beltrán.
Lester wriggled off the hook without further damage and escaped a bases loaded, one out jam in the second with a double play, but he found himself in trouble again in the third. Alfonso Soriano pounded a ball of the wall in center and Cadillacked a triple into a double, Mark Teixeira floated a soft double halfway down the rightfield line, and Brian McCann shot yet another double into the left centerfield gap. Lester hadn’t yet retired a batter in the third inning, and already he was down 4-0. The Yanks seemed poised to deliver the knockout blow when they again loaded the bases with one out and Ellsbury headed to the plate, but for the second consecutive inning Lester was able to induce a ground ball double play.
Meanwhile, Masahiro Tanaka was toying with the Boston batters. He gave up a double to Dusty Pedroia in the first and a single in the third, but there was never a hint of trouble. In the bottom of the fourth, however, Tanaka appeared to pitch to the situation as he stared in at David Ortíz with one out and a four-run lead. With Ortíz sitting in a hitter’s count at 3-1, Tanaka chose to challenge him instead of risking the walk, and he threw Papi a fastball that did nothing at all. We know what Ortíz does with pitches like that; this one ended up in Williamsburg, 482 feet away. Three pitches later, Mike Napoli laced a ball that might have been hit even harder but on a lower trajectory. This one barely cleared the wall in left, and suddenly the Yankee lead was cut in half. Two batters later A.J. Pierzynski doubled for the third extra base hit of the inning, but Tanaka struck out Xander Bogaerts to end the frame. He’d have little trouble with the Sox the rest of the night.
By all rights Lester should’ve been knocked from the game much earlier, but he trudged out to the mound to start the fifth with new hope. Hadn’t he kept his team in the ball game? Wasn’t there a chance they could get another two or three runs off Tanaka? Teixeira and McCann reached with a walk and a single, immediately putting Lester’s feet to the coals once again, but once again it looked as if the Yankees would miss their opportunity when Yangervis Solarte and Ichiro both struck out. (And by the way, if you’re wondering who’s to blame for Solarte’s slide, look no further than your author; I inserted him into my fantasy lineup this week. The results have been predictable.)
The game turned on Brian Roberts’s at bat. If you look at the Yankee lineup most nights, the batting averages are impressive with almost every player close to or above .300 — every player except for Roberts, whose average hasn’t been north of .200 since the first week of the season. But Roberts came through. Sort of. He roped a line drive that was a bit to the left of Napoli at first base, but Napoli wasn’t able to make the play. The ball glanced off his glove for an error, dropping Roberts’s batting average lower still, but allowing Teixeira to score an important run. Ellsbury followed that with an another ball off the monster, this one a double to score McCann and Roberts, and Jeter drove in Ellsbury with another single up the middle, this one hit #3333. The Yankees led 8-2, and the game was essentially over.
Beltrán crushed a homer to right in the eighth, and the Red Sox slapped together a rally for a run against reliever Dellin Betances in the ninth, but all that did was give us our final score, Yankees 9, Red Sox 2. The real story of the game was Masahiro Tanaka. After faltering in that fourth inning, Tanaka shifted into another gear. With a fastball that touched 95 a few times and once 96, a biting curve that floated in the low- to mid-80s, and that devastating power splitter, Tanaka looked absolutely nothing like a #3 starter. He coasted through the fifth, sixth, and seventh innings, then came back to start the eighth even though he had a seven-run lead and had already thrown 98 pitches. (Again, this is something aces do, not number three starters.)
He ended his night with a strikeout of Grady Sizemore and walked to the dugout after cruising through 7.1 innings, allowing two runs and seven hits, striking out seven, and not walking a batter. In four starts, his numbers look like this: 29.1 IP/22 H/8 R/35 K/2 BB/0.82 WHIP/2.15 ERA. It will be interesting to see what happens once the league gets a second look at him, but right now things are looking pretty good. This might be a fun summer.
[Photo Credit: Elise Amendola/AP Photo]