"A New York Treasure" --Village Voice
Tag: Red Sox

And You Knew Who You Were Then

Over at Grantland, check out this great piece on the Red Sox by Charlie Pierce:

The franchise needed a year like this. It needed a year like this not just because it was forced to clear out the lumpy deadwood in the clubhouse, though it certainly needed that. It needed a year like this not just because it was a humbling experience that let the air out of the inflated hubris that had been keeping the franchise’s collective ego aloft since the wonderful autumn of 2004, though the franchise certainly needed one of those, too. The franchise needed a year like this because people like me are getting older and we missed the days when being a Red Sox fan wasn’t so much work. The franchise needed a year like this because we kept telling young folks that it wasn’t always like this, that, in fact, things can be much worse than simply piddling away a playoff spot to the Rays in September, that baseball — Red Sox baseball — can be so thoroughly, unremittingly awful that you can stop worrying every game to death long before it’s time to get back to school.

And, yes, it is sometimes possible that good seats indeed will still be available, phony shutout streak or no.

From a strictly baseball sense, this looks like a middling- to long-range rebuilding process. The manager has to go. The farm system is nearly desiccated, and there isn’t enough talent on the roster to contend anytime soon. Neither Jon Lester nor Clay Buchholz looks remotely like a consistent no. 1 starter anymore. Also, it doesn’t look as though life in the American League East is going to get any easier. (Sooner or later, even the Blue Jays will forget to underachieve.) And I don’t want to hear anything about rebuilding that most noxious of all marketing department curses — “The Brand.” Sooner or later, you realize that no matter how many things you can find to commemorate, The Brand is simply whether you win or not. Stop losing, and your Brand is all bright and shiny again.

So, I rather enjoyed the second half of this Red Sox season. I was reminded of all the afternoons I spent with my grandfather, watching lousy baseball while, bit by bit, he drank and smoked himself into the Beyond. Those were good days, and isn’t that what the baseball people tell us the game is all about? Generations, sitting together, watching players bumble and stumble while the old folks teach the young’uns new and exciting curse words? Let Ken Burns set that to banjo music. I’ll be in the Parakeet Bar, waiting for the show to begin.

[Photo Credit: ]

Perfect Day for the Bomb Squad

This past Thursday the wife and I celebrated our fifth wedding anniversary. We got married, just the two of us, in the Bahamas. After the ceremony and the pictures, we returned to our hotel room. It was a Thursday afternoon. The wife went into the bathroom to wash up and I clicked the TV on and saw on the ESPN ticker that the Yankees were losing to the Indians. I turned the TV off and after the wife and I consummated the marriage we later turned the TV back on and saw that the Yanks had won, and that Alex Rodriguez hit a game-ending grand slam.

This afternoon the wife and I went downtown to enjoy massages. I e-mailed a Red Sox pal of mine and predicted one thing–that Freddy Garcia would get his tits lit, which was precisely what happened. I saw that the Sox scored twice in the first on my phone just as we arrived at the spa. Bad enough there was troubling news about Michael Pineda before the game. Dammit. I turned the phone off and didn’t turn it back on until we left a good while later. Score was 9-5. Swisher had just hit a grand slam after the Yanks trailed 9-0. Predictable, I thought. Well, at least they are making it respectable.

Little did I know that the White Sox pitcher Phillip–Don’t Call Me Humbert–Humber was on his way to completing a perfect game against the Mariners in Seattle. The Yanks were down 9-1 in the 7th, with one out and Russell Martin on first when Fox cut away to the White Sox game. By the time Humber had his perfecto and was interviewed for TV and Fox returned to Boston, Swisher’s grand slam got the Yanks back in the game. Runners were on the corners and Mark Teixeira was at the plate. Joe Buck and Tim McCarver were excited. Tex already had a solo homer and now, batting left-handed, he popped a three-run dinger over the Green Monster. Most of the damage was not televised.

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The score stood at 9-8 when the wife and I got to the restaurant for dinner. The game was on the TV at the bar and so I stayed at the bar, with the wife’s blessing–she sat in our booth following on the phone–as we waited for our food. That’s where I saw the Yanks take the lead. And then some. The Bombers scored 7 in the 7th and 7 more in the 8th on their way to a ball-busting win that will not soon be forgotten. Games like this, even in April, are memorable. It was a rousing win for the Yanks and a punch-in-the-face loss for the Sox, “rock bottom,” according to Bobby Valentine.

Final Score: Yanks 15, Sox 9.

I couldn’t think of a sweeter anniversary gift from the so-called Baseball Gods.

Thank you. And the wife thanks you, too.

 

 [Photo Credit: Corey Sipkin/N.Y. Daily News]

Wrecks N Effects

The season ended in a miserable way for the Boston Red Sox and now things are getting ugly. Craig Calcaterra links to a piece by Bob Hohler in the Globe.

Yikes. If it is as bad as all this, why would Theo Epstein stay?

Let’s Play Two … On Sunday

Weather situations like this would invariably lead Mike Bonner, the Yankees’ game production guru, to roll out his interminable loop of rain-related songs that included “Raindrops Keep Falling On My Head” to “Riders on the Storm,” “Have You Ever Seen The Rain,” Who’ll Stop The Rain,” “Fool in the Rain” and any other rock/pop tune that had a hint of precipitation in the title.

As of 6 p.m., despite the radar showing “a big green blob out there coming this way,” as Joe Girardi told reporters at the start of his pregame media session, the Yankees and Red Sox had still planned on trying to play Friday night’s game. At 7:05, the game was officially postponed. Friday’s game will be played as the second game of a doubleheader on Sunday. The game will start at 6:30.

Kudos to the umpires for making the decision early and not delaying until after the West Coast games begin. The Yankees have already been through this twice this season — once with the Red Sox and once with the Orioles, where they had home games start after 10:30.

Freddy Garcia, the scheduled starter, will get the ball tomorrow afternoon in what could be his last audition for a Division Series start.

Should be a fun couple of days, if they can get the games in.

The Smallest Nation

Who? Janice. What? New die hard, no scars. Evidence of Delusion? She looked like she was 12, but she was running a burger joint.

The Yanks have had a wonderful two weeks. Ten wins and three losses, under normal circumstances, might have spring boarded them into first place with a few games to spare. But these are not normal circumstances, and the Red Sox have only ceded a small part of their lead during the Yanks hot streak. Nevertheless, Boston fans get sense New York is for real.

Janice was the first person that was offended by my hat. “I’d wish you a nice day, but you wore a Yankee hat into my store,” she said without a trace of ribbing. I gave her a hard stare for a second to make sure I wasn’t misreading her anger. “If I had seen you order, I would have had them spit in it.”

This was the mother load of anti-Yankee sentiment. All rolled up in a cute little college student wearing a paper hat. She wasn’t even alive to see the ball roll through Buckner’s legs. The only would she’s ever taken was fully healed the following year.

With the standings tight and the Yanks coming to Fenway, I thought there would be a lot more of Janice. But most everyone here is just fantastic. Great baseball fans who don’t give a hoot about the Yanks anymore than any first place team should worry about the second place team.

Yankee Snark: “Good luck this weekend, Janice. And by the way, you burgers are lousy.”

Take It Like A Man

CC Sabathia, Francisco Cervelli, Joe Girardi

CC Sabathia heads to the dugout after giving up a 2-0 lead in the seventh. (Photo Credit: Getty Images)

If a game happens and no one stays awake to watch it, did it actually happen? The answer, of course, is yes.

The start of Thursday’s game was delayed 3 hours and 27 minutes due to thunderstorms that ripped through the New York metropolitan area. The lone West Coast game in San Francisco started and finished before the Red Sox-Yankees series finale.

And if you thought a first-inning home run by Curtis Granderson, one that gave the Yankees a 2-0 lead, would be the start of a big night against Josh Beckett, you’d have thought wrong. Beckett, who entered the evening 2-0 against the Yankees this season, with 19 Ks and holding the Yankees to a .128 batting average against him through 14 innings, settled in and only allowed five more base runners (2 H, 2 HBP, 1 BB), and no one advanced beyond second base.

CC Sabathia, on the other hand, was an ace in his own right, but only through six innings. The turning point was a dumb-luck triple by Jed Lowrie to right field in the top of the seventh inning. The ball was scooting along the ground down the right field line, and Nick Swisher anticipated playing the carom. Instead, the ball stayed close to the ground and skidded, finding its way onto the metal below the padding of the wall and hydroplaned past Swisher and into the corner. Swisher fell down in the process. This mishap, all of which took about two seconds to develop, allowed David Ortiz, who led of the inning with a seemingly harmless single, to score.

At that point, you could sense the Red Sox’ attitude morph into a collective “We’ve got ‘em now.” And they did. When the carnage of the inning was completed, 11 men were sent to the plate, eight got hits, and seven scored. Ortiz alone had two hits, scored a run, and drove in two. Ballgame over. The outs were louder than some of the hits. The singles by Jason Varitek, Jacoby Ellsbury, and the bases-loaded single by Adrian Gonzalez that eventually sent Sabathia to the showers were seeing-eye singles. Bleeders. But they were better than anything the Yankees could muster against Beckett.

The good tidings the Yankees brought home following a 6-3 West Coast trip have officially been erased. A one-game lead is now a two-game deficit. The Yankees are 0-6 against the Red Sox at home this season, and 1-8 against them overall. A quarter of the Red Sox’ wins and a third of the Yankees’ losses have come against each other.

We could say, “This is setting up for the typical second-half surge against the Red Sox,” but doing so could be a mistake. This Yankees team has not hit well with runners in scoring position. The Red Sox have. (Thursday’s split was 7-for-15 for the Red Sox, 0-for-5 for the Yankees). The Yankees’ bullpen is in shambles, with the recent news of Joba Chamberlain’s season ending and the high likelihood of his requiring Tommy John surgery. The starting lineup only carries one hitter with a batting average above .275.

To paraphrase former NFL coach Dennis Green from one of the all-time greatest post-game press conferences, the Red Sox are who we thought they would be. What are the Yankees?

Rolling the Dice-K

The other night the Red Sox, who still haven’t won a game against anyone besides the Yankees, got blown out by the Rays (who have now amassed three entire wins), mainly because of a dreadful start by Daisuke Matsuzaka. Being in a contemplative mood at the time, I thought back to his signing – lots of exciting, tense negotiations and lots of freaking out by the Yankee fan base. I thought Matsuzaka was going to be an ace, or if not, at least a very good player. Why not? His career in Japan was fantastic. I can’t find it at the moment, but I remember writing something to the effect of, it’s going to be really tough for the Yankees to compete against that rotation now.

Mostly I loved the rumors about his mythical “gyroball.” So far as I know Matsuzaka didn’t start the rumors, but cannily, he didn’t deny them either, deciding that if batters wanted to psych themselves out waiting for the ball to do something crazy he wasn’t going to stop them. I spent a few weeks covering spring training in 2007, Matsuzaka’s first season in the U.S., and several batters who faced him in Grapefruit League games swore up and down that they’d seen the gyroball. In turned out that all they’d seen was a good slider, but the gyroball hype was a lot of fun, even though it didn’t last into the season. I wish more players would pretend to have imaginary pitches.

Anyway, Matsuzaka hasn’t exactly been a flop – not like, say, Kei Igawa, who the Yankees signed more or less in response, in a fantastic example of How Not To Make Baseball Decisions. Dice-K had an okay 2007 and a very a good (if lucky) 2008, got injured in 2009, and last year was mediocre but not useless. And of course his fate this year is hardly sealed; I don’t expect him to return to his 2008 form, but I also don’t expect him to keep being as bad as he was the other night, although I suppose it’s possible. In any event he hasn’t been the game-changer that it seemed like he could be, and while that’s good news for the Yankees it’s also somewhat sad. I don’t have much of a sense of Matsuzaka’s personality, largely because of the language barrier, but his body language and baby-face have always been expressive and he seems affable enough. It’s just yet another reminder, if we needed one, that when it comes to scouting players – especially pitchers – we still don’t know all that much.

Just Joshing Us


CC Sabathia vs. Josh Beckett was billed to be a pitcher’s duel. In terms of score, it was a pitcher’s duel. But it wasn’t a “classic duel” in the way Clemens-Pedro May 28, 2000 was, where two strikeout masters overpowered hitters from the outset. Sabathia bent, but didn’t break, while Beckett was as dominant as he perhaps has ever been.

Sabathia had his B game, maybe his C game. His final line was an alphanumeric dream: 5 2/3 IP, 9 H, R, ER, 4 BB, 4 K, 118 pitches, 69 strikes. But as he’s done so often in his two Yankee seasons, Sabathia demonstrated an ability to make big pitches to get outs at crucial times. He allowed 13 baserunners but only one crossed home plate.

Beckett, on the other hand looked like the 20-year-old who led the Florida Marlins to a 2003 title, yielding just two hits and striking out 10. Beckett effectively mixed a two-seam fastball, four-seam fastball, and his wicked curveball to keep the Yankees off balance, and off the scoresheet. He tossed eight shutout innings and retired the last 14 batters he faced. Jonathan Papelbon came on and retired the side in order in the 9th.

Given Beckett’s mastery and the Red Sox leaving 16 men on base, the Yankees were fortunate to lose by only a 4-0 margin.

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Uh Oh: Crawford to the Sox

Do the Red Sox have a deal done with Carl Crawford? That’s what PeteAbe is Tweeting:

Adrian Gonzalez and Carl Crawford? That’s quite the lineup upgrade for the Sox. I’ve written before (as have many others) that seven years seems ill-advised to me for a player like Crawford who relies so much on his speed, but that’s not to say he won’t kick ass and take names for a while yet. I hope that wherever he is, Jesus Montero is working on his snap throws to second.

Keep in mind that this isn’t confirmed yet. Still, Abraham wouldn’t have run with it if he wasn’t confident in his source.

UPDATE: Okay, now it’s confirmed: the deal is all but done, pending a physical and a few contract details. Who’s happier right now, Crawford, Sox fans, or Cliff Lee’s agent?

Witch-King of Angmar To Re-Sign With Barad-dûr*

According to Peter Gammons, our unfriendly neighbors to the north are close to re-signing Jason Varitek to a two million dollar, one-year deal. Good news for the base stealers of the AL East.

Of course, yesterday Gammons tweeted “Cp L”. Still, this is about the easiest thing in the world to believe. The day the Red Sox don’t offer Jason Varitek a contract is the day we all peer anxiously towards the east to make sure the sun will still be rising there.

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*Alternate title: Grand Moff Varitek To Re-Sign With Death Star. Yeah. My nerdiness is running amok today. By way of apology, here’s a photo of Jason Varitek and a dolphin.

Don't ask me.

Desperate Hours

On second thought, Phil Hughes will start tonight, after all. Like to see it.  And it’s not Buchholz but Dice K for the Sox.

Hughes game. Gimme some Score Truck.

Let’s Go Yan-Kees!

Absolute Truth

That’s the only word that will do. The Yanks are playing like horsesh**. Jon Lester is a stud and he was in peak form on Saturday, true. Give him credit. But listen, the Yankees have lost four games in a row at home and are doing their best to make us squirm. Final score this afternoon: Red Sox 7, Yanks 3.

They’ve got Dustin Moseley pitching against Clay Buchholz tomorrow night. Anyone inspired with a sudden burst of confidence? Okay, so let’s say they get swept. There will be six games left, Magic Number stuck on stupid at three. You’ve still got to love their chances to make it to October, which looks like it’ll start in Minnie against that sombitch Pavano (the Rays already have a 4-0 first inning lead tonight).

But c’mon now, enough is enough already. The sky isn’t falling yet, of course, but that doesn’t mean we’ve got to be happy about this horsesh**, either.

Punchless Pinstriped Palookas Put in their Place (Red Sox Revenge, Part I)

Well, I’ve had a gnawing feeling about this weekend for a few days now. The Red Sox lose Kevin Youkilis for the season, the team is reeling, trailing the Yanks by six games coming into the series, and yet, all these signs did nothing to soothe me. In fact, they only encouraged my irritation. Which is how it goes for the true baseball neurotic, doesn’t matter that I root for the Yankees, doesn’t matter that they’ve got the best record in the baseball. Nuts is Knuts and I plead guilty.

Right on cue, Javier Vazquez came up small, serving up a 3-2 cookie to David Ortiz in the first inning that Ortiz promptly deposited over the center field fence. In the second, Vazquez and Francisco Cervelli let a harmless pop-up drop (Cervelli dropped it but Vazquez didn’t help matters any–they looked like a Benny Hill routine minus the laughs). Then Vazquez walked the ninth place hitter and the struggling Jacoby Ellsbury and when the smoke cleared the Sox had scored three more runs.

And Yankee Stadium was virtually silent–a mausoleum.

Mark Teixiera stayed back and waited on a curve ball in the bottom of the first and hit a two-run home run. After that, Clay Buchholz settled into a groove. Thanks to a throwing error by Marco Scutaro, the Yanks put runners on first and second with nobody out in the bottom of the fourth. Curtis Granderson, whose entire season appears to be fouling good pitches off and then bouncing out to second or popping out to center, smacked a line drive, hit in on the screws, right at Mike Lowell at first. Double play.

Alex Rodriguez fisted an RBI single to left the following inning, pulling the Yanks to within one run, but Vazquez, again, seemingly on cue, gave up a two-run home run to Ryan Kalish, who will later drink his first beer and pop his cherry with a 12th Avenue Jackie.

Vazquez pitched good enough to lose; Buchholz, good enough to win. Yankee fans sat on their hands. With AJ “Putting Out the Fire with Gasoline” Burnett and Dustin Mosley set to pitch two of the next three games, CC Sabathia cannot afford to lose  tomorrow. This could be a long, frustrating weekend at the bright, shinny mallpark in the Bronx.

Final Score: Red Sox 6, Yanks 3. The Sox now trail the Yanks by five games.

The good news? I get to feel righteous about being right, at least for one night. Wait, that’s not good news. The Rays lost, right, that was the good news.

Back tomorrow for more fun–especially since the game will be televised on FOX. Get ready for another four-and-a-half-hour affair to remember.

Keep it Movin'

The banged-up Yanks are even more banged-up today after a painful win on Friday night in Boston. Cano is out today; Nick Johnson is headed to the DL. But CC Sabathia is on the hill. He’ll go against Clay Buchholz, who has been Boston’s best starter this year.

Never mind the payback, just win, baby.

[photo credit: Yohei Yamashita]

Thursday Night Lights

Costas and Smoltz are calling the Red Sox-Angels game. Angels got four in the first, Kazmir’s given half of it back.

It’s much cooler in the Bronx tonight. Ideal, really. Only a handful of nights this lovely every year in the city.

The picture was taken by Bags.

Boston Red Sox II: Soggy Sox Edition

It’s a soggy day in New York. Here in North Jersey, the rain was intermittent and largely stayed away this afternoon, but right now, roughly an hour before the scheduled first pitch of tonight’s game between the Yankees and Red Sox, it’s pouring. The Yankees have said they will try to play tonight, but it’s going to be messy if they do.

Since the Red Sox swept the Yankees in three games at Fenway the weekend before last, the Yankees have gone 4-2 against the Tigers and Angels, while the Sox pushed their winning streak to 11 games with a win last Monday but went a mere 3-4 against the Indians and Rays.

The Sox have made just one change to their roster since the Yanks were in Fenway. Julio Lugo has returned from rehabing his knee to replace Nick Green as the team’s shortstop and number-nine hitter. Green thus moves to the bench where he replaces Gil Velazquez. Given that Green as hitting .304/.371/.464, that’s actually a downgrade for Boston. Perhaps Terry Francona has realized this as Green has drawn the start tonight.

The Yankees, meanwhile, have thought better of recalling Anthony Claggett (who took the spot of the injured Damaso Marte before Sunday’s rain-out) and have farmed Claggett out for Alfredo Aceves. With rain expected nearly all week, this is likely a move made to give the Yanks a long reliever should an extended rain delay end a starters’ night early, but it’s the smarter move regardless of the weather. Aceves has pitched very well in his last two starts for Scranton Wilkes-Barre and showed a nice uptick in velocity in his short-relief outings for the big club last September. He’s worth having around, while Claggett is still trying to adjust to Triple-A. Aceves also gives the Yanks a less valuable alternate if they decide that the conditions for a given game are too dangerous to risk putting a more valuable and more fragile starter out there.

For now, however, they’re still going with Phil Hughes tonight. I, like most of you I’m sure, have been anxious to see Hughes get back on the bump following his fantastic start in Detroit (6 IP, 2 H, 0 R, 2 BB, 6 K, 99 pitches). The Hughes we saw in that start and his September 24 start against A.J. Burnett and the Blue Jays last year (8 IP, 5 H, 2 R, 0 BB, 6 K, 100 pitches) is the Phil Hughes we were all so excited about before his hamstring tear in early 2007. He was pinpointing his 93 mile per hour heater, dropping in wicked 70 mph curves, and keeping hitters off balance and off base with his new high-80s cutter. It would have been preferable for him to start in yesterday’s relatively low-profile game (a Sunday afternoon against the Angels with the Yankees leading 2-1 in the series), but Hughes’s problems have always been physical, not mental. If he’s feeling good, I don’t expect he’ll be terribly disturbed by trying to break the Yankees’ season 0-fer against the rival Sox.

Boston counters with 25-year-old lefty Jon Lester, who held the Yankees to two runs over six innings at Fenway. Lester’s only start since then was a dud (6 IP, 5 R in Cleveland), but curiously his peripherals for both starts were identical (7 H, 3 BB, 7 K)with one large exception: the Yankees didn’t hit a home run off Lester, while the Indians stroked two. Just two of Lester’s five starts have been good ones, but he has struck out 23 men in 19 innings over his last three, so odds are he’s just shaking off some April rust. Last year, he had a 5.40 ERA after six starts, then went 15-4 with a 2.82 the rest of the way.

Nick Swisher (elbow) returns to the lineup to face Lester. Jorge Posada will DH with Jose Molina catching. Melky Cabrera’s in center and hitting seventh. Angel Berroa bats ninth as Joe Girardi continues to deny Ramiro Peña plate appearances against lefties (he has just two, a walk and a strikeout). Peña has been weaker against lefties than righties in his minor league career, but not significantly so (though it’s hard to tell given his poor hitting overall).

Boston Red Sox

Boston Red Sox

2008 Record: 95-67 (.586)
2008 Pythagorean Record: 95-67 (.586)

Manager: Terry Francona
General Manager: Theo Epstein

Home Ballpark (multi-year Park Factors): Fenway Park (108/106)

Who’s Replaced Whom:

  • Jason Bay replaces Manny Ramirez
  • Jonathan Van Every is filling in for Rocco Baldelli (DL), who replaces Coco Crisp
  • Jeff Bailey is filling in for Mark Kotsay (DL), who replaces Sean Casey
  • George Kottaras replaces Kevin Cash
  • Nick Green is filling in for Jed Lowrie (DL) and Julio Lugo (DL), thus Gil Velazquez is replacing Alex Cora
  • Brad Penny replaces Clay Buchholz (minors), Paul Byrd, and Bartolo Colon
  • Ramon Ramirez replaces Mike Timlin
  • Takashi Saito replaces David Aardsma
  • Justin Masterson is filling in for Daisuke Matsuzaka (DL)
  • Hunter Jones is filling in for Masterson in the bullpen

25-man Roster:

1B – Kevin Youkilis (R)
2B – Dustin Pedroia (R)
SS – Nick Green (R)
3B – Mike Lowell (R)
C – Jason Varitek (C)
RF – J.D. Drew (L)
CF – Jacoby Ellsbury (L)
LF – Jason Bay (R)
DH – David Ortiz (L)

Bench:

R – Jeff Bailey (OF/1B)
L – Jonathan Van Every (OF)
R – Gil Velazquez (IF)
L – George Kottaras (C)

Rotation:

L – Jon Lester
R – Josh Beckett
R – Justin Masterson
R – Tim Wakefield
R – Brad Penny

Bullpen:

R – Jonathan Papelbon
L – Hideki Okajima
R – Manny Delcarmen
L – Javier Lopez
R – Ramon Ramirez
R – Takashi Saito
L – Hunter Jones

15-day DL:

RHP – Daisuke Matsuzaka (shoulder strain)
SS – Jed Lowrie (wrist surgery)
SS – Julio Lugo (meniscus surgery)
OF – Rocco Baldelli (hamstring)
RHP – John Smoltz (shoulder surgery)
OF/1B – Mark Kotsay (back)

60-day DL:

RHP – Miguel Gonzalez (TJ)

Typical Lineup:

L – Jacoby Ellsbury (CF)
R – Dustin Pedroia (2B)
L – David Ortiz (DH)
R – Kevin Youkilis (1B)
L – J.D. Drew (RF)
R – Jason Bay (LF)
R – Mike Lowell (3B)
S – Jason Varitek (C)
R – Nick Green (SS)

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Boston Red Sox V: One More Time, With Feeling

In recent years, as the Yankees have found themselves fighting an uphill battle toward the postseason in the final weeks and months of the regular season, I’ve often stressed the importance of the team controlling it’s own destiny. Any time a team either holds a potential playoff position, or has more games remaining against the team they’re trailing than the number of games by which they trail that team in the standings, they control their own destiny. In those cases, all the team in question needs do to make the playoffs is match their rival’s record against third-party opponents and take care of business in their head-to-head matchups.

Right now, the Yankees do not control their own destiny.

Team Record Games Ahead Games v. NYY
Tampa Bay Rays 79-50 9.5 6
Boston Red Sox 75-55 5 6
Chicago White Sox 75-56 4.5 4
Minnesota Twins 74-57 3.5 0
New York Yankees 70-60 - -

Despite having six games left against the Yankees, the Rays have put the AL East out of reach. Meanwhile, it would behoove Yankee fans to root strongly for the second-place Twins to overtake the division-leading White Sox in the Central, as there’s some chance of the Yankees gaining control over their Wild Card destiny before the Chisox visit the Bronx in three weeks provided it’s Chicago and not Minnesota that they’re chasing. As it stands, however, the only opposing team over which the Yankees have any meaningful control is the Boston Red Sox, who come to the Bronx tonight for a three-game series that will be the last meeting between the two rivals at Yankee Stadium.

The Red Sox are limping into town. Josh Beckett was supposed to start tonight, but has been scratched due to numbness in his pitching arm. J.D. Drew hasn’t played in more than a week due to back pain and is likely headed to the DL. Already on the disabled list is third baseman Mike Lowell, and replacing Beckett tonight is Tim Wakefield, who will be activated from the DL to make the start. Despite these set-backs, the Sox have played well in August, posting a .667 winning percentage, their best single-month mark of the season. Still, they remain vulnerable. The Yankees took two of three from the Sox at Fenway at the end of July. This week, the Bombers really need to sweep.

Consider that idea of controlling one’s own destiny. If the Yankees sweep the Sox, they’ll wake up Friday morning two games behind Boston with three games remaining at Fenway and right in the thick of the Wild Card race (the White Sox are off Thursday, so a sweep would also move them within four games of Chicago with those four head-to-head games remaining). However, if the Yankees lose just one game in this series, they’ll wake up on Friday four games behind Boston with those three left to play. With a single loss in this three-game series, the Yankees will forfeit their control over their rivals, leaving them completely at the mercy of the teams ahead of them in the standings.

No Excuses

It’s been a rough season for the New York Yankees, but if they think the Red Sox have had it any easier, they’re wrong. It all started with Curt Schilling’s season-ending biceps injury at the outset of spring training. Since then, Beckett, Wakefield, Daisuke Matsuzaka, Clay Buchholz, and Bartolo Colon have all spent time on the DL. Lowell is currently on the DL for the second time this season, he’s joined there by Julio Logo, who has missed more than a month with a quad tear. Drew has avoided the DL thus far but could land there any day, and David Ortiz missed two months due to a wrist injury. In the bullpen, Mike Timlin and David Aardsma have made repeat visits to the DL. Both Alex Cora and Sean Casey hit the DL for several weeks as April turned in to May, and Casey has sat out the last week with a stiff neck.

That’s just the injuries. Buchholz, the Red Sox’s answer to Joba Chamberlain, struggled upon his return from injury and has since been demoted due to poor performance. Julian Tavarez pitched his way off the team entirely. Though he enters this series coming off a solid week and a half, Jason Varitek was hitting just .212/.304/.338 for the season on Aug 15. David Ortiz came off the DL to face the Yankees on July 25 and hit well in his first week, but without Manny Ramirez hitting behind him, he’s batted .237/.376/.421 in August with just three home runs.

Of course, Ortiz’s struggles likely have more to do with his wrist than who’s hitting behind him. To begin with, it’s not Jason Bay, Ramirez’s replacement in left field, but Kevin Youkilis who is now hitting behind Ortiz, and Youkilis has hit .333/.397/.621 since moving to that spot in the order. Bay bats behind Youkilis and has thus far done an excellent job of matching Ramirez’s production for the Sox this season:

Manny w/ BOS: .299/.398/.529
J. Bay w/ BOS: .333/.385/.529

The Sox have turned over their four, five, and six-place hitters since last facing the Yankees in late July–replacing Ramirez, Drew, and Lowell with Youkilis, Bay, and Jed Lowrie–but their offense has only improved over that span, with Lowrie chipping in with a .343/.425/.600 line since taking over for Lowell two weeks ago.

Still, the Red Sox are vulnerable. With Lowrie and company moved into the middle third of the order, the bottom third looks like what the Yankees had been running out there much of the season. Also, with Beckett out of this series, the pitching matchups give the Yankees hope.

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Wakefield and Pettitte debuted with their current teams in 1995. They first faced each other in May 1997.

Wakefield comes off the DL tonight to face Andy Pettitte. The Yanks touched up Wakefield for six runs in 5 1/3 innings on July 26. In that same game, Pettitte struck out seven Sox in six innings and surrendered just one earned run. Over his last three starts, Pettitte has posted a 3.00 ERA and struck out 14 in 21 innings against six walks and no homers. Tomorrow, Sidney Ponson faces Paul Byrd. Ponson’s two worst outings as a Yankee were his last and his last against the Red Sox, but the Yankees scored nine runs in 12 innings against Byrd over two starts earlier in the year, when Byrd was with Cleveland.

Those two games set up a potential pitching duel on Thursday as Jon Lester, who was rocked by the Blue Jays in his last start but has dominated the Yankees in two starts this year (17 IP, 14 H , 2 R, 3 BB, 16 K), takes on Mike Mussina, who has a 3.00 ERA, and 24 Ks against 4 walks and a homer in 33 innings over his last five starts and threw six shutout innings at the Sox in early July, the last time he faced them at the Stadium.

This is easily the most important series the Yankees have played all season, which is exactly as it should be. Whatever happens, the Red Sox’s final visit to Yankee Stadium will be one worth watching.

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"This ain't football. We do this every day."
--Earl Weaver