They had them right where they wanted them.
Well, sort of.
The Yankees looked like a beaten team as the Red Sox built a 7-2 lead heading into the bottom of the seventh.
However, after a 34-minute bottom half of the inning, the Yankees found themselves with an improbable 8-7 lead after plating six runs against three different pitchers.
Putting the ball into the hands of legendary closer Mariano Rivera in the top of the ninth, the Yankees seemed destined to walk away with the win. However, a single by Mike Napoli, stolen base by pinch-runner Quinton Berry and RBI single by Stephen Drew ended that thought.
Then Jacoby Ellsbury's stolen base—his league-leading 52nd of the season—and a single by Shane Victorino gave the Sox the lead in the 10th. Rivera's blown save was the 15th of his career against the Red Sox, who would capitalize on their 10th-inning run for the win.
The game was typical of a Red Sox-Yankees matchup for sure. A lead that seemed insurmountable that was wiped away, a stolen base that was reminiscent of Dave Roberts in Game 4 of the 2004 ALCS, a blown save, a baserunning blunder by Alfonso Soriano, and a game that took four hours and 32 minutes to complete.
Yeah, a classic game in a storied rivalry for sure.
And just think—there could be three more games just like this one over the weekend.
Rivalry Closer than Ever
In the past 10 years, the head-to-head record between the Yankees and Red Sox has revealed two teams closely matched in many ways.
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Clearly, there's no advantage at all for either team in the past decade. And it's certainly no coincidence that both teams are constantly fighting for a postseason berth, the past two years for the Red Sox aside.
In addition, year-by-year records have for the most part been close as well since 2004, with a slight departure over the past two years—the Yankees taking 13 of 18 games last year and the Red Sox taking 12 of 18 games in 2011. With tonight's win, the Red Sox have an 8-5 advantage this season.
Thursday's 10-inning affair was just another example of how evenly matched these two storied franchises have been.
Why the Rivalry Will Continue to Thrive in the Future
Over the course of the past century-plus, the Yankees and Red Sox have had periods of time when the rivalry wasn't nearly as hyped as it has been in recent times. Through the 1950s and 1960s, the two teams were clearly moving in different directions. In the 1970s, courtesy of a classic brawl between Carlton Fisk and Lou Piniella, the rivalry again took on new life.
The 1980s and early 1990s once again saw a lull, only to be revived by Pedro Martinez's arrival in Beantown in 1998. It's safe to say the rivalry hasn't cooled down much since.
What's likely to sustain the storied closeness between the two teams is the fact that neither team is ever going to be willing to go into rebuild mode. The ownership groups of both teams will always be looking to sustain a winning team with the goal of a World Series championship.
Boston's mega-deal with the Los Angeles Dodgers last year showed their willingness to re-assess their future, and the Yankees have been, well, the Yankees. If anyone believes they're honestly going to work to get under the $189 million luxury tax threshold next season without the likes of Robinson Cano and others, I have a bridge to sell them.
Neither of these teams will ever think small, or act small. It's that simple.
And that's not a bad thing for baseball. It's certainly not a bad thing for a storied rivalry, either.
Doug Mead’s work has been featured in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, SF Gate, CBS Sports, the Los Angeles Times and the Houston Chronicle.