Jacoby Ellsbury watches his game winning three-run homer disappear into the New York night
It won't be counted as a postseason game, all the stats will count as regular season stats, but for the Boston Red Sox, the 14-inning marathon they won Sunday night was a playoff game.
The Red Sox had to have this one. No doubt about it. Tampa had already won earlier in the day, and the Red Sox had already dropped Game 1 of the day-night doubleheader. That meant a Red Sox loss would have left them in a tie for the wild-card spot with three games left in the season.
It was more than that, though. Going into New York and dropping three in a row while losing the playoff spot would have been a heartbreaking way to go about bringing the current September slump to a head. This was the type of agonizing game that no team wants to lose under any circumstances, never mind one that has an impact on a team's postseason hopes.
This game started in the same morbid manner that so many of the September losses have for the Red Sox. They fell behind early. It was 3-0 at the end of the first inning. John Lackey looked shaky, the Yankees looked relaxed and confident. They had Rookie of the Year candidate Ivan Nova on the mound looking for his 17th win, and early in the game, there was every reason to expect he'd get it.
Then things started to change. It started innocently enough with a few solid innings from Lackey. He worked himself out of a two-on, one-out jam in the second. He induced a double play to end the third and then induced another to end the fourth.
The Sox' bats were still MIA, but Lackey did look strangely comfortable on the mound. Then in the fifth inning, JD Drew of all people came through with a one-out single to drive in Jed Lowrie from third, and the Sox were on the board 3-1. The Sox scrapped for another run in the sixth to make it 3-2. As this was happening, the Sox were still playing like the same "we don't really want to win" Red Sox that fans have been suffering with all month. They ran themselves into outs on the bases and failed to convert sacrifice bunts. This was a Red Sox team still mired in mediocrity, the only difference is that they seemed to be fighting it this time.
The seventh inning featured an actual mini rally for the Red Sox. A leadoff double by Lowrie, a double by Scutaro, a single by Varitek and all of a sudden the Red Sox had an actual lead, 4-3.
They wouldn't hold it though. The Yankees immediately got to Lackey in the bottom of the seventh, and a leadoff single by Eric Chavez would chase Lackey from the game. Brett Gardner would pinch-run for Chavez and eventually score on a sacrifice fly to make it a 4-4 game, and that's how it would stay for six very, very nip-and-tuck innings of tense baseball.
The Red Sox' bullpen, particularly Jonathan Papelbon, was lights out. The Yanks got some runners, but the Sox' pen would not yield the runs. The Yankees' bullpen was more than up to the task as well, matching the Red Sox' pen by allowing runners but not allowing any runs all the way into the 14th inning.
It was in the 14th inning that Jacoby Ellsbury would launch a two-out, three-run home run to give the Red Sox the win they so desperately needed.
As of now, it's the biggest hit of the season and the biggest win of the season.
The Red Sox' work isn't done yet, but with three games remaining in the season for both the Sox and the Rays, and the Sox owning a one-game lead for the wild-card spot, the pressure now shifts back to Tampa to win games. Perhaps this is the win the Sox can build on. This is the win that shifts the momentum that the avalanche of hopelessness had been gaining, and redirects it towards wins and the wild card. If the Sox make the postseason, then this game will serve as the key to that postseason birth.