Last night, Boston Red Sox close Jonathan Papelbon allowed four runs in the ninth inning against the New York Yankees. The first two, which tied the game at nine, came on a two-run homer by Alex Rodriguez, and the final two, a home-run by Marcus Thames, had their vaunted rival celebrating at home-plate. Papelbon walked off the field dejectedly.
Despite the lingering disappointment, he would get a chance to redeem himself in the second and final game of the series, though it didn’t seem this would be the case by going off Boston’s play over the first five innings.
Starting pitcher Josh Beckett struggled once more. He allowed two two-out runs in the second inning, a solo-homer to Juan Miranda in the fourth, and then two more two-out runs in the fifth. Nothing was going right mechanically and, as I expected, physically, as he was taken out in that fifth inning with manager Terry Francona and the Red Sox trainer by the righthander’s side.
The diagnosis was that he left with an injured lower back, but the Yankees weren’t buying it. They thought an injury was fabricated as an excuse to take him out and give reliever Manny Delcarmen, who had just began to warm up in the bullpen, as much time as he needed to get ready. If this was the case, it was a smart move by Boston. Even if it wasn’t, New York was set to file a protest, despite being ahead 5-0.
The point would be moot if they were indeed able to hold onto that lead, which, with ace CC Sabathia on the mound and a solid bullpen behind him, seemed like a plausible outcome. They could just take their win and forget about trying to be the first to win a protest since 1986. But as the game went on, the possibility of one being filed by the angered Evil Empire became more and more probable. That’s because Boston fought back.
They were down 5-0 in the opener and came back to take the lead, so why not do it again and this time finish the job? Their attempt at deja vu but with a happy ending began in the sixth, as Kevin Youkilis continued his torrid month by tagging a Sabathia sinker that didn’t sink enough deep into the left-field seats. Boston was on the board and had some momentum on which to build.
That momentum would carry over to the eighth, an inning that began with a fielding error by Alex Rodriguez at third that allowed Marco Scutaro, who is familiar with committing errors, to reach first. Those who followed Scutaro made Rodriguez pay for his mistake by battering the same Joba Chamberlain who relinquished three runs in his stint the night before. As far as Boston was concerned, he improved upon his performance in the opener, as four Red Sox scored in another forgetful frame tossed by the young righthander. Dustin Pedroia singled Scutaro to second; J.D. Drew laced a double to right scoring Scutaro; Youkilis plated both Pedroia and Drew with a single; then a rejuvenated David Ortiz singled in Youkilis despite being thrown out at second after center field Brett Gardner gobbled up his lofted drive into the center-field gap and fired successfully to shortstop Derek Jeter. His removal from the base-paths was crucial, as their rally was killed, but the damage was done, with Boston having secured a tie with New York by getting to their surprisingly shaky relief.
Yankees Stadium was silent just as they had been during the latter innings of the opener, but their disappointment was prolonged in this second game. Daniel Bard worked his way out of two-out trouble in the bottom of the eighth, handing the reigns once more to Papelbon for the ninth.
Papelbon would take the mound but not before being staked a lead. Boston somehow managed to break though against the best closer of all time, Mariano Rivera, whom they have both been triumphant against or completely baffled by in the past. His cutter, his lone pitch, is not as sharp, without the biting action nor the speed it had just a month ago. The Red Sox pounced on this pitch they have seen very often. Darnell McDonald singled with one out and Scutaro followed by benefiting from the wind, which whipped his fly ball around, eventually sending it to the ground and not into Thames mitt. It was an error, putting runners on first and second with one out, that would prove costly.
Rivera induced a ground out by Pedroia, but, in being hit to first baseman Mark Teixeira, it managed to move the runners to second and third. Now Boston needed a single and they could take the same two-run lead they had in that heartbreaking game one loss. They received better than a single, as Jeremy Hermida socked a 2-2 offering into right field, plating both runners and giving the Red Sox a far from safe two-run advantage on a blustery and rainy night in the Bronx.
Papelbon found himself in the same position as before. To start, it was deja vu, but he, in need of a save, and his Red Sox, in need of a win, hoped the ending would be a happy one. He made life difficult, as Scutaro muffed a grounder and Robinson Cano drove in Rodriguez to climb within one with nobody out. But after runners blanketed the corners with just one out, he snagged a come backer off the bat of Miranda and tossed to first, then ended a long battle with Randy Winn by striking out the aged left-fielder swinging at the eighth pitch and eighth fastball of the at-bat.
The game was over and the Red Sox, this time, held onto a late lead. The Yankees will protest, but if Beckett does go on the Disabled List as has been reported, their efforts will be in vain. At least, they should. The Red Sox deserve to hold onto what shred of dignity they maintained with this victory, a victory that allowed the team and especially Papelbon to wash the sour and sickening tastes out of their mouths and leave rain-sopped Yankees Stadium with the slight hope of competing with their nemesis for the long haul.