There were a lot of questions heading into tonight's Sox-Yanks game, literally the 2,000th time these teams have faced each other. Could Joba hold his own against Josh Beckett in a hostile environment? Could the Yankees continue their recent timely hitting? Would the real Kyle Farnsworth reemerge at the worst possible time? Would the Yankees make a big trade ahead of the deadline? Is there any way in hell the new X-Files movie will possibly be any good?
As for the game itself, Josh Beckett was very good, scattering nine hits and a walk through seven innings and allowing one run and that on a dinky little Giambi shift-beater to the left side in the third inning. Beckett's curveball was nearly untouchable, tight and well-spotted, and though the Yankees had plenty of hits, they only really threatened twice. But Joba Chamberlain was even better, in maybe his best (and certainly his biggest) start as a Yankee. He also went seven innings and struck out nine in an impressive shutout, and seemed to get stronger as he went along.
There was a great atmosphere at Fenway in addition to all the usual Sox-Yanks hype, exacerbated by the suddenly tight race, the fans were thrilled to welcome back David Ortiz, who returned from a wrist injury tonight. He didn't look quite like himself just yet, and the Yankees exploited his injury, pitching him in relentlessly to put pressure on the wrist.
The game was marked by a series of lousy calls on balls and strikes, and also a few very close plays on the bases some of which went the Yanks' way, others not. So everyone was already a little on edge by the seventh, which is when Kevin Youkilis who's accumulated quite a history with Chamberlain in just one year stepped into the box. Chamberlain went 2-0 on the Greek God of Walks before his third pitch sailed way up and in, and barely missed Youklis' helmet while the first baseman threw himself out of the way.
Youkilis, of course, brushed himself off and stepped back in the box in a totally businesslike--oh, wait, sorry, no. Youkilis threw a fit to the ump, not that I blame him, and the Sox gathered at the edge of their dugout as the atmosphere turned stormy and both benches were warned. Chamberlain went on to get the strikeout, and Youkilis stalked back to the dugout looking not entirely gruntled.
Chamberlain insisted calmly after the game that he had no desire whatsoever to hit Kevin Youkilis and put a man on base with a one-run lead. He wasn't exactly dripping remorse, though. I'm a little baffled by the Youklis-Chamberlain saga: I can't imagine that Chamberlain would throw at him on purpose near his head no less in a game this close, and seemingly unprovoked. On the other hand, I also can't imagine that Chamberlain's come that close to Youkilis' head THREE SEPARATE TIMES by accident, particularly given that I don't think I've ever seen him go that far up and in on anybody else even once.
In any case, Kyle Farnsworth came in for the eighth and promptly allowed a single to Jed Lowrie, then botched a possible play (or possible foul ball) on a Cocoa Crisp grounder, leaving two on and one out when Joe Girardi, in his infinite mercy, called in Mariano Rivera for the five-out, one-run, ultra-dramatic save.
A few years ago the Sox seemed to have Rivera's number, but he looked as dominant as ever and then some tonight, and quickly ended the eighth inning before facing the heart of the Sox lineup in the ninth. David Ortiz led off with a soft fly out; Youkilis, still so enraged after his previous at-bat that you could practically see steam coming out of his ears, hit a tough pitch into left for a single. (Part of me was almost hoping Mariano would buzz Youkilis up and in, just out of curiosity, because I think Youkilis might actually have lost his mind right there and then like men-in-white-suits lost his mind). Lowell was punched out on a called strike three that looked to be well inside; he actually leapt into the air in disbelief, like an infuriated Daffy Duck, screaming at the ump until he was thrown out of the game. Rivera, unperturbed, went on to strike out J.D. Drew for the win.
The Sox were looking thoroughly incensed by the end there, so I wouldn't be surprised to see a little more excitement tomorrow or Sunday although these games are so important that neither team can afford to do anything too stupid.
As for Nady and Marte, I'm not going to pretend to know if this is a good trade or not I just don't have a good sense of what Tabata or Ohlendorf will ultimately become. But for what it's worth, Nady was absolutely beloved by the Mets fans I know, many of whom still haven't really gotten over that trade (which the Mets only made out of desperation, when reliever Duaner Sanchez was injured in a freakish cab accident just hours before the deadline). In fact I have friends who insist to this day that if Nady had still been around, the Mets would've never lost the 2006 NLCS. That's probably overstating the case, but still the guy thrived in New York; if you believe in clutch, he was clutch; he's 29; and he's been a solid above-average major league outfielder for years now, which is a lot more than you can say for poor scraptastic little Brett Gardner. Whether it's more than you can say for Jose Tabata, well, we won't know that for years.
Plus, I think the people objecting to this trade are shortsightedly overlooking all the great headline pun potential here. The Mets called him the X-Man, but that's just the beginning. The X-Games! The X-Files! Saint Francis Xavier! If you dudes had to come up with headlines all the time you'd appreciate what an underrated part of the game this is. There oughta be a stat!*
Meanwhile, as for Marte, it's true that the Yankees' bullpen was already a strength and not their most pressing need. But at the same time, have you ever heard any baseball fan say "My team's problem is that they just have too many good, reliable relievers"?
Anyway, I'll wait for analysis on this trade from Cliff and the BP crew and other people who know more about these players' likely futures than I do, but my first reaction is that this increases the chances that the last-ever game at Yankee Stadium will be in October, not mid-September. And even if that just comes while the Yanks are just knocked out in the first round by the Angels yet again... hell, I'll take it.