The Red Sox beat the Yanks in another wild one at the Fens. I thought Randy Johnson looked decent, in spite of giving up three dingers (Payton, Renteria, and Varitek). But it was not one of his best performances. Bronson Arroyo wasn't as sharp and the Yankees squandered more than their fair share of scoring opportunities. In the ninth inning, representing the tying run, Alex Rodriguez and Jason Giambi both fouled back two pitches that they just missed. So close and yet...bubkus. Rodriguez had a bloop RBI single, but otherwise had a poor night at the plate. What Johnson and Arroyo (and both teams) had in common were their feelings about home plate umpire Greg Gibson's strike zone. Gibson had an erratic night calling balls and strikes, but he was equally bad for both teams. Johnson glared in at him on several occasions while Ron Jackson and Terry Francona both got tossed arguing with Gibson.
With the game tied at five, Tom Gordon gave up the lead in the eighth inning. The Sox scored three times and survived a shaky ninth-inning performance from Keith Foulke to secure the victory. But the most talked-about play of the game came in the bottom of the eighth when Jason Varitek's triple skipped along the right field warning track. Gary Sheffield went to field the ball and was inadvertantly slapped in the face by a fan. It appeared as if the fan was going for the ball, although he didn't bend down nearly low enough to grab it. It certainly didn't look as if the fan was intentionally trying to hit Sheffield. He only grazed the Yankee right fielder, but, caught by surprise, Sheffield immediately extended his glove hand into the fan's face, throwing a punch with his right hand into his mitt. He held himself back after that. Sheffield didn't jump into the stands. Later on, he said that he immediately thought about the infamous Pacers-Pistons brawl, and that's exactly what came to my mind as well. As a matter of fact, when that basketball fight went down last fall, all I could think about was that this kind of thing is so ripe to happen at a Yankee-Sox game.
Fortunately, it didn't escalate. I don't blame Sheffield for reacting, though he will most likely be fined for lunging at the fan. I can understand that too. (For what it's worth, the Red Sox thought Sheffield showed restraint.) Again, I don't think the fan was trying to hit Sheffield. However, he was in the field of play, interrupting a play, and there is no question in my mind that the fan was in the wrong. The incident will overshadow the rest of the game, which is too bad.
I think the Yankees and Red Sox have brought out the best in each other on the field (with a few notable exceptions) during the past two seasons. However, the rivalry has also brought out the worst in Red Sox and Yankee fans. After watching highlights of the soccer match in Italy last week, I just hope that something tragic doesn't happen one of these days.