"I'm just going out there and grinding it out. I just want the guy who plays next to me to know that I'm accountable." Gary Sheffield
We are prone to hyperbole in New York and Boston when it comes to our baseball teams, but I don't think it's a stretch to call last night's game an agonizing affair for Red Sox Nation. Boston received a brilliant performance from Tim Wakefield, but the offense was unable to hit with men on base, and the Sox were ultimately undone by poor fielding for the second-consecutive night. The Yankees swiped this game, one of the most satisfying victories of the year according to this observer. The Yankees now lead Boston by seven-and-a-half games.
Jon Lieber left several pitches up in the zone early in the game and the Sox pounced all over him. The first three Red Sox hitters reached base. With a 1-0 lead, two men on and nobody out, the Red Sox could not score another run in the first. The first two men of the second reached as well, but again Boston could not score. Lieber was aided by two key double plays and then he settled down and pitched well. Wakefield dominated the Yankees, scattering a few harmless singles. Bother pitchers worked quickly, and the game breezed along.
David Ortiz connnected for a solo homer--a blast--and Lieber allowed two men to reach in the seventh before he was yanked. Brett Prinz came on to get one batter, and he walked him. The bases were loaded with nobody out. Enter Felix Heredia. This was not a welcome sight for Yankee fans, especially with the top of the order due up for the Red Sox. Johnny Damon hit a ground ball to Tony Clark, who came home for the force, one out. Then Mark Bellhorn lofted a fly ball to left field for the second out. It was not deep enough to score Mirabelli from third. Finally, David Ortiz was called out on strikes. It was a close call, but Heredia earned his pinstripes for the year by getting out of the jam:
"This was Heredia's game," Manager Joe Torre said. (N.Y.Times)
The Stadium, which had been subdued for a night-and-a-half, was now rocking. Wakefield plunked Gary Sheffield to start the bottom of the seventh. With one out, he walked Godziller Matsui, the last batter he would face. Scott Williamson replaced him and struck out Bernie Williams. Then Jorge Posada walked to load the bases. Williamson came up lame and was replaced by the hard-throwing Mike Timlin. Tony Clark hit a bullet on one-hop to Ortiz at first and the ball scooted through Ortiz's glove into the outfield. Two runs scored and the game was tied.
Ortiz examined his glove much like a tennis player inspects his racket after making an error. The glove was not broken, but it the pocket was so loose that the ball simply scooted through it. Unbelievable. A freak play if there ever was one.
Gordon worked a perfect eighth, striking out two, including Manny Ramirez to start the inning (another close call that went the Yankees way). Kenny Lofton led-off the bottom of the frame with a ground ball to Nomar Garciaparra's right. Garciaparra rounded the ball and hurried his throw. Ortiz could not pick it and suddenly the go-ahead run was on second base. It was scored as a single and an error but it could have just been a straight error. Regardless, Jeter sacrificed Lofton to third and then Gary Sheffield had one of the most memorable at bats of the year.
Timlin pounded fastballs inside and Sheffield fouled off eight pitches. On two occasions, Mirabelli stood up, looking for the high cheese; Sheffield swung, fouling the pitches straight back up in the air foul. He also got ahead of two pitches and pounded shots foul into the upperdeck; he also hit a rocket line drive into the third base seats as well. According to the New York Times:
Luis Sojo, the third-base coach who stands well behind the coaching box when Sheffield hits, told Lofton to be careful while leading off third.
"I'm scared I'm going to get my head knocked off," Lofton said. "One went over my head, one went in front of me. Sojo said, 'Watch yourself.' I said, 'What do you think I'm doing?' "
On the tenth pitch of the at bat, Mirabelli pointed outside, but Timlin shook him off. At home I couldn't believe that Timlin wanted to challenge him inside again. Maybe it was a macho thing. Sheffield later told reporters:
"I'm just glad [Timlin] threw me strikes. If he had thrown them in the dirt, he probably would have made me look bad. He made good pitches. He kept pounding me inside with the sinker. After about the third pitch, I could see the ball coming out of his hand pretty well. I just wanted a ball I could get through the infield at that point." (Boston Globe)
And that's just what he did, slapping the pitch past a diving Mark Bellhorn down the third-base line for a double. The Stadium erupted and the Sox were all but cooked. Alan Embree replaced Timlin and gave up a run-scoring single to Matsui.
Mariano Rivera blew the bottom part of Boston's order away in the ninth, striking-out the side. I don't recall the last time he did that. Again, it was a tremendous win for the Yanks, and a painful loss for the Red Sox. Some pundits suggest that the AL East race is over, but I think it's too early for that kind of thinking. Boston is in a slump, and will eventually awaken. They hope that Pedro Martinez can stop the bleeding tonight when he pitches against a rookie.