In what was perhaps the most important game of the year for the Red Sox, the Yankees found a way to win, coming-from-behind against Curt Schilling, and then Jonathan Paplebon, and beating Boston8-5, in 10 innings. It should come as no surprise that the game last well over four hours. Derek Jeter, Jason Giambi and Jorge Posada led the way with the sticks (oh, and Bobby Abreu had two more hits and another walk, too), while Scott Proctor and Mariano Rivera performed well enough out of the pen. The Yankees have won the first four games of this five-game set with the Red Sox, and now lead the AL East by five-and-a-half games. There is still another game to play, the Yankees have not secured a playoff spot yet, nor have the Red Sox been illiminated from contention. That said, you'd be hard-pressed not to be thrilled and delighted if you are a Yankee fan this morning.
The only major cause for concern involves Mike Mussina, who left the game after the fourth inning with a strained groin. This is not the first time Mussina has felt discomfort in his groin this season. After rain delayed the game following the second inning, Moose only returned for two more innings before bowing out. The Yankees can only hope that he won't be lost for a serious amount of time. Nuts as it sounds, Carl Pavano can't return soon enough. (In other injury news, it doesn't appear as if Kyle Farnsworth is seriously hurt.)
The loss was a crusher for the Sox, who held leads of 3-0, 4-3, 5-3, and 5-4. David Ortiz had a strong game, as did Manny Ramirez, who scorched the ball all weekend when he wasn't being walked. Giambi hit a three-run dinger off Schilling in the third, and drove in Johnny Damon with a long sac fly in the eighth. Paplebon was now in the game--finally--and he struck out Posada and Robinson Cano with the bases loaded to escape further trouble. He almost pulled another trick out of his hat in the ninth, but got burned. Melky Cabrera led off with double and advanced to third on a wild pitch. But Bernie Williams and Damon struck out and the Yanks were down to their last out when Jeter dunked a single into right field to drive in the tying run. According to The Boston Globe:
"We're not catching any breaks," Papelbon said. "It's very simple. That's basically it. Prime example tonight, I go out there and try to execute a pitch to Jeter with two outs and he bloops one in there in front of our right fielder. There's nothing really you can do about that. You go out there and you try to execute a pitch and that's all you can do. You can't control the rest.
"I was 100 percent tonight. I felt good. I went out there and it was going to be a battle. I knew those last six outs were going to be the toughest six outs of the ballgame. I went out there and tried to get my strikeouts and get my pop flies when I had to. It's very simple for us right now. Things aren't going our way and we've got to find a way to get things going our way."
Fenway came alive in the bottom of the ninth when Ortiz doubled and then Ramirez was intentionally walked to start the inning. Kevin Youkilis sacrificed and Ortiz was cut down at third. But then Rivera threw a wild pitch and suddenly Ramirez and Youkilis were on second and third. Mike Lowell was walked intentionally and Eric Hinske pinch-hit. The crowd was really juiced now, with the winning run just 90 feet away. But Rivera struck out Hinske and then got Doug Mirabelli to tap a grounder to the mound. Money.
Giambi lined a solo home run off Craig Hansen to kick-off the tenth, and two batters later (Rodriguez whiff, Cano double), Posada snuck a two-run shot around the Pesky pole in right field. Rivera allowed a harmless, two-out single to Mark Loretta in the bottom of the inning, and retired Ortiz on a fly ball to right to nail down the save and the win.
Noted Red Sox writer/fans, Seth Mnookin and Bill Simmons consider what has gone wrong in Boston:
It's hard to look objectively at this year and see a team that had decided to throw in the towel. The 2006 Red Sox have a $120 million payroll. Among this year's new acquisitions, there's Mike Lowell, a $9 million third baseman. The Sox spent $5.5 for two middle relievers, and a combined $6 million for a shortstop and second baseman. That, right there, is higher than the Florida Marlins payroll, and more than half of that of the Tampa Bay Devil Rays. Instead of Mike Lowell, Alex Gonzalez, Mark Loretta, and Kevin Youkilis a $15 million infield the Sox could have had Andy Marte, Hanley Ramirez, Dustin Pedroia, and Youkilis a $1.25 million infield (slightly more if you factor in the money the Sox sent to Atlanta in the Renteria-Marte deal). Instead of Rudy Seanez and Julian Tavarez, the Sox could have begun the season with Sanchez and Hansen, for a savings of about $5.5 million. Instead of Beckett, they could have begun the year with a rotation of Schilling, Wakefield, Clement, Wells, and Papelbon, with Foulke out there as the closer, Lenny DiNardo as a backup starter, and Arroyo sent packing for Wily Mo Pena, who would have been the team's full-time center fielder. That, my friends, would have been a rebuilding year.
Instead and despite the fact that the Sox were basically held together in 2005 by spit, luck, Damon, Ortiz, and Ramirez Boston made a series of moves it thought would both allow the team to compete in 2006 and compete down the road. (I'm not going to argue the Damon non-signing again. The Sox couldn't have re-signed Damon unless they'd offered him a seven-year deal. And I still think within a year or two we'll all be glad Johnny's not picking up his annual $13 million check from Yawkey Way.)
So what happened? Well, where do you want to start? Jason Varitek hit like a shell of his former self; then he got injured. Trot Nixon hit for less power than at any point in his career; then he got injured. Matt Clement, David Wells, Tim Wakefield, and Keith Foulke all spent (or are spending) serious time on the DL. Coco Crisp got injured and had a harder time adjusting to Boston than was predicted. Mike Timlin got injured and stopped looking like an ultra-durable 33-year old and started looking more like the 40-year old he actually is. Seanez and Tavarez were both busts. That's a whole mess of crappy luck. The real mystery isn't why the Sox are sucking right now; the real mystery is how they managed to do so well for so long with so much going wrong.
Here's what I like [about the Red Sox]: Big Papi, Manny, Schilling, Papelbon, Youkilis, Lowell and Gonzalez on the left side of the infield; Jon Lester's potential; Wily Mo in any game where the Red Sox are leading or trailing by four runs or more.
Here's what I don't like: Everything else.
Bottom line: They overachieved in the first half because of Papelbon (who was simply out of his mind) and Big Papi (who probably swung 6-7 games in Boston's favor it had no business winning). Now the Sox are underacheiving. It's probably a 92-win team at best. And I could spend the next 3,000 words ranting and raving about the unacceptable performance of the Henry/Theo regime since they won the World Series -- the catastrophic Renteria/Clement signings; lowballing Pedro/Damon, then half-heartedly renewing talks at the last second; overvaluing Beckett (a genuine disappointment) and Crisp (a colossal disappointment); undervaluing their own prospects (Hanley Ramirez and Anibal Sanchez) in the Beckett trade; freezing at this year's trading deadline; dealing Arroyo without knowing about the health of Wells and Foulke; allowing 40-year-old Mike Timlin to pitch in the WBC (he's a walking corpse now); letting Roberts and Cabrera go; handing Beckett that unconscionable $30 million extension (I yelped out loud when I saw the headline); and we haven't even mentioned last winter's soap opera with Theo yet -- but I don't want to ruin my chances of getting a key to the office next season. So let's just say that everyone did a swell job and I fully support every moronic decision that was made. Now where's my key?
Boston still has a chance to salvage the last game of the series today with the rubber-armed Boomer Wells going up against Corey Lidle. Both teams are headed out west tonight.