|Daisuke Matsuzaka had to sweat out a 41-pitch fourth inning, but he earned the victory, allowing fours runs in six innings. (JIM DAVIS/GLOBE STAFF)|
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Red Sox earn fourth straight win vs. Yankees
NEW YORK -- When Yankee Stadium began to close in on him last night, Daisuke Matsuzaka didn't have the same option as Tom Werner, the Red Sox chairman who tells the story of how he once left the Bronx in full throttle during a Sox-Yankees game that was going badly , hopped in his car, and drove back to Boston.
"I think I got home at 4 in the morning," Werner said. "It felt like leaving the scene of a crime."
For one inning last night, Matsuzaka was on the verge of being mugged by the Yankees, who extended the Japanese righthander through 41 excruciating pitches in a fourth inning in which they scored four times on three walks and three singles, and had the Sox warming up J.C. Romero in the bullpen. All with 55,005 in the Stadium on their feet, roaring.
"When he reached that last out, we were basically hitter to hitter," pitching coach John Farrell said.
But there would be no retreat, no surrender, no sayonara. Matsuzaka changed out of his sweat-soaked T-shirt, just as he had done in Toronto under similar circumstances, and stuck around long enough to see the Sox stick it to the Yankees, 11-4, sending the Bombers to their seventh straight loss while dropping New York's record to 8-13, 6 1/2 games behind the Sox and in sole possession of last place in the AL East.
"He perspires quite a bit," Farrell said of Matsuzaka's quick-change artistry. "Maybe he was also wiping the slate clean and going back out. But that's just speculation on my part."
Whatever the motivation, it worked. The Sox gave Matsuzaka a chance to rest in the fifth, which became Andy Pettitte's personal sweatbox, the Yankees lefthander giving the lead back on three walks, a wild pitch, and base hits by Kevin Youkilis and David Ortiz. Matsuzaka came out and set down six batters in order, the bullpen did the rest, and the Sox, whose playoff hopes last season evaporated when they were swept in a five-game series by the Yankees in August, had their sixth straight win against the Yankees, dating to Sept. 16.
And while the breakfast crowd in Japan was focused on the first stateside confrontation between the Monster (Matsuzaka) and Godzilla (Hideki Matsui), a kid who didn't have to cross the pond to find friends and family celebrated his homecoming in unexpected fashion.
Sox shortstop Julio Lugo, who was born in the Dominican Republic but grew up in Brooklyn, hit a single, double, and home run, scored three runs, and stole two bases.
He singled ahead of Youkilis's two-run home run off Pettitte in the third. His walk began the Sox' go-ahead rally in the fifth. His home run off Yankees reliever Scott Proctor into the left-field seats in the sixth inning gave the Sox a 6-4 lead. It not only was Lugo's first home run of the season, it was his first home run in 240 at-bats dating to July 22, which is why his home run trot needed a little work. Lugo, who was still in sprint mode at the time, missed first base, and had to retreat to the bag before he completed the circuit.
Lugo grew up a Mets fan, but he made a couple of trips to Yankee Stadium as a kid.
"I went one day," he recently recalled, "and the Oakland A's were at Yankee Stadium. I saw Jose Canseco. He was fast. He beat out a routine ground ball to short. I never thought a guy that big could be that fast.
"They had Canseco and [Dave] Parker, Rickey Henderson, and Mark McGwire. I remember saying to myself, 'I don't think I can get that strong, ever.' "
Lugo's home run made for some unpleasant history on the Yankees' side. The Bombers came into the game having allowed at least six runs in seven straight games, something they hadn't done since 1950. Last night made it eight.
"Tomorrow's another day," Youkilis said. "They have a great team here, and it's no exception this year. We have to keep playing them like this is the last time we play them.
"They can turn it around any time. This is New York. They can turn this around the next day."
Great? It's hard to be even mediocre when your starting pitcher fails to last five innings for the 11th time in 21 games, Pettitte getting dismissed with two outs in the fifth.
"It's as frustrating as you can get. It's embarrassing is what it is," Pettitte said. "It's a joke that I can't go out there and get through six or seven innings right there when the team needs me to do that as bad as they do."
The Sox not only got more exemplary work from a bullpen that has not allowed a run in its last 14 2/3 innings on the road, Mike Timlin and Hideki Okajima disposing of the Yankees when it was still close and Joel Piñeiro getting the call with a seven-run lead in the ninth, they also put another dent in Mariano Rivera's reputation. The Yankee closer, who could not put away the Sox a week ago in a game in which New York took a 6-2 lead into the eighth, was charged with four runs in a mopup ninth inning last night, one in which he was able to retire just one batter and was lifted by manager Joe Torre after giving up three singles and a walk.
The inning ended with the home crowd offering mock cheers for former Sox lefthander Mike Myers, who walked Lugo with the bases loaded, allowed another run to score on an infield out, and a third when Ortiz singled through the left side.
All of that helped to erase the memory of Matsuzaka's miserable fourth, when he threw 28 pitches before he got an out.
The Yankees had singles in the first ( Derek Jeter) and second (Jason Giambi) and threatened in the third, when Johnny Damon drew a one-out walk and Lugo bobbled Jeter's roller while transferring the ball from his glove to his throwing hand. Lugo immediately atoned for that mistake when he gloved Bobby Abreu's bouncer up the middle, stepped on second, and threw to first for a double play.
Up to that point, Matsuzaka had gone to just one three-ball count. But in the fourth, he walked Alex Rodriguez on a full count, walked Giambi on four pitches, then walked Matsui on another full count to load the bases with no outs. Jorge Posada blooped an opposite-field single to left, a sliding Manny Ramírez doing well to keep the ball in front of him. Matsuzaka struck out Robinson Cano, whom he would whiff three times, and appeared on the verge of escaping the inning with a yield of just one run when Doug Mientkiewicz popped to third.
But Damon, in a sweet piece of hitting, kept his hands back long enough on a full-count changeup to line a half-swing single to left, scoring two runs, and Jeter reached out and poked a pitch off the plate through the right side for an RBI single to make it 4-2.
"To me, he worked too hard to record some outs," Farrell said of Matsuzaka . "The strike zone shifted a little bit, but that's not the sole reason. He tried to be perfect with every pitch, when he got behind in the count or walked a guy. I think it perpetuated itself to the point of trying to be that much more perfect.
"He admitted there's a short right-field porch for lefthanded hitters. He was very conscious of the two-run lead, but inevitably, by pitching defensively, it led to a big inning."
But Matsuzaka survived. No doubt the Yankees will, too, but for now, even Werner might enjoy hanging around.