Shots in the dark
Bay, then Youkilis blast off
It was the first perfect night for baseball this spring, created by Red Sox ownership for just such a scenario, as Tom Werner joked before the game. There was no rain, there was plenty of warmth, and finally, it felt like the season had really arrived. With it came Red Sox-Yankees, replete with tight scores and heroes and villains and a season's worth of emotions tied up in one game.
With two outs in the bottom of the ninth inning, a runner on, the Yankees up by two, and the closer's closer on the mound, Jason Bay reversed a Mariano Rivera cutter and drilled it to the yellow line in dead center field. And 38,163 fans rose to disagree with David Ortiz.
"It doesn't feel like it used to," Ortiz had said of the rivalry before the game. " 'Cause I've been in it too much. To me, it's just another game."
Except, in the end, it felt exactly like it used to.
First Bay struck to tie the score at 4-4. Then Kevin Youkilis launched a Damaso Marte pitch over everything in left with one out in the 11th for a 5-4 Red Sox victory. Somehow it all strangely made sense in the looking-glass world of the Red Sox and Yankees.
The home run brought a pile of red shirts to home plate. It was a mammoth shot, a fitting shot, the crowd filling the night with chants of "Yooouk" after a game that seemed lost much earlier. Starting pitcher Jon Lester, watching in his street clothes, said he and others in the clubhouse "ran down the stairs [to the dugout] like little kids."
"It's great," Youkilis said after the second game-winning homer of his career. "We get to go home. I think that's the best part about it."
Makes sense, especially 4 hours 21 minutes into a three-game series that promises to be utterly exhausting.
Overlooked in the euphoria was a lapse by the Sox bullpen, which had allowed one run in 17 2/3 innings before the seventh, when Hideki Okajima surrendered hits to the first four batters in the Yankee order, including Mark Teixeira's bloop RBI single that broke a 2-2 tie. Robinson Cano's sacrifice fly off Manny Delcarmen made it a two-run game.
"Until you win the game, it's really hard to jump up and down and get all excited about anything, so once Youk hit that ball, it was a relief and we could enjoy it a little more," Bay said. "Winning that game makes all the difference in the world in enjoying it."
There wasn't much to enjoy early for the Sox. They stranded 14 runners and grounded into four double plays in the first five innings. There were chances missed. Far too many.
"Early in the game, we had it seemed like a million chances to score a lot of runs and just didn't," Dustin Pedroia said. "They turned I don't know how many double plays, but it seemed like a ton. It was definitely frustrating, seemed like it was one after the other."
Pedroia turned the tables on the Yankees, starting two key double plays in the last three innings. And there were other stellar defensive plays. Bay's diving grab to spare even more damage in the seventh. Mike Lowell's diving stab of a liner by Nick Swisher in the third. Any number of plays by Pedroia earlier.
The second baseman started a rare 4-2-3 double play to save Javy Lopez some damage in the ninth, then added a 4-3 DP in the 11th.
That last preserved a tie, and the chance for another comeback against the Yankees.
Manager Terry Francona always feels the Sox have a chance. "Especially in this ballpark," he said. "A lot of unique things happen in this ballpark. Part of it is that we have good players. I do think the atmosphere leads to that. I remember being a visiting team. There can be some doubt that creeps in."
Like for Rivera against the Sox. It was his 12th career blown save against the Sox, his most against any club.
Lester and the Yankees' Joba Chamberlain left their starts with the score 2-2. Lester had thrown 102 pitches by the time Swisher doubled with two outs in the fifth. One more pitch got him out of the inning, but he was far deeper into his pitch count than anyone on the Sox would have liked. He finished his evening with six innings and 114 pitches. Good stuff, but not good enough.
The best stuff came early and late.
The first run scored was a gift from the opposing pitcher and Jacoby Ellsbury's speed. After Ellsbury opened the bottom of the first by lining a single to right field, Chamberlain balked him to second. Running on a pitch to Pedroia, Ellsbury was credited with a steal of third base - then came tearing around the bag as Jose Molina missed the pitch for a passed ball.
With Pedroia urging him on, and gesturing for him to slide, Ellsbury scored.
You want more drama? Try Jonathan Papelbon vs. Teixeira with men on second and third and two outs in the 10th. It took seven pitches, and a 96-mile-per-hour fastball, but Teixeira did exactly what the crowd was hoping he would - strike out swinging.
According to the Elias Sports Bureau, this was the first time the Sox hit a tying homer in the ninth and a walkoff in extra innings against the Yankees. One of the heroes, Youkilis, gave all the credit to his partner, Bay.
"We're down by two, two outs," Youkilis said. "He just misses that ball, it's game over. It was awesome. Great swing, great result."
Amalie Benjamin can be reached at email@example.com.