They showed some clout
When is a walkoff home run against the Yankees only half the story?
When the only reason someone has a chance to hit a walkoff is because someone else has hit a two-out, tying home run against Mariano Rivera.
"That was interesting," deadpanned Terry Francona, who had just seen Kevin Youkilis win the game, 5-4, with an 11th-inning bomb over the left-field wall off Damaso Marte two innings after Jason Bay had tied the game with a blast just to the left of the flag in center off the great Mariano Rivera, who had come in here on one of the great rolls of his Hall of Fame career.
So, the first Red Sox-Yankees confrontation of the 2009 season is in the books, and it was anything but ordinary. It was, in fact, downright spooky, with the teams combining for 29 men left on base (New York 15, Boston 14), and with each team bemoaning the failure to put the game away long before the two Sox homers were able to send the fans home in a state of semi-delirium.
It was a night of juxtapositions, but none bigger than the one in the ninth, when the Yankees, holding a 4-2 lead, were unable to score off Javier Lopez after loading the bases with no one out, and the Red Sox, down to their last out, were able to tie the game when Bay deposited that 1-0 pitch directly over the yellow line in deep left-center.
Youkilis, who is hitting a mere .433, was involved in that business, too, having ripped a one-out single past Rivera's ear to give the Sox a base runner and bring the proverbial tying run to the plate. Twice before in this little history with Rivera has a Red Sox player reached him for a huge two-out homer. Bill Mueller hit that memorable grand slam off him in '04. Manny did it one night in Yankee Stadium, but the Red Sox went on to lose that game in the 10th. And now Bay has done it, making him the first Canadian to have the honor. Hey, this is baseball. There's a category for everything.
When Bay stepped into the batter's box against Rivera, it's not as if anyone in the Red Sox dugout was brimming with confidence. For Rivera had converted his last 15 save opportunities, dating to Aug. 12, and was on a 43-of-44 run since the start of the 2008 season. He's already had four saves this season, and his ERA was not hard to calculate: 0.00.
"And he was throwing the ball so well tonight," Francona said. "You could see him spread the plate out. But Jason made a beautiful swing, and that allowed us to keep playing."
It was pointed out to the skipper that the Red Sox have had some degree of success against Rivera - more, at any rate, than most teams. "I don't know," he said. "That's because we face him more than anyone else, I guess. But to be honest, when he comes in, it's not exactly a confidence-booster. And if he is in, it means things aren't going that well for us."
We should have known it was going to be a strange evening simply by the nature of the first Boston run. Jacoby Ellsbury singled to right. Joba Chamberlain balked him to second. And with Ellsbury attempting to steal third, the ptch went through Jose Molina's wickets, and Ellsbury being Ellsbury, he never stopped running, sliding in ahead of Molina's throw for a run whose construction the crowd of 38,163 will surely never see again, even if they live long enough to see Ellsbury's great-grandson perform in a Red Sox uniform.
So what kind of an evening was it, exactly? Well, try the kind of evening in which it took until the 20th half-inning for someone to go down 1-2-3, the Red Sox finally doing so in the bottom of the 10th. Let's just say that these teams made stranding runners into a true art form.
Hitting into inning-ending double plays in the first, second, fourth, and fifth was part of Boston's charm. The Yankee nadir came in the top of the ninth. Lopez hit Mark Teixeira and walked both the DH-ing Jorge Posada and Nick Swisher to load 'em up. Francona had to bring the infield in, and damned if Robinson Cano didn't smash one directly at Dustin Pedroia, who turned that seldom-seen 4-2-3 double play. Melky Cabrera fouled to Jason Varitek, and that was that.
There was more adventure in the Yankee half of the 10th. Molina began the inning with a sharp single off Jonathan Papelbon, the sixth of seven Boston pitchers, and one Ramiro Peña sacrifice bunt later, the Yankee catcher was on second, representing the go-ahead run.
Derek Jeter then smashed a solid single to center. Wait. What's this? Pedroia is diving to his right, snaring the ball, popping up, and throwing out an amazed Jeter? Oh, that's right. He won a Gold Glove to go along with that MVP plaque. He's not a bad guy to have on your team, actually. A somewhat shaky Papelbon walked Johnny Damon, but he escaped the jam by throwing a 96-mile-per-hour fastball by Teixeira.
Way back when, Chamberlain and Jon Lester were taking turns getting into, and then getting out of, predicaments, the former leaving after 5 1/3 innings and the latter huffing and puffing his way through 114 pitches in six innings. Lester seemed as if he was behind everybody and was pitching from the stretch every second he was out there, but he did strike out seven and allowed only two runs, and it was, for better or worse, a quality start.
One of those aforementioned juxtapositions came when Yankees lefthander Phil Coke replaced Joba The Heat with two on and one out in the Boston sixth and retired Ellsbury and Pedroia on fly balls to preserve a 2-2 tie. But Hideki Okajima was not so okey-dokey in this one, facing four men and retiring none, leaving the Red Sox trailing by a 4-2 score.
And that's the way it stood, right till that 1-0 count to Bay in the ninth. I'm not going to say, "Manny who?" But feel free. When the Red Sox win a game like this against the Yankees and Rivera, there's no such thing as an excess of hyperbole.