With win, Sox find themselves alone at the top
The Red Sox moved into sole possession of first place in the American League East with a 6-5 win last night over the Yankees at Fenway Park, and New York was left wondering what it has to do to beat Boston.
Seven wins in seven tries this season for the Sox over their longtime rivals, a dominance that should be unlikely given the talent on a strong Yankee club that will probably be fighting the Sox until season's end.
For now, the Sox will say it's early. They will say, as Mike Lowell did Tuesday, that the sample size is small. But that sample continues to grow, as the Sox have an opportunity for a third straight series sweep of the Yankees tonight.
Asked at what point the sample size moves from small to large, Lowell said, "I don't know. As long as we keep winning, I don't care."
The Sox don't know why they have been able to sweep through the Yankees, nor are they willing to tempt fate by attempting to provide an answer to an oddity that seems bound for a correction - especially given the way the Sox have won the seven straight. They haven't all been easy.
"It's crazy, but we've been playing really good against them," David Ortiz said. "I don't think we have done that ever before, huh?"
He's not quite right. The seven mark Boston's second-longest winning streak against the Yankees to start a season. The longest was a 14-game run from April 11-July 1, 1912. Ortiz can be excused for not remembering those days.
As manager Terry Francona said, "What we did in April is a long time ago. What I care about is us playing good tonight, and getting better as we go."
In last night's game, as the Red Sox' bullpen faltered - albeit momentarily - in the form of Ramon Ramirez, it was Hideki Okajima who provided the 38,121 on hand with a reason to go home content. With two home runs having narrowed the lead to one run in the seventh, Okajima stranded Jorge Posada at first with a strikeout of Hideki Matsui. And in the eighth, as the speedy Brett Gardner stood on second base with one out, Okajima got Derek Jeter and Johnny Damon to swing at air.
Jonathan Papelbon, one night after suffering from food poisoning, closed out the game for his 15th save.
"I had to take my time in between each pitch," Papelbon said. "I'm sure I got a handful of pace-of-game violations tonight. Breathing a little heavy. The big thing is I made it through it."
He also gave credit to Okajima, saying, "By far, no questions asked, Hideki was our star of the game. He came in and basically took over the ballgame, and did what he did. That's the big reason why we won the game tonight. There was no doubt about it."
That, and the Sox' ability to be patient against struggling Chien-Ming Wang, who allowed four runs on six hits and three walks. For the second straight night, the Sox watched a Yankee starter walk dejectedly off the Fenway mound after just 2 2/3 innings. A.J. Burnett took the dishonor Tuesday, and then it was Wang's turn, as he tried and failed to right a season that has saddled him with an 0-4 record and 21.60 ERA as a starter.
"We did good early," Francona said. "I think Wang was having some command problems and we made him work hard, which is the idea. We had some good at-bats, and then we hung on for dear life."
A couple of defensive plays by the middle infield contributed to the Sox being able to stay ahead. Nick Green turned a key double play in the second inning, catching a Melky Cabrera liner, then throwing to first to nail Nick Swisher.
"I think it was huge," said Francona. "Almost looks like in a basketball game, a slam dunk."
Then in the ninth, a throw from George Kottaras to Green got away from the shortstop. But Dustin Pedroia was there to prevent the ball from going into center field. In a one-run game, it kept pinch runner Ramiro Pena on second after the stolen base.
The Sox hadn't done much offensively since the fourth inning. After Kevin Youkilis capped their scoring with a two-run, opposite-field homer to follow up a J.D. Drew triple, the Sox had just one more hit, a Kottaras double in the eighth. They scored a run in the first, two in the second (helped by a Swisher whiff on a fly ball to right by Pedroia that was ruled a double), and another in the third on a Lowell homer.
But even with the three runs against Wakefield, and the two homers against Ramirez in the seventh, the Yankees didn't have enough. Against the Sox, they haven't had enough all season. Perhaps that ends tonight, with CC Sabathia on the hill. Or perhaps the Sox really do have the Yankees' number.
"Probability-wise, probably not very likely," Jason Bay said of the streak. "That's a very good team. It's a very different team than we played at the beginning of the year. It's still June. A win is a win."
Amalie Benjamin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.