|David Ortiz got to Yankees starter Javier Vazquez with a solo shot in the first inning to give the Red Sox an early lead. The Sox had six hits — and two homers — off Vazquez and knocked him out after 5 1/3 innings. (Ray Stubblebine/Reuters)|
Still keeping us guessing
One hundred and 10 games gone and we still don’t know.
Are the Sox in or out? Contenders or pretenders? Solid Gold Dancers or fool’s gold? Are they they playoff bound or will they be swallowed by a sinkhole on I-93?
When the Sox arrived for a four-game weekend set, the New York tabloids were predictably peppered with headlines about the Yankees’ opportunity to “bury’’ Boston. Fans and card-carrying knights of the keyboard once again touted this as a “make or break’’ series.
Just how many make-or-breaks can we have in one season? Sox fans and media folk have become like parents pledging “one last warning’’ for the 10th time. The urgency is diluted every time we say it.
“If there’s comes a point we’ve got to start doing the math, we’ll do it,’’ Terry Francona said yesterday afternoon. “We’re not where we want to be, but I don’t think that means we can’t be. We’ve got a long road ahead against some really good teams, but we’ll see how it goes . . . We’re going to play until they send us home.’’
True. The Sox can’t be mathematical ly eliminated this weekend. But they came to the Apple knowing they could be emotionally eliminated. They could be erased in the minds of all free-thinking baseball fans.
Not likely. Not now. The pitching matchups tomorrow and Monday favor Boston. The Sox look like they can finally gain some ground.
There’s been an interesting twist in perceptions. The Sox will be on network television today and tomorrow, and even though they are in third place in their division, their national image is peaking like October foliage. Despite the second-highest payroll in baseball, a record home sellout streak, and two world championships in the last six years, the Sox have become the overachieving underdogs because of all their injuries. They are the plucky Little Train That Could. This is what happens when you feature lineups with a steady dose of Eric Patterson, Kevin Cash, and Darnell McDonald.
Last night’s series opener marked the first time since 1972 that the Red Sox had played a Yankee team that was not owned by George Steinbrenner. The Yankees have memorial George patches on their uniforms. Looming in the distance beyond the screaming yellow W.B. Mason ad and the right-center-field bleachers there’s a billboard with the larger-than-life image of Steinbrenner. The sign’s headline is simple: THE BOSS.
George would not have been happy with his starting pitcher last night. To say that the Red Sox own Javier Vazquez is to say that Al Davis owns the Oakland Raiders. Going into last night’s game, Adrian Beltre was hitting .441 (15 for 34) against Vazquez, J.D. Drew was at .357 (10 for 28), and David Ortiz .320 (8 for 25). The trio had eight homers against the veteran righthander. In regular season play, Vazquez is now 3-8 against Boston. And let’s not forget when he spit the bit in Game 7 of the 2004 American League Championship Series.
It was no surprise when Big Papi launched a 3-2 pitch over the fence in center in the first. Business as usual for the Sox sluggers against Meatball Vazquez. Ortiz, Beltre, and Drew all recorded extra-base hits in the first three innings.
The top half of the second was an absolute disaster for the Yankees. Beltre, naturally, led off with a rocket double to left-center. With one out, Mike Lowell reached on a harmless popup that clanged out of the glove of catcher Francisco Cervelli. The error was partially Vazquez’s fault. He came off the mound intent on catching the pop and distracted his catcher. With the bases loaded and two outs, Vazquez walked Jacoby Ellsbury, who is 0 for 12 since coming back from Pawtucket (maybe Ellsbury needed more games in the minors). Then Marco Scutaro ripped a two-run double to left and the Sox led, 4-2.
New Jersey’s own Ryan Kalish’s first big league homer completed the scoring against Vazquez in the sixth. It was a big moment on Morrissey Boulevard because Kalish is the nephew of former Globe golf writer Paul Harber.
“[Kalish] has a lot of talent,’’ said Ortiz. “He looks like a young Papi out there.’’
There wasn’t much glory for the Yankees. Derek Jeter led off the bottom of the first with a single to left. The hit was the 2,873d of Jeter’s career, putting him in a tie with a fellow named Babe Ruth on the all-time hit parade. Four innings later, Buchholz drilled Jeter. The Sox hit Jeter a lot. With two outs in the ninth, Jeter engaged in an epic duel with Jonathan Papelbon and drew a walk on the 12th pitch of the at-bat. Papelbon’s probably not available this afternoon.
The Sox face CC Sabathia in Game 2 of the series. And here’s a news flash for those of you keeping your October calendar free for playoff baseball: The Sox are not alone in this alleged chase for a wild-card spot. In addition to the Yankees and Rays, the Twins are only two games behind Boston. This happened while no one was looking. The White Sox are also not ready to concede the wild card. Your Sox are going to have company in their quixotic quest.
Dan Shaughnessy is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.