Help, in their hour of need
NEW YORK - It's the most important win of the year - until the next one.
To say the Red Sox needed a win at Yankee Stadium last night was like saying the man in the White House needs some good news concerning the economy. Losers in the afternoon, even as the Tampa Bay Rays were defeating the Blue Jays to come within a half-game of them in the wild-card race, the Sox wouldn't have cared if they needed to play 114 innings before heading to Baltimore.
But 14 innings, covering 5 hours 11 minutes, was enough to get the job done.
Now, if anyone wants to talk MVP, they should at least be courteous enough to include Jacoby Ellsbury's name in the conversation. The center fielder hit two home runs to provide the offense in the afternoon loss, and then he delivered as big a hit as the Sox have had all season - or at least this month - when he deposited a Scott Proctor offering into the Yankees bullpen for a three-run homer that gave the Sox a 7-4 victory that ended a four-game losing streak and sent them to the season-ending, three-game series in Baltimore in much better position to decide their playoff destiny.
"Í don't care who hit the home run, but it was fitting," said manager Terry Francona. "He's an extraordinary player."
The winning rally began with a one-out, pinch-hit single by Darnell McDonald, who was batting for J.D. Drew, amazingly making his first appearance since July 19. Marco Scutaro, who had been given the honor of an intentional walk by Mariano Rivera back in the ninth, drew a base on balls from Proctor. Jarrod Saltalamacchia sent McDonald to third with a fly ball to deep center, leaving men on first and third for Ellsbury, who, after carrying the offense in the afternoon, was not having a very good evening. As he stood in the batter's box, he was 1 for 6 with two strikeouts and an inning-ending double play in the 12th.
But for the third time on the day, he put a charge into one, sending the Proctor pitch into the Yankees pen on a no-doubt home run trajectory. He now has 31 homers and 103 runs batted in.
Felix Doubront, the sixth Red Sox pitcher, threw a 1-2-3 bottom of the 14th, and Boston had its first win since defeating Baltimore in the second game of a day-nighter last Monday.
"I hope we were breathing before - every other breath, maybe," said Francona. "It's a big win, but we've got to go down to Baltimore and play good tomorrow. There's no getting around it. That was a huge win. We went through a lot of guys in our bullpen. We really needed that win."
Way back when, John Lackey actually gave the Sox a good start. The Yankees reached him for three runs in the first, two coming on a Mark Teixeira double that missed being a three-run homer by 6 inches, and the third being Teixeira himself, who came all the way around when Jason Varitek, of all people, made an atrocious throw trying to nail an advancing Teixeira at third.
But Lackey settled in, getting himself out of trouble with double-play balls in the third and fourth, and pitching into the seventh without allowing any more runs and thus giving his team a chance to get back into the game. He was taken out with a 4-3 lead after giving up a leadoff single to Eric Chavez in the seventh, but he lost his chance for a win when Alfredo Aceves allowed the runner to score on a stolen base, a fielder's choice, and a sacrifice fly by Chris Dickerson.
There was drama aplenty as the game progressed, as members of both bullpens were forced to step up, no one more than Jonathan Papelbon, who fanned four in 2‚ innings of hitless work.
The idea of going through all that and losing is always a possibility for one team or the other, but there is no doubt which team needed the win more. Yankees manager Joe Girardi approached the day as if he had a March split-squad doubleheader, mixing his regulars with his young 'uns in both games.
The Yankees truly have nothing to play for, having clinched the American League's best record, and that is something to keep in mind as they play the Rays over the next three nights. But the sight of the Red Sox does bring out the fire in most people wearing a Yankee uniform, and that starts with the skipper, who was ejected for the third time in a Red Sox game this season when he beefed over what replays showed was indeed an erroneous out call on a Dustin Pedroia infield single in the 13th.
The Red Sox have been talking about needing to catch a break, but breaks had nothing to do with ending the losing streak. They pitched better, and they finally got a big hit when they needed it. That's a victory formula on Opening Day, July 4, Labor Day or Sept. 25. It's really that simple.