Coming into this series, this was the game the Red Sox and their fans were pointing to. The was the game they circled as a must-win because they had their ace, Josh Beckett, on the mound. Win this one and the Sox and their fans felt they'd be in good position to at least split and leave New York no worse than 2-1/2 games back.
I wonder how they feel this morning.
A.J. Burnett matched Beckett pitch-for-pitch, the Yankees bullpen went toe-to-toe with the "best bullpen in baseball" and Alex-Rodriguez hit walkoff homer in the 15th to send the Yankees to a thrilling 2-0 victory at Yankee Stadium Friday.
The Yankees now lead the Red Sox by 4-1/2 games in the AL East and have the best record in the majors. Boston's lead in the wild card is just a game over the Rangers.
"It was a big game at the beginning, and it just kept getting bigger and bigger," Rodriguez said. "You don't want to play 15 innings and use up great pitching performances from both sides. We knew the game was very important, and it was good that we won."
The Yankees have won two straight against the Sox, and though they are just 2-8 vs. Boston this season, you sense the worm has turned. The Yankees are the team with the confidence now. They are making the plays and getting the breaks. A couple more wins, and who will win the division might not even a topic for discussion ... but the Yankees have to do some work before that can happen.
Moreover, entering the season Sox fans were banking their success on what they claimed was superior pitching, specifically in the bullpen. On Friday they had no such advantage. The Yankees ended up being a tad better and they also figure to have the advantage the rest of this series.
This game, though, was thoroughly delightful. Pitchers' duels are so rare in this rivalry. The last one I can recall that had me this gripped was the game in which Mike Mussina lost a perfect game with two outs in the ninth on Carl Everett's single in a 1-0 victory on Sept. 2, 2001. In that game, David Cone battled Mussina through eight scoreless innings before the Yankees pushed across a run in the ninth.
Two previous times Beckett and Burnett have met this season and neither game came close to being the pitchers' duel that was expected. This one met and surpassed every expectation.
Both pitchers were sharp and in the rare occasions they got into moderate trouble, they came up with big pitch after big pitch.
"It was a great game on both sides," Rodriguez said. "For me, the story of the day is Beckett and Burnett just throwing darts, and both bullpens were pretty much incredible."
Beckett allowed just four hits and two walks in seven innings. He struck out seven and threw 71-115 pitches for strikes. The biggest jam he had to escape came in the fifth, when the Yankees loaded the bases with two outs, but Beckett got Derek Jeter to tap a slow bouncer to third for the final out.
Burnett, though, was at least just as good. He allowed just Jacoby Ellsbury's single leading off the game and seven walks in 7-2/3 innings. He struck out seven and threw 65 of 118 pitches for strikes. The biggest jam he had to escape was in the first when the Sox put runners on the corners with two outs, but Burnett got David Ortiz to ground out.
It just wasn't going to be a good night for both offenses, which combined to go 0-for-19 with runners in scoring position. The Sox had four hits total, and went 0-for-8 with RISP. The Yankees had nine hits and went 0-for-11 with RISP.
And while the starters were both brilliant, this one came to a battle of the bullpens, something every Sox fan had to believe they would win. But the Yankees have something in their bullpen the Sox don't: a guy who can eat up three inning named Alfredo Aceves.
After Phil Hughes got the Yanks out of the eighth and Mariano Rivera pitched a scoreless ninth, Aceves took over in the 10th and allowed one hit and one walk while striking out three in three innings.
Aceves' outing was huge because while he gave the Yankees length, the Sox were burning through their relievers, and by the time Aceves' day was done after the 12th, Boston had used five relievers, including closer Jonathan Papelbon.
The Sox were running short on relievers and by the time Brian Bruney, who had been struggling so badly, gave the Yankees two more scoreless innings after replacing Aceves, Boston was out of established relievers and had to turn to Junichi Tazawa, who was called up Friday to replace John Smoltz in the rotation.
Bruney needed an outing like that. It was a big spot and he came in throwing strikes and getting big outs. It's just one outing, but a performance like that should do wonders for his confidence and Joe Girardi's confidence in him. The hope is that he'll now regain that form he had at the beginning of the season an be a major contributor down the stretch and in the playoffs. We'll see.
The Yankees offense, meanwhile, had mounted threats in the ninth, 10th and 12th, but failed to score. Against Tazawa, you just sensed it was a matter of time. Even the outs were loud.
In the 14th, Jorge Posada and Robinson Cano singled with one out and when Eric Hinske lined a shot to right, it looked like the game would finally end. J.D. Drew, however, made a spectacular catch. Melky Cabrera followed by striking out after just missing a single down the right field line.
Phil Coke, though, was flawless in the 15th, setting the stage for A-Rod. Jeter led off with a single and two outs later, A-Rod crushed a 2-and-1 curve to left for his first homer in 72 at-bats, giving the Yankees a well earned win and securing a whipped cream pie to the face.
"Unbelievable win," Girardi said. "This was really amazing. There were opportunities, but there weren't a whole lot of hits. Beckett and A.J. pitched great, and everyone in the bullpen pitched well for both teams. We were fortunate to come out on top."
I bet that pie never tasted so good.
And I doubt Red Sox Nation was able to hold down much food this morning.
Runners In Scoring Position
Since A-Rod's Return May 8
Vs. Red Sox
Saturday vs. Red Sox, 4:05 p.m., Fox
Clay Buchholz (1-1, 605 ERA) vs. CC Sabathia (11-7, 3.95)
The Yankees figure to be set up well again for this one. While Buchholz is talented and has the ability to go deep, he has struggled and is going through growing pains. The Yankees, meanwhile, expect CC to go at least seven, and with Hughes having pitched just one-third of an inning and Rivera just one inning, the Yankees are in decent shape in the bullpen. In addition, neither David Robertson nor Mark Melancon pitched Friday, so the Yankees have a couple of rested arms available. But what they would really like is for CC to pull out one of those dominant outings he's more than capable of.