Have you ever seen two games more different than the first two games of this Sox-Yanks series? We get a 20-11 hammering of the Sox followed by a 14-1 beatdown of the Yanks. Joy and anguish have never been shuffled back and forth more quickly between the two fanbases.
But you will notice a very significant difference in the two games. Whereas the Yankees have yet to see any good pitching from their side, the Sox got a very gutsy performance today from Junichi Tazawa. A performance in sharp contrast to last night's debacle from Brad Penny.
Let's briefly go over Penny's performance on Friday night: Four innings, 10 hits and eight runs, all earned. While he actually threw a decent amount of strikes (64% of all pitches) he just hung stuff over the plate over and over again. He looked shot. The latest word is that Tim Wakefield will be taking his next start. And with Buchholz seeming to find a groove and Tazawa hanging tough today, it looks like Penny has lost his starting slot.
Any chance that the Sox could bounce back from Penny's start (they did score 11 runs last night) was killed when Michael Bowden came on in relief and gave up seven runs in two innings. Ouch.
The only thing Boston could take away from last night is that they could hit New York's pitching. After all, even in a loss, 11 runs is a lot. But it turns out that was a big thing to take away from the game.
Fast forward to Saturday. Junichi Tazawa takes the mound. His last appearance against the Yanks resulted in giving up a game-ending homer. His last outing was a rough one in Texas. After Friday night, a lot of Boston fans were fearing the worst.
Instead, Tazawa gives one of the gutsiest performances by a rookie pitcher in recent memory. Against the toughest lineup in the game (and let's be honest, right now that's the truth), Tazawa held the Yanks to eight hits and no runs over six innings. While that happened, the Sox rocked AJ Burnett to the tune of nine runs in five innings. And that was pretty much that.
It could have been different. Tazawa allowed a minimum of one base runner each inning. He had runners on third four times, three times with less than two outs. But instead of getting psyched out, Tazawa manned up and got out of the innings. His most impressive job was in the sixth when he had men on first and third with one out. One a 1-1 pitch to Melky Cabrera, Tazawa got him to ground into a double play. My favorite moment was in the third when he ended the inning on a full-count called third strike to A-Rod. And he did it on his fourth straight curve ball. What guts! As a Boston fan, you have to love watching Tazawa get a little back.
It was also nice to see the relief corps do its job. Bard pitched a seventh inning that wasn't his best (two hits, one run, two strikeouts) but was more than adequate considering the circumstances. And then recent callup Enrique Gonzalez pitched a solid eighth and ninth inning to finish the game. Gonzalez had a much worse outing against the Yanks in the Bronx, as did Bard. Actually, all the pitchers today got a little revenge on the Yankees. Good work, fellas.
But what was truly impressive was the hitting. For the second straight game Boston's batters treated New York's pitching staff like a dog treats a chew toy. The score was 7-0 after two innings. Of their 14 runs, 13 of them were scored with two outs. Boston was 7-11 with runners in scoring position (by comparison, the Yanks were 0-9). Every starter except for Ellsbury and Varitek had at least one hit.
But out of all the impressive hitting displays from Boston today, none was more eye-popping than the hitting clinic put on by Kevin Youkilis. Youk went 3-5 with two homers, two runs scored and six RBI, tying his career high. He was locked in and is quietly inserting himself into the MVP discussion, in my opinion. He is second in the AL in OBP, SLG and OPS. His .308 average is on the cusp of breaking into the top 10. And he wields a mean glove at first and third. It would take a few more games like this to boost his numbers enough to be in the public MVP discussion. But I think it's something to watch.
Any other day, David Ortiz going 2-4 with three RBI would be big news. That gives Papi 20 or more homers for eight straight seasons. He seems to be finding his stroke late in the season. If Papi can keep hitting like this, then Boston becomes a lot more dangerous.
Also, it's a sure sign that a pitcher doesn't have his stuff when Alex Gonzalez hit a Monster homer off of him. You'd have thought Youk hit that ball.
And a tip of the proverbial cap to Jacoby Ellsbury for tying Tommy Harper's single-season steals record of 54 on Friday night. Ellsbury should break it in the next game or two. It also tied him with Carl Crawford for the AL steals lead. If Ellsbury wins the AL steals title again this year (he won it in 2008 with 50 steals), he would be the first Boston player to lead the AL in steals since Billy Werber did it in 1934-35.
Sunday marks the rubber match. It's also the marquee matchup, with Josh Beckett and CC Sabathia facing off. The odds are that this game will be lower-scoring. But best of all is that Boston has a legit chance of taking two of three from the Yanks, a prospect that seemed pretty thin after Friday night.