The Red Sox have taken all five of their games against the Yankees this year, but it would be a mistake to assume that a sizable gap exists between the two clubs. The Yankees could have - and, in some cases, should have - won each of those five contests.
On Tuesday, the Sox claimed a 7-3 win that, like their four prior triumphs against the Yankees, was about the details.
There were several moments in which the game hung in the balance. In each, the Sox did what was necessary to keep the Yankees at bay.
Most notably, there were two moments when the Yankees seemed ready to thrust themselves back into last night's game. Josh Beckett had been stung for three runs on a Johnny Damon homer in the bottom of the third and New York again sensed an opportunity to pounce in the fourth.
Melky Cabrera ripped a one out liner down the right field line. The Yankees' centerfielder sniffed a triple.
But a perfect relay from right-fielder J.D. Drew to second baseman Dustin Pedroia to third baseman Mike Lowell saved the Sox. Had the ball touched the ground once, Cabrera would have been safe. But the two clothesline throws were just enough to clip Cabrera at third by inches.
Then, in the sixth, Beckett was once again in trouble. This time, Cabrera sliced a one-out double down the left-field field line that hopped into the stands to put runners on the tying run on third and Cabrera right behind him at second. Beckett had to bear down.
That he did. After falling behind Ramiro Pena, 2-0, Beckett asked the grounds crew to repair a mound turned to mud.
“For me, I think I really throw against my front side. Not that I come down with a stiff leg, but I end up with a stiff leg. For me, footing is pretty key,” said Beckett. “I don’t think I’ve ever had a grounds crew come out to fix the mound. This one, I was dealing with three or four pitches in a row where my footing slipped. So I had to do what I had to do.”
The hill rebuilt to his liking, Beckett then struck out Pena on his next three pitches (two curves and a fastball) and got Jose Molina on an inning-ending grounder to short. The Sox did just enough to ensure that their lead stood up, a common element to their victories and a common shortcoming of the Yankees in their five losses.
“I thought there were a lot of big plays,” Sox manager Terry Francona said afterwards. “After a miserable night out there, we ended up feeling good about ourselves.”
Here are five other things we learned from the Sox' completion of a two-game sweep in the Bronx:
1) The Sox are Just Fine at Cleanup
After Manny Ramirez was traded, and again this spring, questions were asked about whether the Red Sox featured a legitimate cleanup hitter. The answer is now in: they have two.
Kevin Youkilis, of course, has been a one-man wrecking crew from that spot this year. He entered last night leading the American League in average (.393) and OBP (.505) and second in slugging (.791).
But Youkilis was unavailable last night due to stiffness in his left side. That opened the fourth spot in the batting order to Jason Bay, who more than lived up to the responsibilities of a cleanup hitter.
After the Sox opened the game with three straight hits, Bay jumped on a 91 mph cookie from Joba Chamberlain, sending it into the first row beyond the left-field stands for a three-run blast, his seventh of the young season, and his third in five games against the Yankees.
“Wherever we hit him, we all think he’s a good player,” said Sox manager Terry Francona. “That’s part of what makes this team, I think, have a chance to be good: some flexibility.”
Bay clearly won the attention of Chamberlain and the Yankees, getting drilled by a 93 mph fastball in the fifth. That was part of a night in which he went 1-for-3 while reaching base four times, courtesy of the homer, a walk, the plunking and an error.
In his career as a cleanup hitter, Bay is a .287 hitter with a .388 OBP, .526 slugging mark and .914 OPS. Since Bay arrived in Boston last August 1, Sox cleanup hitters are hitting a combined .337 with a .443 OBP, .630 slugging mark and 1.073 OPS.
The questions about whether the team has a legitimate option for the fourth spot in the lineup are done.
2) Beckett was better - not perfect but better
Josh Beckett once again fell prey to two things that have haunted him this year: the big inning and a homerun. In the third inning, the pitcher appeared to be cruising, but a momentary lapse had a couple runners on base, and Beckett threw a flat sinker that came with a “Hit Me” sign for Johnny Damon.
Damon obliged, and crushed a ball into the second deck in right field for a three-run homer that turned a 4-0 cushion into a 4-3 game.
But on a night when Beckett was sharp but not unhittable, he did enough to avoid further damage. He survived 10 hits (and one walk) to limit the Yanks to just those three runs in his six innings. He was able to entrust a lead to his bullpen, and was rewarded when three shutout innings of relief yielded a ‘W.’
“There was some laboring at times,” Beckett acknowledged afterwards. “But I made pitches when I had to, and we scored a bunch of runs.”
Of course, timely pitches were notably absent from Beckett’s prior two starts, when he gave up eight runs on 10 hits to the Yankees and seven runs on 10 hits to the Rays.
Obviously, the fact that Beckett once again gave up 10 hits suggests room for improvement. Prior to this year, Beckett had never given up 10 or more hits in back-to-back outings. He’s now been thusly tagged in three straight starts.
But the Sox will accept his bend-don’t-break performance.
“He was better,” said catcher Jason Varitek. “I think he’s still even better, but he took good steps today. Really, when it was crunch time, he made some pitches. That was big.”
3) Joba rediscovered his nasty
The Sox jumped on Yankees starter Joba Chamberlain when he was vulnerable. In the first inning, he showed a fairly lifeless fastball that was 88-91 mph, including a 91 mph fastball that Bay parked in the left-field stands. He did not get a single swing and miss in the inning, and the first five batters of the game collected hits against Chamberlain before he registed his first out.
Yet from that point, the right-hander was unhittable. He showed the power arsenal that typified his work as a reliever. From the second inning through his departure with two outs in the sixth, Chamberlain recorded 12 of 14 outs by strikeout (including an incredible nine called punchouts).
His fastball velocity jumped to anywhere from 94-96 mph during that run of dominance, and he mixed that power pitch with an ability to throw a slider, change and curve for strikes. (He recorded strikeouts on all four of his pitches.)
The outing was remarkable. Though Chamberlain allowed four runs (all in the first) and took the loss, his performance was eye-opening and, in some respects, historic. He became the first pitcher to strike out at least a dozen Sox and lose since Roger Clemens did so in an epic confrontation with Pedro Martinez in Yankee Stadium on May 28, 2000. Chamberlain also became just the fifth pitcher since 1954 to strike out at least 12 batters in a game in which he lasted fewer than six innings.
Amidst the stretch, Chamberlain exuded a remarkable mix of confidence and nastiness. He howled when he missed the strike zone, screamed and pumped his fists after inning-ending strikeouts, and worked incredibly quickly even as he repeatedly asserted his will by shaking off catcher Jose Molina.
Amidst that, of course, the semblance of controversy still arrived, as always seems to be the case with the right-hander when he faces the Red Sox. In the fifth, Chamberlain drilled Jason Bay in the shoulder with a 93 mph fastball.
Given that Bay has crunched three homers against the Yankees this year, and that Chamberlain has a well-documented history of throwing at Kevin Youkilis, the plunking came across as somewhat suspect. Bay glared briefly at Chamberlain before taking his base.
The Sox were uninterested in stirring the pot, and some noted that the game situation (a runner on first in a one-run game) might have dictated that any attack on Bay was unintentional. The Sox never retaliated against the real or perceived shot. (It is, however, worth noting that Beckett had little license to do so, given that he has already been suspended once this year.)
“You’d have to ask (Chamberlain if it was a purpose pitch). I don’t think that at that particular juncture of the game that was something he was trying to do. Like I said, that’s something you’d have to ask him about. But,” Bay shrugged, “part of the game.”
All the same, members of the Sox won’t be sending Chamberlain any Christmas cards anytime soon. A couple of terse no comments suggested that there is no love lost between the Sox and the right-hander.
4) Another word on Jason Bay
Bay is demonstrating impressive all-around skills. In addition to his homer, he also swiped a base, in the process turning in the fifth game of this decade by a Sox cleanup hitter in which he hit a homer and swiped a bag.
“Regardless of where you’re hitting, you’re a certain type of player,” said Bay. “You’re not going to play to a certain spot in the lineup.”
Wherever he hits, Bay is quietly offering an aggressive and successful approach on the bases. He has already stolen four bases in as many attempts, and has positioned himself well to exceed his total of 10 thefts in 2008 – part of a master plan he articulated in spring training.
Of course, after Bay said at the beginning of the spring that he would like to steal more bases this year, he did little in pursuit of that goal during the exhibition season.
“I didn’t run one time in spring training,” he noted. “I didn’t want to blow my cover.”
5) The Sox’ daily list of medical updates is long
Even while the first month of the season has been an entirely successful one for the Red Sox, they continue to churn through a constant daily list of medical updates with the walking wounded. Tuesday was no different:
A) Daisuke Matsuzaka
PAWTUCKET, R.I. — Daisuke Matsuzaka finished his rehab outing at McCoy Stadium having thrown 47 pitches (29 strikes). He left after hitting Toledo’s Brent Cleven, leaving with runners on first and second. and two outs. Matsuzaka topped out at 93 mph while consistently throwing his fastball between 89-91 mph. He did manage to get 12 swings and misses.
Matsuzaka’s final line read: 2.2 innings, 2 hits, 0 runs, 2 walks, five strikeouts.
After throwing 47 pitches (29 strikes) for the Pawtucket Red Sox against the Toledo Mud Hens — going 2 2/3 innings, giving up two hits, two walks, and no runs while striking out five — Daisuke Matsuzaka spoke in the McCoy Stadium home team’s weight room about his first rehab start.
Matsuzaka pronounced that the life on his pitches was much improved since his disheartening one-inning effort against Oakland last month.
“I think I’m ready to pitch in a game,” said Matsuzaka. “I wouldn’t got so far to say I don’t need any rehab starts but I feel physically ready, by that I’m ready to go through whatever rehab program that’s handed to me. So health-wise I have no problems at all.
“I physically felt ready to get after it,” the right-hander added. “I don’t think I went all the way. I held back a little bit and what that says to me is that physically I’m back to normal.”
Matsuzaka said that he will pitch on an every-five-days schedule, but was unsure how many more rehab appearances he will require. Francona said that the team’s staff will huddle with the pitcher on Wednesday to hatch a plan.
B) Kevin Youkilis
Kevin Youkilis clarified that the injury that forced him out of Monday night’s game in the sixth inning, and that also kept him out of Tuesday’s game, is a “left side” issue rather than a back injury. He would offer no further clarification, merely reiterating that the injury is to his left side, and saying that
He described the condition as one of tightness, and said that he’s been dealing with it for a couple of weeks. It is unrelated to getting hit by two pitches in roughly the same spot on the back, just below the shoulder, in a four-day span, and in fact the left side issue, according to Youkilis, preceded those two plunkings.
Youkilis hopes to return to the lineup on Wednesday, though he could not guarantee such an outcome.
“I don’t know (about his availability beyond Tuesday),” said Youkilis. “Tonight, not being in the starting lineup, tomorrow, hopefully I can go. That’s what you hope for. Hopefully my body will heal real quick and I’ll be ready to go (Wednesday).”
Youkilis said that the injury is exacerbated at different times, with no single type of activity more responsible than others for his physical discomfort.
“It just depends on movements. There’s some movements you feel, and some you don’t feel,” said Youkilis. “There’s no rhyme or reason, a checkswing, or a swing –– sometimes it gets tight, sometimes it doesn’t.”
Youkilis blamed the aggravation of the injury on Monday on the short warning time prior to the start of the game following a rain delay of more than two hours. He called the notice, which he estimated at 28 minutes (rather than a more normal 40-45 minute advance warning prior to a game’s start), “ridiculous.”
“I didn’t think of it, but I think it’s kind of getting ridiculous where they’re just all of a sudden –– boom,” said Youkilis. “There are situations, where it’s a lot about trying to hold the gates and stuff like that, and we understand that. But it would be nice to have a little more time –– especially when it’s pouring rain when you’re coming up in the first inning…But that was probably one of the culprits, not getting enough time.”
Youkilis is still leading the American League with a .505 OBP, while ranking second in average (.393) and slugging (.719). Even so, he has been slightly more human over the last dozen Red Sox games or so.
Starting with the second game of a day-night doubleheader on April 22, which he entered hitting .462 with a .556 OBP and .808 slugging percentage, he is hitting .297 / .435 / .595 — still exceptional numbers, to be sure, to the point where it is difficult to suggest that he has been hindered by the injury.
C) Jacoby Ellsbury
Jacoby Ellsbury left Tuesday’s game in the bottom of the fourth inning after experiencing what the team described as tightness in his right hamstring. After Ellsbury led off the game with a single and then stole second, he started experiencing a muscle spasm (what he described as “a little tremble”) in the area.
The condition bothered him enough that Ellsbury ended up concluding, in concert with the Sox’ training staff, that he should leave the game. Based on his improvement from the time he left the game to the contest’s conclusion, Ellsbury is hopeful that with early treatment on Wednesday, he might not have to miss any further action.
“It got really tight,” he said. “At that point, it was probably best that I came out of the game and gave it a break.
“But it’s feeling a lot better now,” he continued. “Considering how it felt early in the game, I feel pretty good.”
Rob Bradford contributed to this story from Pawtucket.