NEW YORK -- The game was in the balance. Though the Red Sox enjoyed what should have been a healthy 7-3 lead in the bottom of the seventh inning, a brief control lapse by reliever Manny Delcarmen had suddenly jeopardized the game.
Delcarmen allowed a single and a pair of walks while retiring just one, bringing Yankees cleanup hitter Alex Rodriguez—he of 546 career homers—to the plate with the bases flooded and a chance to tie the game with a single swing.
Enter rookie Justin Masterson. Ordinarily, a manager might be reluctant to turn to a pitcher with just 13 big-league relief appearances in such a spot. But Masterson, who entered last night with a 1.96 ERA in his 18.1 relief innings, has already earned the trust of his team in crucial situations.
“(The at-bat against Rodriguez) is about as big a situation as you're going to find,” said Sox manager Terry Francona. “Poise is not a problem. He deserves to be used in those situations.”
Masterson relied exclusively on his foremost weapon, throwing a pair of sinkers to Rodriguez. The first was a called strike, the second a tailor-made double play grounder to short. Alex Cora gloved it, stepped on second and fired to first to kill the rally.
“We got in a position where one pitch can turn the game around, and Masterson gets out of it with one pitch,” said Francona. “That was huge.”
Masterson seemed elated for the opportunity to face a future Hall of Famer with the game on the line. Though 23, he seems perfectly comfortable in moments when uncertainty would be forgivable.
“I'm more than happy to be thrust in those positions. That's why you play the game. That's what makes it fun,” said Masterson. “He's a good right-handed hitter. When I'm called upon, I'm supposed to get the job done. I won that battle.”
It is something that Masterson has done with striking consistency of late. He was good as a starter (4-3, 3.67), but his command seemed to falter at the end of his nine starts.
That has not been a problem since he has moved to the bullpen. Masterson has now fanned 18 and walked just four in his 19 innings, but he shrugs off the notion that his improvement is directly related to his role.
“You can say, 'Oh, yeah, it's because he went to the bullpen.' But it's more just the thought process,” said Masterson. “I don't feel like it's a whole lot different (to relieve). I don't think it's as much coming out of the bullpen as it is understanding myself.
“Mechanically, I've gotten more and more sound. I'm getting better and more consistent and so my stuff has become more consistent. It just happens that I'm in this bullpen role.”
Regardless, he is impacting a pennant race in a manner that seemed difficult to anticipate at the start of this year. Yet as much as the right-hander tries to enjoy the individual moments of the season, he also resists the temptation to reflect more broadly on his remarkable emergence just over two years after he was drafted.
“I try to maintain the narrow focus. I thought about not thinking about (the big picture) but thinking about it at a later time,” said Masterson, in a carefully constructed Yogi-ism that—somewhat surprisingly—makes sense. “That's pretty much what my thought process is. Let's just continue where we're going, remember the goal that we're on, and when the season ends, we can take some time and say, 'Man, what did we just do?'”
Based on his work to date, that task seems like one that Masterson will have every reason to anticipate with excitement.
For Rodriguez, the double-play ball was the nadir of a brutal night. Yankees fans blasted him for going 0-for-5 with a pair of strikeouts and a double-play grounder in the game's pivotal moment. Rodriguez also committed a throwing error and seemed perpetually uncomfortable in the field.
“When you play every day, you're going to get your (rear) kicked sometimes,” said Rodriguez. “Tonight I did.”
“No one is more frustrated than me. Everyone is desperate for wins, and on a night like tonight, I was booing myself,” he added. “It was an awful night. Personally it was a long night. I pretty much screwed it up any way you can screw it up. This time of year, you can't sit around and start judging yourself and start worrying about what happened.”
The Red Sox knocked out Andy Pettitte after just 4.2 innings. In games when an opposing starter has gone five or fewer innings against them this year, the Sox are now 31-2.
The Yankees have had a starter fail to make it through five innings on 28 occasions this year, tied for the sixth most in baseball. New York's record in such games is 5-23.
The Red Sox, meanwhile, have had a starter last five or fewer innings just 17 times this year (achieving a 3-14 record), tied for the sixth fewest in the majors. Angels’ starters have turned in the fewest bullpen-burning performances, failing to make it through five frames just 10 times.
Bartolo Colon made his fifth rehab outing in his deliberate return from a back injury. Facing the Lehigh Valley IronPigs, Colon went three innings while allowing four runs on four hits. The damage all took place in a second inning that was keyed by Brandon Watson's three-run homer.
Colon, however, bounced back to strike out the side in his third and final inning. He threw 60 pitches, 37 strikes. He still has yet to throw more than four innings in any of his rehab starts.
Tim Wakefield collected some dirt and a couple of game balls from last night's win to preserve as memories of his final outing in Yankee Stadium. In his return from the disabled list, Wakefield logged 80 pitches over five innings, and said that his shoulder felt no worse for wear afterwards. The 42-year-old said he could have thrown a sixth inning.
Jeff Bailey, on the day that he was named Most Valuable Player in the International League, went 2-for-4 with a pair on infield hits and two runs batted in. Bailey, who was hitting .301 with 25 homers and 75 RBIs for Triple-A Pawtucket, shrugged off his award. “Must have been a down year in the International League,” he joked. PawSox teammate Charlie Zink was named International League Pitcher of the Year.
Kevin Youkilis went 1-for-2 with a run-scoring double and three walks. He has reached base in 35 straight games. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, it is the longest current streak in the majors and the best such run of his career.
J.D. Drew (back), who was placed on the 15-day disabled list for the first time in his Red Sox career, went to a spine specialist recommended by Red Sox medical director Dr. Thomas Gill in New York City this afternoon. The specific doctor that Gill had familiarity in wasn’t available, but an associate of his checked out Drew’s ailing back.
The outfielder’s ailment can be traced back to 2003 when he originally injured his back. The ailment was re-aggravated while taking batting practice before the first regular season game, in Japan. According to the doctor Drew saw today, it was that injury in Tokyo which was never fully allowed to heal. Ideally, the outfielder was told, that injury would have been given a longer stretch to fully get back in place.
While Drew suffered occasional stiffness throughout this season, nothing approached the pain he began feeling in Baltimore last week. But by Thursday’s off day the back was feeling a lot better, which he relayed to Sox bench coach Brad Mills that night before heading to bed. The next morning assistant trainer Mike Reinold called to check in, and was told by Drew that he was still lying in bed but there was optimism stemming from the day before.
Then, after getting off the phone with Reinold, Drew rose out of bed and realized the pain had returned, leading to the evaluations over the weekend and this afternoon.
While the Red Sox waited until all of the photos taken of Drew’s back were fully analyzed, the doctor had already told the outfielder that he had a good idea what was taking place and the kind of time he didn’t get after the Japan mishap would be the best medicine. From the way Drew was favoring the positioning of his spine, to the pain he reported upon putting the wrong kind of pressure on his heal, the doctor knew what was going on.
Drew did ride the exercise bike for 20 minutes, leaning forward the entire time. He ultimately got off the bike gingerly, but did report, “yesterday this would have been a lot worse.” Joe Thurston took Drew’s place on the roster, although it was actually Tim Wakefield who took Drew’s spot, with reliever Chris Smith getting sent back to Triple A earlier in the day.
There were a couple of other injury items to tend to, starting with Sox pitcher Josh Beckett. The staff ace, who has missed his last two starts due to numbness and tingling in his right pinky and ring fingers, threw 50 pitches in a side session and is on target to make his next start Friday.
Red Sox manager Terry Francona said that Beckett most likely could have made the start tonight but the team wanted to err on the side of caution.
Mike Lowell, who reported no weather-induced damage to his Miami-area home after spending much of the last week rehabbing his injured oblique, was back with the team, running and throwing prior to the game. He won’t be ready to play by the time he is eligible to come off the 15-day disabled list Thursday, but will take swings off a batting tee Wednesday. Lowell’s hip injury, on the other hand, hasn’t benefitted from the extra rest.
“I think it’s something I’ll be able to play through the season with and then we’ll reevaluate it in the offseason,” he said of the ailing hip. “I thought the time off would make it better, and I’m not sure we’ve done that.”
Sean Casey has reached out to the Yankees in an attempt to purchase the first base bag from Wednesday night's game to serve as a keepsake from Yankee Stadium.
Rob Bradford & Alex Speier contributed to this report.