The story of the 2009 Red Sox is far from written. But last night sure felt like a pretty strong punctuation mark when it came to closing out at least one chapter – the race for first-place in the American League East.
By the time the series opener concluded, with the Fenway Park scoreboard screaming “New York 20, Red Sox 11,” it wasn’t difficult to decipher the reality of the moment. (Although the fact that these two teams had never scored as many runs against each other in their storied history suggested something was afoot.)
It started with the other portion of the scoreboard that hadn’t yet been updated. By the time the teams resume play on Saturday, the standings will list the Sox 7 ½ games behind their visitors.
Then came the post-game numbers:
- The 20 runs were the most the Red Sox had surrendered since Jun 19, 2000, when these same Yankees tortured Brian Rose, Bryce Florie, Rob Stanifer, and Tim Wakefield to the tune of 22 runs.
- No team had managed 23 hits against the Red Sox since Sept. 3, 1981, when the Seattle Mariners out-hit the Sox by one, totaling 24 against the group of Mike Torrez, Bill Campbell, Tom Burgmeier, Luis Aponte, Chuck Rainey, John Tudor and Bob Stanley.
- Red Sox starter Brad Penny became one of three Red Sox pitchers since 1954 to give up at least eight runs and 10 hits over four innings or fewer against the Yankees.
- Rookie Michael Bowden followed up Penny by letting the Yanks score seven runs in two innings, the most runs allowed by a Red Sox reliever since Frank Castillo took it on the chin to the tune of 10 runs against Texas, Aug. 1, 2002.
- New York’s Hideki Matsui finished with seven RBI, becoming the first opponent since Kansas City’s Freddie Patek to manage the feat against the Sox at Fenway Park, and the first Yankee to collect as many in a game at Fenway Park since Lou Gehrig’s eight-RBI performance, July 31, 1930.
- According to the Elias Sports Bureau, the last time the Yankees collected 23 or more hits against the Red Sox was June 6, 1934.
All eye-opening, to be sure.
But when it came right down to it, there was no need for historical facts and figures. The words coming out of the Red Sox clubhouse were enough to paint the kind of picture the Sox were hoping was a thing of the past.
“Plain and simple, we got our asses kicked pretty good,” said Red Sox third baseman Mike Lowell. “Those are easier to forget than the ones you lose 2-1 because we didn’t have a chance today.”
When it comes to taking on the Yankees – whether it be Saturday, Sunday, or in the standings -- there has to be serious concern from the Red Sox’ side of things.
After losing the teams’ first eight meetings, the Yankees have now won their last five against the Red Sox, with the latest victory sending the kind of message reminding the Sox exactly what they’re dealing with.
The Yankees are now a season-high 32 games above .500, having gone 26-8 since the All-Star break. It’s their best-ever start to a second-half, surpassing the 1938 club.
“That was crazy, man,” Red Sox DH David Ortiz said. “It was a crazy. It was a little frustrating. I’m the kind of guy who just turns the page. Come the next day with energy and fight back. There’s nothing we can do about today.”
The Yankees are good, very good. Good enough that it would appear that with 41 games remaining – including two more against the Yanks this weekend, and three in September at Yankee Stadium – the Red Sox quest to catch their rival doesn’t seem like the priority.
Winning games, staying one step ahead of Texas and Tampa Bay, and improving enough to get back in the conversation with the Yankees is now the focus. But, as David Ortiz points out in another thing we learned Friday night, time is ticking…
‘THERE’S NOT MUCH TIME’
These are the words of Ortiz just before heading out of Friday and walking into Saturday.
“There’s not much time,” he said. “There’s only five weeks, that’s not much time. We’ll see.”
And that leads us to the importance of Saturday and Sunday, not so much to preserve hope of making the American League East a race, but more to simply win more games than any other team vying for that Wild Card spot. For example…
The question: “Seven and a half games behind, do you have to win both tomorrow and Sunday?”
Ortiz’ answer: “We have to. We have to. We have to win games because we’ve got Texas right behind us and the Rays are playing pretty good, too. We’ve got to count all of them. We have to have five good weeks. We’ve got to bring it.”
(The Red Sox are currently one game up on Texas and three ahead of Tampa Bay.)
The Red Sox slugger pointed out that the Red Sox find themselves in a similar situation as the Yankees did when dropping the first eight games of the teams’ season series. New York had pitching problems, as its eighth-inning relief conundrum suggested.
But since that last loss to the Red Sox the Yankees have figured things out, as WEEI.com’s Gary Marbry shows us when pointing out that since July 1 no team’s bullpen has been better in the eighth inning than the Yanks, holding opponents to a .179 batting average.
The Red Sox’ problem? The back-end of their rotation, as was exemplified Friday night by Penny’s struggles. Now it’s the Sox’ turn to discover solutions, although unlike New York’s evolution, the Red Sox have to their answers in the pressure-cooker that is the final days of the season.
“Hopefully,” said Ortiz when asked if there was hope the Red Sox could find their answers in time. “Hopefully we’re alright.”
ABOUT THAT PITCHING PROBLEM
Despite Penny’s problems of late, there was some hope entering Friday night.
He had been markedly better at Fenway Park, with a record of 5-2 and ERA coming in at 4.70 (compared to 5.79 on the road). And there was that start against the Yankees back on June 11 when he held New York to no runs on six hits over six innings.
The fact that Penny had lost his previous three decisions while going 1-4 with a 6.62 ERA in six post-All-Star break starts wasn’t something the Red Sox wanted to focus on heading into Friday. Yet after the starter’s 89-pitch setback, finding optimism had become appreciably more difficult.
“I feel bad for him. We want him to do well. He’s frustrated,” Lowell said. “He piched really well against the Yankees the last time out and I think we were hoping for that, but it wasn’t in the cards today. It was just a day that didn’t work out for us.”
It’s not as though there is a hint of a physical issue with Penny, with his fastball coming out of the gates at 98 mph. It was just that having to rely on hard stuff that was usually finding the barrels of the Yankees’ bats (all but five of his first 45 pitches were fastballs) didn’t prove conducive for rediscovering any kind of success.
So what’s the next step?
“I think we’re always probably evaluating,” said Red Sox manager Terry Francona. “I’d rather not do that tonight and it’s 10 minutes after the game. There’s obviously some things we need to talk about. Wakey pitched tonight – and again, I haven’t even talked to Wake yet – but it sounded like it went pretty well, so we’ll get together tomorrow and kind of see where we need to go.”
As Francona pointed out, “Wakey” is the next piece of the puzzle. The knuckleballer turned in an encouraging performance for Triple A Pawtucket Friday night, going 5 2/3 innings, giving up one run on two hits while throwing 81 pitches.
The outing was positive enough that Wakefield will get the start for the Red Sox Wednesday against the White Sox, with Penny told to 'sit tight'.
“Hopefully I can pick up where I left off. I’m not going to add any more pressure to myself, but I want to make sure that I’m capable of doing that and getting into the sixth inning,” Wakefield said in Pawtucket. “I felt like I could have gone seven [tonight], but doing that here tonight proved to me that my stamina’s back and I’m ready to go. I felt great physically. Compared to last week, I think my strength has increased a tremendous amount from last week to tonight. I was able to still throw some more pitches, to cover first base. There’s still a little limp there, but nothing’s really bothering me to pitch.”
ABOUT THAT OTHER ROOKIE PITCHER (NOT NAMED TAZAWA)
The day started with great excitement for Michael Bowden, having been called up to the major leagues for the second time this season. But as midnight approached, Bowden found himself with a fraught look on his face, receiving a hug and apology from the night’s starting pitcher, Penny.
The fairy-tale turned into a nightmare.
Bowden had come on for Penny with runners on first and second, and nobody out in the fifth inning, proceeding to allow a three-run homer to Matsui on the rookie’s second pitch. When it was all said and done, Francona’s plan of letting Bowden ride out the rest of the game had to go by the boards as the righty was forced to throw 63 pitches in just two innings.
The final bit of bad news came after the game when Bowden learned he was being optioned back to Pawtucket, with no corresponding move being announced.
“It was different,” he said. “It was the first time in my life that I have ever come in in the middle of an inning. I got up three times. It was something I’m not used to. But you know what, that’s a challenge. I had an opportunity to go in there and get outs and I didn’t take advantage of the opportunity. I let the team down, I let the bullpen down and I didn’t do what I needed to do.”
HOW ABOUT BILLY WAGNER?
Multiple reports had the Red Sox receiving the waiver claim on Mets’ 38-year-old closer Billy Wagner, which would give the team until 1 p.m. Tuesday to execute a trade for the reliever if the Mets choose not to relinquish his rights (and the remaining $2.7 million of his deal this season) outright to the Sox.
Wagner underwent Tommy John surgery last Sept. 10, but returned to pitch for the Mets Thursday night, striking out two batters while touching 96 mph in a perfect, 14-pitch eighth inning. He would have to approve any deal because of a no-trade clause in his current contract.
He has an $8 million team option for next season, which either the Mets or Red Sox could deem affordable if Wagner proves his health and effectiveness.
The bottom line is that if the Red Sox are to acquire Wagner they are likely going to have to part with at least one legitimate prospect considering the lefty projects to be a Type A free agent this season and could bring back whichever team he is with last two draft picks.
If a deal can’t be worked out, then at the very least the Red Sox kept Wagner away from the Yankees, who fell later in the waiver wire order because of their superior record.