The Yankees suffered through the most frustrating 20 run performance in major league history on Friday—one that should have been an easy victory filled with smiles and childish giggles.
A combination of mindless defense and incompetent “relief” by Brian Bruney instead left New York wondering if Mariano Rivera would warm up in what used to be a 12-1 stomping.
The final score was not indicative of how close the wheels came to falling off of a seemingly unstoppable Yankee freight train. Even a “comfortable” nine run lead felt like Boston was a mere stone’s throw away.
In any other ballpark but Fenway Park (and Yankee Stadium), the deficit would have been insurmountable. In any other ballpark, what Sox manager Terry Francona ultimately did would have been ho-hum protocol.
Fenway Park is not “any other ballpark.” It is a place where dreams never die and hopes never fade. It has redefined the word comeback, and is widely described as “the park where no lead is safe.”
Countless blowouts have been evaporated in a matter of innings, and even the careers of Ashley Simpson, Milli Vanilli, and O-Town could be resurrected within the stadium’s historic walls.
Francona, meanwhile, thought it logical to remove Kevin Youkilis, Jason Bay, JD Drew, and Victor Martinez from a lineup that had not yet retracted its fangs.
JD Drew could have used to rest to tend to a balky groin, but he had just launched two home runs against Toronto the night before. A third in two days would have ignited a crowd looking for something to latch onto.
The Red Sox had just scored three runs in the bottom of the fifth to cut the lead to 12-4, and had already raised Andy Pettitte’s pitch count near the feared 100.
They were about to be given the opportunity to feast on the underbelly of the Yankee bullpen, and at worst force New York to use its best relievers in a game they should have been donning their Snuggies.
After already falling victim to a 10-run comeback by the Orioles at Camden Yards on June 30, it is surprising that Boston would wave the white flag in the sixth inning at the comeback capital of MLB.
If not for an answered double play prayer off the bat of Red Sox SS Alex Gonzalez (who also swung at ball four) in the sixth, a 15-6 score easily could have become 15-12 in a matter of pitches.
Bruney could not find the strike zone, had just walked in a run, and the lineup was about to turn over.
Bay and Youkilis had now transformed into Casey Kotchman and Nick Green, however, and would have likely destroyed a possible Fenway miracle.
It made perfect sense for Francona to take his chances with unproven relievers as opposed to waste his top dogs on a game likely to end in defeat. The question that needs to be asked is “why did you give up offensively?”
The Yankees were not pitching a two-hit shutout through six innings. They were not maintaining a 10-run lead while Boston’s confidence withered away.
At two different points of the game, the Red Sox were one hanging curveball or poorly located heater away from a four or five run game. Anyone familiar with the rivalry knows that leaves a team one rally away from disaster.
What Francona did on Friday night sent a clear message to Fenway’s tiny visitor’s clubhouse. It told New York that the division was theirs, and Boston was more concerned with preserving a slim wild card lead over Texas and Tampa Bay.
For the first time in a very long time, Francona and the Sox displayed a defeatist attitude. The team that personifies the words fight, grit, and determination had taken on a “we’ll get ‘em tomorrow” persona.
It will be interesting to see how Boston responds with rookie Junichi Tazawa on the mound against the hard-throwing AJ Burnett.
Should New York push across a few runs in the top of the first inning, will the Sox succumb to a “here we go again” mindset?
Could an early deficit with another struggling pitcher on the mound steal the “never say die” swagger they have always had at home?
It should make for a very interesting weekend, and one that fans from both sides should watch very closely.