There were signs Friday night. The biggest sign was on the Yankee Stadium scoreboard, indicating clearly that the Boston Red Sox had defeated the New York Yankees, 3-2.
This was the biggest game of the year to date, and the Red Sox prevailing against the Yankees was tangible evidence that things could be different. Of course, these two teams will meet five more times in the next nine days. But for the moment, life will be easier to take in Red Sox Nation with the Sox trailing the Empire by 2 1/2 games instead of 4 1/2 games.
And the Red Sox got well against Yankees closer Mariano Rivera, scoring two in the top of the ninth. This is not an unknown occurrence. Rivera has been less Future Hall of Famer and more relief pitcher against Boston than any other team. This was Rivera’s first blown save since July 24. That last blown save was against, of course, the Red Sox. But still, as Johnny Damon, who produced the game-winning hit, said of the rally, “It says we can come back against the best.”
Damon later amended that slightly, saying that Boston’s success against Rivera “starts with luck. This is the best closer in the history of the game.”
This victory, achieved in this way, was a most pleasant development the Red Sox could hope for in what seems like their eternal pursuit of the Yankees. But there is more than this one night on their side of the argument.
Since the trade of Nomar Garciaparra, Boston has gone 33-11. Not only is that .750 baseball over seven weeks, it is .750 baseball at exactly the right time. And since they trailed the Yankees by 10 1/2 games on Aug. 15, the Red Sox have gone 25-5. It realistically doesn\’t get any better than that.
And this is not the same Red Sox team that has finished second six straight times to the Yankees. The fingerprints of the new Red Sox were all over their ninth-inning comeback.
Dave Roberts was inserted as a pinch-runner and stole a base, putting himself in scoring position for Orlando Cabrera’s game-tying single. These are two people the Sox didn\’t have two months ago. And both have added crucial dimensions.
Boston didn\’t have anybody to steal that base earlier this season, unless it was Damon, but the starting center fielder isn\’t going to be available as a pinch-runner in the ninth. Cabrera’s play at shortstop has solidified the infield defense of the Red Sox. And if he is not the overall run producer that Garciaparra is, he is more likely to be available on a game-to-game basis. And he was just what the Red Sox needed with the game on the line Friday night.
Up until the ninth, this had been one of those nights that tended to convince you that the Yankees still had a certain inevitability attached to them, especially in regard to the Boston Red Sox.
The Yankees\’ heroes in what was surely going to be a 2-1 victory over the Red Sox were going to be John Olerud and Tanyon Sturtze.
Olerud hit a fifth-inning home run to give the Yankees the winning margin. This would be the same John Olerud who was released in July by the Seattle Mariners, who were convinced that he could no longer hit. And the 2004 Mariners have had a lot of practice dealing with players who can no longer hit.
But Olerud has had a long and productive career, and in New York, back in a pennant race, he is reviving that career. The Yankees have been known to have that same effect on a lot of people.
But with Sturtze, there was not that kind of track record. Oh, there was that one year where he was 11-12 with Tampa Bay and people thought a corner might have been turned, but then he encored at 4-18 and there was no corner and no turn, either. The man entered the competition Friday night with a lifetime ERA of 5.32.
But there he was, coming in after the second rain delay, to replace starter Orlando Hernandez. And Sturtze produced 3 2/3 innings of shutout relief, including five strikeouts, an apparent Yankee savior-for-a-night.
But then, at the 11th hour, the storyline changed completely. And maybe that was a microcosm of Boston’s season. Underachieving early, the Red Sox are now the hottest thing in either league. And even their arrival in Yankee Stadium failed to cool them off.
“We\’re playing baseball now,” Damon said. “We were definitely embarrassed the way we were playing this game earlier in the season. We couldn\’t run to first base, we couldn\’t go from first to third, we couldn\’t score. But then we make a big trade, we get three very good players that help us play defense, that can run the bases.
“Things have looked up ever since. We\’re playing very good ball now and we just need to keep it going.
“I think our team was bound to play better, regardless. But at least we knew when we got Orlando Cabrera, this was a guy who was going to be in the lineup every day. Nomar wasn\’t quite healthy. We have somebody who is pretty dependable there, somebody who’s won a Gold Glove, somebody who’s still getting better.”
Damon is also doing his bit and then some. He hit a home run in the third to give the Red Sox a 1-0 lead. He has reached base in 26 consecutive games. He has scored at least one run in 23 of his last 27 games. Boston has won the last 23 games in which he scored a run.
It is still uphill for the Red Sox. But isn\’t it always?
This outcome Friday night — defeat turned into victory at Yankee Stadium, the Red Sox playing what looked like small ball to discover a couple of runs — was well outside the New York-Boston norm. It didn\’t look like any other year.
Perhaps — maybe, who knows? — it could be The Year.
Copied from Redsox.com by Mike Bauman