It wasn't your typical whooping, but it was a masterful series the Yankees just played against the Red Sox, a team that had swept them for the season before this series. The Yankees out pitched the Red Sox and they out hit them. The Yankees made a mess of the best bullpen in baseball while their own bullpen (with the exception of Phil Coke on Sunday night) was fantastic. In every way, this series was all Yankees as the team from New York started the series with a two and a half game lead in the division and left it leading by six and a half.
It started on Thursday night. The Red Sox, needing to continue beating the Yankees, made a tactical blunder by starting the once-great John Smoltz. Smoltz had done nothing to that point in showing that he could get the job done and after the first couple of innings, the game was over. The Red Sox, in effect, took the pressure off the Yankees, who had been under the eight ball all year by the Boston team. There is no denying that Smoltz has had a great career, but when you are already trailing by two and a half, you work your rotation so your best guys are up there to beat the team you have to beat. If Beckett had started the series and blanked them early on, there is no telling if the Yankees would have stayed tight looking down the barrel of a ninth straight defeat against the Red Sox. So that was a mistake.
The Friday night game will be remembered for a long, long time. Fourteen and a half innings of scoreless baseball. Beckett and Burnett were fabulous as the starters. Both bullpens hung in there with the Red Sox escaping several close calls in the 11th, 13th and 14th innings. But then A-Rod won it against a young Japanese kid making his major league debut. A pitcher only in there because every other Red Sox relief pitcher was already used up.
Saturday was Sabathia's game. His first big moment in a Yankee uniform. After a so-so season, he no-hit the Red Sox for five and pitched a shutout. Buckholz did well, but not well enough and the Yankees then torched the worn out Red Sox bullpen to ice the game.
Sunday night was a great game. Both starters were excellent. Andy Pettitte had a scary couple of innings early, but pitched seven shutout innings and got stronger as the night went on. In the bottom of the seventh, A-Rod murdered a pitch from Lester and the Yankees went ahead 1-0. The way the Yankee bullpen has been pitching, that figured to be enough. But Phil Coke was not sharp and the newly acquired Victor Martinez launched a two-run homer to make it a 2-1 Red Sox lead. The homer snapped a 32 inning scoreless streak for the Red Sox in the series.
It seemed as if the Red Sox were going to salvage at least one game of the series, especially with their bullpen. But young Daniel Bard was called in to pitch to the Yankees in the eighth as the bridge to Papelbon. The Yankees burned down the bridge. After two weak outs on a strikeout to Matsui and an excuse-me swing by Jeter, Johnny Damon hit a laser into the bullpen to tie the game. Mark Teixeira then came up and put the Yankees ahead with a moon shot to the upper deck. After a walk to A-Rod, the Red Sox then brought in the usually reliable Okijama, but he was ineffective and the inning ended with the Yankees up 5-2. Rivera made it a little scary in the ninth, but he got the save and the Red Sox now need to regroup as they head for another tough series against Detroit.
The Fan watched most of this series and has long believed this year that the Red Sox were the best team in baseball. They seemed to have it all. But after watching the four games, something is not clicking. Certainly David Ortiz is not the fearsome force he has been in the past, and though the Red Sox have lived with that all year, it seems to have weakened the entire lineup and has forced other guys to step up and they haven't. It almost seems that the Red Sox have lost some confidence because they don't have that force in the middle of the lineup in big situations like before.
The Red Sox are missing something else: Manny Ramirez. Sure, they got into the ALCS last year without him. But over the long haul, he was a menace and a terror, especially combined with Ortiz. It is hard to say if Ortiz would have put up the numbers he did for so long without Manny behind him. Take Ortiz and his diminished capacity and remove Ramirez completely and the Red Sox are ordinary at the plate. And good pitching, like the Yankees showed this series, will exploit ordinary in ways the Red Sox have not been exploited in years.
It will be interesting to see where Boston goes from here. They are now only tied for the wildcard with the Rangers and the Bay Rays are right behind. The Red Sox still have some of the best pitching in the majors. After this series, it will be fascinating to see if it is enough.