The Yankees had just about wrapped up home-field advantage through both rounds of the American League Playoffs, and really didn't have much to play for going into this past weekend's series with the Red Sox.
What they did have to play for was sending a message to The Scum -- and possibly to keep them on track to turn what had been a massive lead into missing the postseason entirely. The Yankees and the Tampa Bay Rays had the chance to turn the 2011 Red Sox into not just the 1978 Red Sox, but the 2007 Mets.
The Friday night game was rained out and rescheduled for last night. The Saturday game was a message, all right: "The steroids ain't workin' for ya anymore."
With 1 out in the bottom of the 2nd, the Yankees made the following happen:
* Robinson Cano singled to left.
* Nick Swisher walked.
* Andruw Jones hit a grounder to deep short that prevented a play, an infield single to load the bases.
* Jesus Montero singled to left fielder, scoring Cano and keeping the bases loaded.
* Russell Martin, who said the other day that he hates the Red Sox, dunked a single to left, in front of Carl Crawford, the guy the Rays weren't willing to pay to re-sign, and the Yankees weren't willing to sign, keeping Brett Gardner in left and Curtis Granderson in center, but the Red Sox did give him big money, and was hitting over .330 in June, but is now hitting .258. Anyway, Martin's blooper scored Swish and Jones.
* Derek Jeter finished it off with a home run, his 6th of the season. Not as dramatic as the one he hit for his 3,000th career hit, but it scored Montero and Martin ahead of him.
Yankees 6, Red Sox 0. It ended 9-1.
9-1! We beat The Scum, 9-1! We beat The Scum, 9-1! We beat The Scum, 9-1!
WP: Freddy Garcia (12-8), with 6 shutout innings. LP: Jon Lester (15-9), who has been a rock for the Red Sox all year long and usually pitches well against the Yankees. Not this time!
The regularly-scheduled Sunday game could have been ugly. For the Red Sox, 45-year-old knuckleballer Tim Wakefield started. We will always remember how Wakefield's knuckler drove the Yankees crazy in Games 1 and 4 of the 2003 AL Championship Series, but in the bottom of the 11th of Game 7, he gave up the Pennant-winning home run to Aaron Blessed Boone. For the Yankees, A.J. Burnett was starting. In 3 seasons, A.J. had never been the winning pitcher in a game against the Red Sox. For a lot of us, it didn't matter than Wakefield is old enough to have seen the Red Sox play in the 1967 World Series (if not to remember it): We were afraid "Bad A.J." was going to show up again.
But "Good A.J." showed up. Did he ever! He pitched into the 8th, allowing 2 runs on 5 hits and 2 walks. Jacoby Ellsbury got 3 hits, including 2 home runs off Burnett, and 2 RBIs... and that was half of Boston's hits and all of their runs. When A.J. left, he got a standing ovation from a crowd that realizes, no matter how bad this season and last have been, if you beat The Scum, you deserve our thanks. David Robertson went the rest of the way for Burnett (11-11).
As for Wakefield (7-8), he only got through the 4th. Jorge Posada hit his 14th homer of the season, Jeter got 3 hits including an RBI double, and the Yanks won, 6-2, to take the series, and continue Boston's slide: They had now lost 18 out of 23.
6-2! We beat The Scum, 6-2! We beat The Scum, 6-2! We beat The Scum, 6-2!
The nightcap was a different story. And it shouldn't have been. You've heard the old saying, "Baseball is a game of inches." In the bottom of the 1st, Mark Teixeira missed a home run by, literally, an inch: The ball bounced off the top of the fence and came down -- shades of the 2000 World Series against The Other Team -- scoring 2 runs, and when Teix tried for 3rd, the ball had come back to Sox catcher and Captain Jason Varitek, who proved for once and for all that he needs to retire, but throwing the ball not to 3rd baseman Jed Lowrie, but into left field. Teix scored, and the Yankees had hung 3 runs on Sox starter John Lackey before Lackey had even registered an out.
It's games like this that make John Sterling turn to his WCBS broadcast partner Suzyn Waldman and say, "You know, Suzyn, you can't predict baseball." Well, when it's Yankees vs. Red Sox, the one thing you can predict is that the game will be unpredictable.
Ivan Nova was pretty good until the 6th, but he left in the 7th with the Yanks trailing 4-3. The Sox bullpen almost completely shut the Yanks down after that 1st-inning Teix sequence. The Yanks tied it in the 7th, and had a man on 2nd with 1 out, and then bases loaded with 2 out, in the bottom of the 9th.
Austin Romine was due up. Jeter (3,088 career hits and batting .300 with 61 RBIs this season), Martin (17 homers and 64 RBIs this season), Jones (419 career home runs), and, uh, Alex Rodriguez (2,774 career hits, 629 of them home runs), were available to pinch-hit.
Instead, manager Joe Girardi made the first of two mind-numbingly stupid mistakes, and let Romine, with his .399 OPS and his 8 OPS+ (making him 92 percent lesser than the average hitter), bat against Sox closer Jonathan Papelbon with the bases loaded and 2 out in the bottom of the 9th of a tie game. He struck out swinging.
Jesus Montero singled to lead off the bottom of the 12th. The Yankees didn't get the run home.
In the 13th, the Yankees had men on 1st and 2nd with 1 out, and 2nd and 3rd with 2 out. They didn't get the winning run home.
Aaron Laffey got the first Sox batter of the top of the 14th out. It was then that Girardi made the second mind-numbingly stupid mistakes. He removed Laffey -- after getting an out, mind you -- and put in... wait for it...
Goose Gossage demands an explanation for this bullshit! So do I! So does Lisa Swan of Subway Squawkers! (Check the link to the right.)
What did Proctor do? What does Proctor usually do? He screwed up!
* He gave up a single to Darnell McDonald. Apparently, he thought McDonald deserved a break today, and did it all for him.
* He walked Marco Scutaro.
* He got the man with the longest surname in MLB history, Jarrod Saltalamacchia, to fly out, thus earning himself what Johnny Carson used to call "sympathy applause."
* He gave up a home run to Jacoby Ellsbury, who seems to be on a one-man crusade to succeed David Ortiz (or fill in for Kevin Youkilis) as the Sox batter who pisses off Yankee Fans the most.
And who batted for the Yankees in the bottom of the 14th? Montero, Ramiro Pena, and Romine. Two rookies and a guy who hits like he's still a rookie. They went meekly down.
Red Sox 7, Yankees 4. WP: Franklin Morales (1-2). SV: Felix Doubront (1). LP: Proctor (2-5).
Proctor! Proctor! Give ya the news! I got a... bad case of hating you!
So, here's how things stand in the AL:
* The Yankees have clinched the best record, and home-field advantage in the Division Series and, if they win that, in the AL Championship Series.
* The Texas Rangers are 1 game ahead of the Detroit Tigers for the 2nd seed.
* In spite of their unbelievable (unless you're familiar with Sox history) nosedive, the Red Sox are still a game ahead of the Rays for the Wild Card. The Sox play the Baltimore Orioles in the last 3 games of the regular season, while the Rays host the Yankees.
Therefore, the Sox can win the Wild Card if...
* They sweep all 3 from the O's, regardless of what the Rays do.
* They win 2 out of 3 from the O's, and the Rays lose a game to the Yankees.
* They win only 1 from the O's, but the Rays lose 2 to the Yankees.
* The Rays get swept by the Yankees, regardless of what the Sox do.
It is still possible for the Rays (and even, with a miracle, the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim) to win the AL Wild Card; and for the St. Louis Cardinals to win the National League Wild Card. But, if the current MLB standings hold after the last 3 games...
* The Yankees will have home-field advantage over the Tigers in the AL Division Series.
* The Rangers will have HFA over the Red Sox in the other ALDS.
* The Philadelphia Phillies will have HFA over the Arizona Diamondbacks in one NL Division Series.
* The Milwaukee Brewers will have HFA over the Atlanta Braves in the other NLDS.
* If the Yankees and Phillies win their DS, they would have HFA over any of the other teams in their League.
* The Rangers would have HFA in the ALCS if they beat the Red Sox and the Tigers beat the Yankees.
* The Brewers would have HFA in the NLCS if they beat the Braves and the D-backs beat the Phils.
* The Tigers can only have HFA in any series if they beat the Yankees and the Red Sox beat the Rangers.
* The D-backs can only have HFA in any series if they beat the Phils and the Braves beat the Brewers.
At this point, I'm thinking the Red Sox will still win the AL Wild Card.
Unless Joe Girardi decides to tank these games in St. Petersburg, and let the Rays win. He's done it before: Having secured at least the Wild Card last season, he seemed not to care about the AL East Title and HFA, and the Yankees blew a chance to win that, and paid for it by not having HFA in the ALCS against the Rangers. Would Girardi start guys like Pena, Romine, Eduardo Nunez and rookie pitchers, and continue to bring Proctor and Boone Logan in as relievers, just to "give them a chance"?
If he does that, and the Red Sox make the Playoffs anyway, then he should be relieved of his duties after the World Series, no matter what.
Yeah, with my luck, the Steinbrenner brothers will bring Don Mattingly back. Did anybody notice that the Los Angeles Dodgers were nowhere near Playoff contention this season? This was the 22nd season in which Don Mattingly was in uniform, in one capacity or another, for one Major League Baseball team or another, and it was the 22nd season in which his team failed to win a Pennant. The Curse of Donnie Baseball lives.
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