Sunday, July 16, 2017

Yanks Survive Weird Marathon at Fenway

If ever there was a "must-win" game for the Yankees in mid-July, this was it. If they had lost yesterday's game against the Boston Red Sox at Fenway Park, it would pretty much have meant that the season was over. But a win would have put them legitimately back in the American League Eastern Division race.

It may have been the fulcrum game of the 2017 season. And before it was over, a lot of people were asking, "What the fulcrum is going on?"

It's Yankees vs. Red Sox at Fenway. This is a matchup where anything can happen, and so much does.

Luis Severino started for the Yankees. He was terrific. And, knowing that today would feature a rain-forced doubleheader, Joe Girardi knew that his usual 95-pitch limit for starting pitchers would have to go out the window. He let Sevy throw 114 pitches in 7 innings, and he allowed just 1 run on 4 hits and 2 walks, striking out 6. It is unfair to ask more of a starting pitcher than that, especially at the little green pinball machine in the Back Bay. The only run Sevy allowed was in the 3rd inning, on 2 walks, an infield single, and a sacrifice fly.

Unfortunately, that 1 run stood up, as Chris Sale, Boston's big acquisition of the offseason, was also brilliant, taking a 13-strikeout shutout into the top of the 8th inning. He allowed a leadoff walk to Brett Gardner in the 1st, a leadoff double by Starlin Castro in the 2nd, a double by Gary Sanchez in the 3rd, a grounder resulting in an error that allowed Chase Headley to reach 1st base in the 4th, and a leadoff walk by Castro in the 7th -- and he stranded them all. He allowed a single by Gardner in the 8th, but was relieved by Craig Kimbrel, and he stranded Gardner.

Girardi brought Tyler Clippard in to pitch the 8th inning. Tyler Clippard. At Fenway Park. I couldn't look. Sure enough, Clippard allowed a leadoff single to Tzu-Wei Lin. But it worked: He got the next 3 guys out.

In 93 appearances with the Red Sox over the last year and a half, Kimbrel had never blown a save at Fenway. (He has 279 for his career, having led the National League 4 times while with the Atlanta Braves.) But a 1-run lead is never safe at Fenway, and Matt Holliday showed why, taking him 443 feet over the Green Monster. Tie ballgame.

The Yankees threatened for more: Castro then reached on an error, and was replaced by pinch-runner Jacoby Ellsbury, who stole 2nd. But Kimbrel then struck out the side: Headley, Didi Gregorius and Ji-Man Choi.

Bottom of the 9th. Girardi thought for himself, instead of looking in his binder, and decided to save Aroldis Chapman for the bottom half of a later inning, in case the Yankees got a lead in the top half. He brought in Dellin Betances, and he got the Sox out 1-2-3.

The Yankees got a 2-out walk from Sanchez in the 10th, but couldn't get him home. Now, Girardi was managing in extra innings. There has got to be something in the Geneva Conventions against this.

He started by bringing Chasen Shreve on. He allowed 2 singles. The winning run was on 2nd with nobody out. Girardi got Shreve out of there, and brought in... Adam Warren? No, no, no... Yes, yes, yes: Warren got the next 3 guys out.

Then came the top of the 11th, and this is where it got weird. Holliday drew a leadoff walk. Ellsbury grounded to 1st base, and 1st baseman Mitch Moreland decided not to go for the easy out at 1st, but for the lead runner at 2nd, Holliday. Given that outs are at a premium at Fenway, this might not have been the best move.

Seeing this, Holliday went back toward 1st. Xander Bogaerts, the Sox shortstop, took Moreland's throw as if Holliday had kept going to 2nd, stepped on the bag for the forceout, and threw back to 1st. Moreland -- apparently, no relation to 1980s Philadelphia Phillies and Chicago Cubs player Keith Moreland -- stood for the throw, but it hit Ellsbury, who was still entitled to try and reach the base, and bounced into foul territory. Ellsbury was safe.

Red Sox manager John Farrell argued that Holliday interfered, much like Reggie Jackson was accused of doing in Game 4 of the 1978 World Series. Gary Cederstrom, the umpires' crew chief, gathered his men, talked it over, and decided that Holliday hadn't interfered, intentionally or otherwise, and let Ellsbury keep 1st base.

Farrell told Cederstrom that the Sox were playing the rest of the game under protest. However, the Yanks ended up not scoring in the inning, so the protest is pointless: Even if the play is overturned, the result will not be affected.

Austin Romine walked to lead off the top of the 12th, but was erased by a double play. Aaron Judge walked with 1 out in the top of the 13th, but was stranded. Ellsbury walked to lead off the top of the 14th, and Headley singled him to 2nd, but the Yankees couldn't get them home. Judge walked again with 2 out in the top of the 15th, but was stranded.

Meanwhile, Girardi made a good move, letting Jonathan Holder pitch 3 innings, in which he allowed just 1 baserunner. Then he brought Chapman in for the bottom of the 14th, and while he walked a better, he didn't let him score. He brought Ben Heller in to pitch the bottom of the 15th, and that worked, too.

This would be the best game Girardi has managed all season -- if only the Yankees could push a run across. But it went to a 16th inning, making it the longest Yanks-Sox game at Fenway in 51 years, a 6-3 Boston win on June 4, 1966, on a walkoff home run by Jim Gosger (yeah, surrre) off THE Dooley Womack (2 Ball Four references there). The Yanks and Sox played a 19-inning game in The Bronx on April 19, 2015, a Sox win.

The question now was, Would either manager have any pitchers available for the rest of the series? Farrell brought in Doug Fister, who was supposed to start on Tuesday night. Ellsbury led off the inning, and, using his experience as a former Red Sock, crashed a drive off the Green Monster, pulling into 2nd for a double. Headley singled to center -- but while the Monster giveth, it also taketh away: Despite his speed, Ellsbury was unable to score on the play.

That would not be the case on the next one: Gregorius singled him home, and brought Headley to 3rd. Romine singled home Headley. Ronald Torreyes bunted the runners over. Gardner was intentionally walked to set up the double play. But Sanchez flew to left, and the sac fly was enough to get Sir Didi home.

Girardi left Heller in to finish the job: He got Dustin Pedroia to ground to 2nd, Bogaerts to fly to right, and Moreland to fly to center.

After 16 innings, and 520 pitches between the 2 teams over 5 hours and 50 minutes, the game was finally, fully in the books. Yankees 4, Red Sox 1. WP: Heller (1-0). No save. LP: Fister (0-3).

*

So now, the Yankees are 3 1/2 games behind the Sox, 2 in the loss column (we have 3 games in hand on them).

Today, because of a rainout earlier in the season, we have a full day of baseball. At 1:05, on TBS, CC Sabathia will start for the Bronx Bombers, Rick Porcello for The Scum. CC was supposed to start in Minnesota tomorrow night, with Bryan Mitchell going in this game. But with the bullpen so exhausted, Mitchell is needed there.

Masahiro Tanaka starts the 2nd game, against David Price, with the first pitch on ESPN scheduled for around 8:00. Tanaka could have been moved up to start the 1st game, thus giving CC a few additional hours of rest, but Tanaka has a much better record at night, and CC is more likely to go long anyway, which our relievers will need. (It is, of course, legal for a player, including a pitcher, to appear in both games of a doubleheader.)

I said before the series that the Yankees needed to take 3 out of 4. A split of today's games means a split of the series, and, at this point, I'd take it.

Come on you Bombers! Beat The Scum!

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