Bronx, N.Y., September 26, 2010 — Joe Girardi restored his frayed relationship with portions of the Yankee fanbase Sunday night when he and the Yankees “went for it,” sending out young stud Phil Hughes to rescue a home series with the Red Sox, a last homestand of the season that stood at 2-4, and a shot at home field in the playoffs. True, the stubborn magic number of three needed to be subtracted from, but only the most pessimistic of the fans thought the game was a must-win, or the postseason could be lost.
Now upbeat fans, along with the ones who had crawled into dark corners or who hovered muttering prayers on city bridges, can rejoice, because the Yanks beat the Red Sox 4-3 in 10 innings, largely because Hughes was superb and Joe made the right call, then made a few more good ones in a gripping game that was a frantic watch. Had scheduled sinkerballer Dustin Moseley made this start, it’s not likely Alex Rodriguez’s seventh-inning two-run homer would have been enough to give the Yankees the 2-1 lead, nor Robbie Cano’s ninth-inning rbi single sufficient to send the game to extras.
The Yanks ran into a Daisuke Matsuzaka pitching for the Red Sox that they had rarely, if ever, seen Sunday night, and it almost cost them the game. The Japanese righty Boston had outbid the Yankees for a few years back not only pitched to one over the minimum 18 batters holding the Yanks scoreless through six innings in this game, he did it on just 68 pitches. The home offense consisted of a single by Cano in the second and one by Mark Teixeira in the fourth, with the Yankee first sacker removed on a double play one pitch later, and Matsuzaka retired nine Yankees from the fourth through sixth innings on seven, nine, and 11 pitches, respectively.
All of which threatened to make Joe’s pregame change of mind and the stellar pitching of Hughes for naught. Phil allowed what should have been three singles through six frames, but the leadoff base hit by Bill Hall in the third got by Nick Swisher’s shoestring catch try, and the Sox outfielder scored two outs later on Victor Martinez’s hard single to right. That was the Boston offense against Hughes, who faced just three batters in the second, fourth, fifth, and sixth innings. But Phil’s night ended when Adrian Beltre and Jed Lowrie reached him for back-to-back walks to start the top of the seventh. They were the third and fourth free passes of Hughes’s six-inning outing, and David Robertson came on and quelled the Sox chances on an infield-in bouncer to Derek Jeter at short and a swinging strike out of rookie first baseman Lars Anderson.
The walks were the only real downside of Phil’s outing, his one shortcoming of the night. Though none of them scored, it could be said that had he managed to retire J.D. Drew with two down in the third rather than issuing him the first free pass, the Sox might never have scored. Hughes went .500 in first-pitch strikes, finding the zone on 12 of 24 batters; his 66/48 strikes/balls ratio was good; and he used the 12 times he coaxed swings and misses from the Boston hitters to garner four strike outs, all swinging. Both his fastball and curve were effective, and when he couldn’t throw the latter for strikes he mixed in a sharp cutter.
The Yanks finally got to Matsuzaka in the seventh, with Teixeira stroking his second of three singles with one down. Alex Rodriguez took a strike, swung and missed, then stroked a home run just to the right of the Yankee bullpen in right field. Cano followed with a great at bat and a long drive to left center that was caught on a nice play, and Matsuzaka actually returned for the eighth. The two-out walk he allowed Brett Gardner was his only one to go with four hits and seven strike outs, and Brett was out trying to steal when the Sox pitched out on the next pitch.
In the the top of the eighth Kerry Wood had gotten two outs but got into trouble from a leadoff single, a wild pitch (on strike three of Martinez) and an intentional walk, and Mariano Rivera came on for a four-out save. But although Mariano retired Adrian Beltre to close the eighth, a one-out Ryan Kalish single and two stolen bases had the tying run on third with one down in the ninth. With the Yanks’ infield in yet again, Hall hit a hot shot toward A-Rod that got by him for a single, and a tie score. Two stolen bases later, pinch hitter Mike Lowell drove in the go ahead run with a sac fly, for a 3-2 Boston lead.
Red Sox closer Jonathan Papelbon ran into one-out trouble too, as Swisher and Teixeira singles set the scene. Edwin Nunez, pinch running for Swish, stole third with Rodriguez up, then Alex walked. And Cano tied the game with a sharp single to right. But Jorge Posada struck out with the winning run 90 feet away and Lance Berkman flied out to right. Joba Chamberlain got two quick outs in the 10th, then Boone Logan retired David Ortiz in dramatic fashion, running down his roller right down the first base line and tagging him as he tried to scamper by.
The Sox were unable to convert a similar play in the bottom half, and it cost them the game. With lefty Hideki Okajima in, Curtis Granderson lined a 1-2 single to right. Catcher Martinez scrambled to catch up with Gardner’s superb bunt down first, but fired it wild as Granderson crossed to third and Brett reached. Jeter was intentionally walked to the obligatory boos (strategy disapproval from the home fans I’ve never quite understood), but pinch hitter Marcus Thames grounded to third for a force at home. Juan Miranda, who had replaced Teixeira at first once he was pinch-run for, took a ball, swung and missed, then Okajima missed with three straight. The stoic rookie held his ground, and his bat, and the Yanks had won the game.
Following earlier losses by Minnesota and Tampa Bay, the Yanks eked past the former in home record, and are now one-half game back of the Rays in the East. Also, the Yanks’ magic number to clinch a playoff spot dipped to one, the same number that separates Boston from a disinvitation to postseason baseball. Having concluded their regular-season home schedule, the Bombers head to Toronto, while the Rays host the rejuvenated Orioles at home. September 26 has brought at least one good thing to the Yanks from Baltimore, as that was the team against which Roger Maris hit his 60th home run, tying The Babe, back on this day in 1961.
September 26 is also the anniversary of the birth of the late, and somewhat discredited, existentialist philosopher, Martin Heidegger, in 1889. His most famous book was titled Being and Time.
For all intents and purposes, the 2010 New York Yankees be “being” in the playoffs, and the Boston Red Sox be “being” not. And the time? It was three hours and 50 minutes, ending one minute before September 27.