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Yankees 3, Red Sox 2

Painful ending

Sox suffer one last indignity in Stadium finale

By Amalie Benjamin
Globe Staff / August 29, 2008
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NEW YORK - The ball, blasted off the bat of Jason Giambi on a fastball from Hideki Okajima, cleared the center-field fence.

With it went the stellar start by Jon Lester, the sweep of the Yankees, and the good feelings from a winning trip.

Giambi's two-run home run merely tied the game. He finished off the Red Sox two innings later. With the bases loaded against Jonathan Papelbon, the slugger lined a two-strike pitch into center field to score pinch runner Brett Gardner as the Red Sox fell, 3-2, in their final regular-season game ever at Yankee Stadium.

The fact they won the first two games of the series, their third straight series win on the trip, was hardly consolation.

"I don't care about the first two," manager Terry Francona said. "This one hurts. I'll sit here and finish the questions and then we'll move on, like we always do. We played our hearts out, we just lost a really tough game."

And, moments later, general manager Theo Epstein made it all worse. As Francona finished his postgame press session in the tiny visiting manager's office at Yankee Stadium, Epstein announced that ace Josh Beckett would be scratched from his start tonight. Instead, he will consult with Dr. James Andrews about his ailing right elbow.

Not that the day had been going all that well for the Red Sox, even before that news.

Despite the start by Lester (6 2/3 innings, 5 hits, 1 run), the bullpen couldn't hold a 2-0 lead. With Lester at 118 pitches and two outs in the seventh inning, he allowed a double to Cody Ransom. (And, yes, you'll be excused if you say, "Who?") So Francona went to Okajima. Yankees manager Joe Girardi went to Giambi.

After a foul pop out of play, Giambi did his damage. The game was tied, 2-2, and the 55,092 requested a curtain call.

"If [Lester] makes a mistake where he's at in that game, I have a hard time living with myself," Francona said. "We brought in Oki in case they wanted to hit, and the worst thing happened. It's hard to take. He threw the first pitch, I think, right where he wanted it. I actually thought the popup was in fair territory and it blew out. Tried to get a fastball down and he left it belt-high, and he crushed it. It's certainly not what we're looking for."

Neither was the outing from Justin Masterson, though it started well. After Okajima got the first two outs of the eighth, Francona brought in Masterson to face Alex Rodriguez. That was the matchup that resulted in Rodriguez hitting into a double play Tuesday night with the bases loaded in the seventh. This time, it was a strikeout.

But Xavier Nady singled to left to start the ninth against Masterson. Then Robinson Cano lined to third baseman Jed Lowrie on a wicked shot and Masterson intentionally walked Hideki Matsui and unintentionally walked Ivan Rodriguez, who benefited from a borderline ball call on a 2-and-2 pitch. So, was it a strike?

"In my head, yes," Masterson said. "Whether it really was, I don't know. It was close, but I should have made that last pitch anyway to get the ground ball."

Jason Varitek said, "He threw two borderline pitches that could have been strike three, and those are game-changers. Unfortunately, we didn't get the calls right there. They were borderline, they weren't no-brainer calls. That's sometimes the difference in games."

That walk brought in Papelbon, who faced a one-out, bases-loaded situation with Giambi up.

Giambi sent a liner to center that was taken on a hop by Jacoby Ellsbury. With Gardner holding near third, it seemed there was an outside chance to get Gardner at home, but Ellsbury held the ball.

"I'd say that was a zero percent chance," Ellsbury said. "Maybe if you have a very, very, very slow runner, then you might have a milli-chance."

Ellsbury held the ball all the way into the clubhouse. After the game, he stood by his locker and tucked the ball into a sock. He had the last ball hit in a Red Sox-Yankees regular-season game in Yankee Stadium.

Coming off an awful start against Toronto, Lester allowed two hits in the first inning, singles by Derek Jeter and Bobby Abreu, then got through the next 15 batters by giving up just one hit by pitch and one single (Jeter again). Between Abreu in the first and Johnny Damon in the sixth, Lester struck out eight and didn't allow a runner past second.

The sixth was trouble, though, as Lester hit Damon to start, then allowed another single to Jeter, who was 3 for 4. With two on and no outs, Lester stared down Abreu. He got a fly to center, leaving him with Rodriguez.

Ah, A-Rod. He can't seem to buy a break. And, goodness knows, he has the money. It took a single pitch to get A-Rod, the ball heading high into the afternoon sun before falling into Varitek's glove in foul territory near first. Nady flied to center to end the inning.

So the Sox maintained their 2-0 lead, one they grabbed on a Varitek RBI single in the fifth off Yankees starter Mike Mussina - against whom he was 11 for 67 in his career - and Ellsbury's fielder's choice RBI in the same inning. But the Sox could do no more, their bullpen folding, the sweep swept away, and Lester's outing all for naught.

"I thought he was tremendous," Francona said. "His fastball was explosive. He threw all his pitches. He was tremendous. It's a shame the way the game ended."

Amalie Benjamin can be reached at abenjamin@globe.com.

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