Sox get even by taking opener against Yankees
October dawns today, and it all becomes so elemental. Injuries, call-ups, disabled-list visits, slumps, fatigue, all issues and discussions now tabled. Now, just baseball. Two games to go, all tied, the Red Sox and Yankees, in an epochal but simple conclusion to a season that Johnny Damon dubbed ''one of the best in baseball history."
That might be overstating the specter of the 160 games that have come and gone, but it would be a label properly affixed to the closing weekend of this regular season, matched only by the final scenes of 1949, when Johnny Pesky, who blew out the candles on his 86th birthday cake this week, was a 30-year-old with a spryness befitting his surname.
''New season," David Ortiz proclaimed in his corner of the Sox clubhouse last night, following the team's thorough, 5-3 beating of the Yankees in a game that never felt as close as the score indicates, evening the teams' at 94-66. ''These two teams have a lot of history. But history's been changing lately."
History changed last season, when the Sox vanquished the apparition of Aaron Boone in Yankee Stadium. What lingers is halting the Yankees' possession of the American League East division titles, seven straight and counting. Where then, does the pressure lay? ''Whoever feels pressure right now is in trouble," Ortiz said. ''We're not feeling pressure right now. I'm telling you."
Last night, as was the case a night earlier against the Blue Jays, the Sox played unburdened, even in the face of a deficit. David Wells, in his 30th and most momentous start as a Red Sox, began the night by pitching himself into a daunting situation against a top-heavy Yankee lineup -- Derek Jeter leading off, followed by Alex Rodriguez, Jason Giambi, Gary Sheffield, and Hideki Matsui.
Wells fanned Jeter on three pitches before the next four Yankees reached. Wells, who has walked no more than two batters in any game this season, walked consecutive batters in Rodriguez and Giambi. Wells hit Sheffield with the next pitch, loading the bases with one out.
''If you walk people in that lineup you might get in trouble," Sox manager Terry Francona noted. ''But if you're not careful you might give up a three-run homer."
Matsui sent a sinking liner to center, scoring Rodriguez for a 1-0 Yankee lead. But Wells left the bases full, fanning Jorge Posada and getting Ruben Sierra to fly out, beginning a span in which he set down 14 of 15.
''That's the only thing that can take us to the top," Ortiz said. ''You look at their lineup. It's sick. You've got to hold them down like David did."
The Sox then came to life, raised up again by Damon, the revived catalyst. A night earlier, Damon swiped second in the ninth and scored the winning run on an Ortiz single. Last night, Damon led off with a walk, swiped second, and scored on Ortiz's single (RBI No. 147).
The last time Damon stole bases on back-to-back nights? A guess anyone? The 2004 American League Division Series against the team then known as the Anaheim Angels.
The lead, for good, came in the second, which Jason Varitek led off, amid a woeful slump. Varitek's eighth-inning single Thursday was his first hit at home in 27 days, and snapped an 0-for-34 skid at home. He went into last night batting .169 and slugging .195 in September, lowest in the American League in both categories.
None of that seemed to matter, though, as Varitek, hitting lefthanded, took a biblical cut at a Chien-Ming Wang fastball, launching the rare rocket to the right of the light tower in left-center.
The ball exited the yard in a rush, and Varitek, too, was in an outright rush, running as if he were fearful the home run might be called back. Like this was too good to be true, his first home run in a team-high 100 at-bats. He was tearing around the basepaths.
''I always do that," he said.
And the taxing, struggle of a month?
''It doesn't matter," Varitek said. ''That's the beauty of this game. We're in a position to win."
Ahead, 2-1, the Sox inflated that lead to 5-1 in the sixth, sending eight men to the plate against Wang. Damon provided a leadoff single and stole second (again). With first base open, the Yankees put Ortiz on, the fifth time this year that he's been walked intentionally ahead of Ramirez.
''I don't know what the pitcher is thinking," Ortiz said. ''Manny is a guy, you don't want a guy ahead of him."
If his focus at the plate was any barometer, Ramirez seemed to take it personally. He crushed Wang's next offering gone but foul, down the line in left, by that cameraman perched atop the roof-box seats. Wang then came inside, causing Ramirez to drop his bat as he backed out of the way. He then roped a single to left, too sharply for Damon to score, loading the bases.
Wang, behind, 3 and 1, to Trot Nixon, then missed badly, walking in a run.
Sox 3, Yankees 1.
Varitek followed by grounding Giambi at first, who had adequate time to come home and cut down Ortiz. But two factors worked against Giambi. No. 1, Wang was running toward Giambi to cover first, thus cutting into Giambi's angle to throw home. No. 2, Giambi never planted his feet, throwing offbalance and offline.
Sox 4, Yankees 1.
John Olerud -- anyone notice that the Sox are 27-10 when he's in the starting lineup -- sent a fly ball deep enough to center, where Bernie Williams doesn't have the arm he once did. Williams waited helplessly, his throw home too late to cut down Ramirez, who tagged and scored.
Sox 5, Yankees 1.
Wells had only allowed one run through six innings, but many, a majority in fact, of his outs had been lined to a Sox fielder. Williams lined to right to begin the seventh, and Robinson Cano followed with a single to left.
Jeter, up next, got an 86-mile-per-hour, full-count fastball away -- read: where he likes it -- and stayed on it, lining his 19th homer into the Sox pen, cutting the lead to 5-3.
Wells finished the seventh, allowing three runs on seven hits, having earned that final $300,000 bonus he pocketed last night. The eighth was a thing of beauty. Chad Bradford began it, facing Gary Sheffield, and threw one pitch, a sinker inside, that broke the mighty Sheffield's bat. He grounded weakly to short.
Francona went out for the ball, with the lefthanded Matsui coming up.
''I told Chad he looked tired," Francona joked. ''We looked at tonight, that was the one guy he had to get out."
Bradford available for today?
''Oh, yeah," Bradford said, laughing. ''Without a doubt."
The bullpen, the sullen corner of the park for many periods this season, could afford to laugh. Mike Myers, in next, battled with Matsui, who at one point fouled off six consecutive pitches, for an 11-pitch strikeout with a slider.
''Mike was throwing extra pitches to Matsui to give me time to warm up," Mike Timlin said with a laugh.
He came in next and fanned Posada looking on three pitches, came back for an encore in the ninth, and saved it, the only hiccup a two-out single by Cano.
And so today, Fenway again becomes the vortex of the baseball universe. Tim Wakefield vs. Randy Johnson. All square.