NEW YORK - The Red Sox had to get out of Florida to find an easy game. They had to come to the Bronx to find a patsy.
Talk about your alternative universe.
A safe distance from the Big, Bad Trop Dome and those devilish Rays, the Red Sox got back on message last night with a Jon Lester five-hit shutout in a 7-0 win over the third-place New York Yankees.
When it was over, there was a bad moon risin' over the House of Steinbrenner. Manager Joe Girardi called a team meeting that lasted close to a half-hour. After the session, last night's loser, Andy Pettitte, said, "Everybody's embarrassed. We walked through this thing tonight, and everybody's extremely disappointed."
Girardi was hot.
"We did not play a good game," he said. "We didn't do anything. We didn't hit, we didn't pitch. We did not play a good game. I was not happy with the results."
Girardi did not want to share specifics of his meeting.
"Team meetings are not for everyone to hear," he said. "It's between me and my team. We're not where we need to be and we have to start winning a lot of games. We are not where we should be, and I'm not happy with our play. It was everything tonight. We just did not play a good game. We have to get better. That's the bottom line."
Yankees captain Derek Jeter said, "You can describe it any way you want - we need to play better. We need to come out and forget about what happened to this point in the season. We just haven't been having the kind of at-bats we're capable of having." Indeed, Lester needed only 104 pitches against the usually patient Yankees.
Catcher Jorge Posada, another Yankee leader, said, "We've got too good of a club not to put good games together. We're inconsistent. We're trying to get on the same page."
It's all sweet music for Red Sox fans.
Imagine a Boston team being relieved at the prospect of playing in New York instead of St. Petersburg. Since when did The House That Ruth Built become a safe house for the reeling Red Sox?
With "Sweet Caroline" still ringing in their ears (the muscle-flexing Rays rubbed it in a little at the finish Wednesday night), the Red Sox got to their Manhattan hotel in the wee hours yesterday, just in time for the early editions of New York tabloid covers featuring more Alex Rodriguez gossip. We expect to see A-Rod and the lovely Cynthia dating space aliens before the weekend is over.
The Big Love Quadrangle (A-Rod, Madonna, Cynthia, and Lenny Kravitz) and Hammerin' Hank Steinbrenner's Wednesday rant dominated the news before last night's postgame meeting. This is the first time since 1997 the Sox and Yankees have jousted this late in the season without one of them occupying first place, and the Yankees are closer to the basement than to first place.
Oddly enough, Sox-Yankees is not even the biggest sporting event in New York. This afternoon while Josh Beckett and the immortal Darrell Rasner prepare to work on the mound at 161st Street, a lot of New York eyes will be trained on Coney Island, where 144-pound Takeru Kobayashi will go belly to belly with Joey Chestnut in the annual Nathan's hot dog eating contest. Competitive eating is no minor sport in New York. Nathan's has been staging this event since 1916.
Game 1 of this four-game set was a walk in the ballpark for a Boston team that had lost five straight games and eight of 12. Pettitte threw only 49 of his 89 pitches for strikes as the Sox built a 6-0 lead for Lester in the first five innings.
The Sox got a huge break in the first. Manny Ramírez appeared to hit into an inning-ending double play, but Jeter air-mailed the relay to first, allowing a run to score and opening the gates for a follow-up RBI single by Mike Lowell.
Jack McCormick may have forgiven Manny, and the enabling Sox management continues to say nothing, but the baseball gods have not stopped punishing Ramírez for shoving his fellow employee. Manny is 1 for 14 (soft single to center last night) since news broke that he shoved McCormick to the floor in Houston.
Jacoby Ellsbury looped a two-run double over first base to make it 4-0 in the second. Pettitte was gone before the end of five, and his teammates put up no fight. Lester was in command.
After the last wimpy out, a harmless fly to left by A-Rod (0 for 4, and he was long gone when the clubhouse door finally swung open), Girardi took his kids to the woodshed.
"We're a much better team than we've played," he said. "We did not play a good game tonight, and it bothered me."
Yankee Stadium just didn't seem threatening. There was no Ronan Tynan clogging things up in the seventh inning, no live appearance by Bob Sheppard impersonating the voice of God from the public address booth (the venerable Sheppard is in poor health and has at least temporarily yielded the mike to Jim Hall). We didn't even get a good Steinbrenner sound bite.
Maybe today. George Steinbrenner was born on the Fourth of July in 1930. The Yankees look like they need some fireworks. It's hard to imagine no October baseball in the final year of Yankee Stadium.
Dan Shaughnessy can be reached at email@example.com.