NEW YORK - When Jonathan Papelbon raised his arms as he watched Dustin Pedroia's grand slam soar into the netting above Monument Park, there was joy. There was excitement.
And there was the knowledge that, in one swing of the second baseman's bat, "that's the nail in the coffin," as the closer said. Papelbon, presumably, was speaking about last night's game, an 11-3 Red Sox win over the Yankees on an ugly night for the home team in the Bronx.
But he also could have been talking about the Yankees' season. Their hopes are little more than a flicker. They haven't hit in the clutch, haven't pitched, and simply haven't won enough.
The Red Sox? Through a trying August that has brought more bodies to the disabled list than it has brought off the disabled list, they have withstood a minor Yankee push.
And pushed back.
"We've had some injuries, J.D. Drew, and losing Mike Lowell, and [Tim] Wakefield for a little bit. Josh [Beckett] skipped a start," said Paul Byrd, last night's starter. "Those are huge players on this team. I feel like this team's kind of answered that. This team has a lot of character."
Plus the ability, recently, to win on the road. The Sox have won 11 of their last 16 games, including six of eight on this trip. That, of course, is big. But taking out the Yankees might be just as crucial.
There is no question that a sweep in this three-game series would have put the Yankees back in contention for the wild card. But they didn't. They couldn't.
Boosted by one of the worst games of Alex Rodriguez's career Tuesday, and a disastrous performance from the Yankee bullpen last night, the Red Sox have taken the first two.
"I don't think anybody's just content with winning these two games," Pedroia said. "We're definitely going to come out tomorrow and play as hard as we can. Hopefully, we can win that game, too. There's only 30 games left. We're trying to win as many as we can."
So they go into this afternoon's game, their final scheduled one at Yankee Stadium, looking for a sweep. That's after they took a two-run game and blasted it open to a nine-run lead with seven in the eighth inning. Then many of the 55,027 headed for the exits. The ones who didn't booed.
Before the mass exodus, there was that final indignity. With the bases loaded, and David Robertson on the mound, Pedroia crushed a fastball to left field for his first career grand slam, and his 15th home run this season.
What more can Pedroia do? What more can the Red Sox do to the Yankees? Call him "the Energizer bunny of this team," as Jason Bay did. Or just watch and appreciate.
With the Rays beating the Blue Jays, the Sox remained four back in the loss column in the American League East, as the Yankees fell 10 1/2 games back. In the wild-card race, the Sox hold a seven-game lead on New York.
The Sox already had built a lead before things exploded in the eighth, as Byrd was solid in his six innings (two runs). Two Boston runs came home on a Bay double in the first, followed by two more in the fifth. Kevin Youkilis drew a bases-loaded walk off Yankees starter Sidney Ponson, and Bay added a sacrifice fly, giving him the third of what would become four RBIs when he tripled in the eighth, scoring Youkilis.
Bay, who had two hits and two RBIs in the first game, evidently hasn't been overwhelmed by his introduction to this rivalry. Though he would be excused if he were.
"I know how I felt the first time," said Sox manager Terry Francona. "I was nervous, and I was supposed to be in charge.
"That's kind of part of the reason you work your whole life to get in these situations. You ought to enjoy it."
And Bay has. No nerves. No concerns. Just the ability to play with a chance to make the playoffs. There has been the microscope and the pressure, and Bay has been able to demonstrate that he can succeed in those situations.
He has 10 multihit games in 23 with the Sox, and is batting .347 (33 for 95) with 22 runs, 4 doubles, 2 triples, 4 home runs, and 24 RBIs.
"It's kind of been that way since I got here," Bay said of the intense atmosphere. "The whole month I've been here has kind of been a Red Sox-Yankees series for me. It's kind of going out there, every game, every win is crucial. All of a sudden, you come into this scenario, and I feel like I've been in this scenario for a month, from where I'm coming from. And I think that kind of equipped me better to handle that."
Amalie Benjamin can be reached at email@example.com.