Walking the walk
Behind Pedroia, Sox continue to wear out Yankees
One at-bat, one that ends with the batter cheering to himself as he leaves the batter's box, can change an inning. It can change a game. It can, apparently, keep perfection going. Because as perfection unfolds, whether it be in a single game or in a series against a single foe, some breaks must go the way of the winning team. Some games must be stolen, as the Red Sox proved last night, with Dustin Pedroia's 10-pitch, eighth-inning walk.
"Unbelievable," David Ortiz said. "Great at-bat. Pedey was on. That's what made the difference in this game. That at-bat."
While a truly perfect season against the Yankees is highly improbable, the Sox made it eight straight against them in 2009, and nine straight overall, with their third series sweep. Even in the face of a dealing CC Sabathia, and a two-run deficit in the eighth, the Sox made a little bit of magic. As the rain poured down, the Sox scored three runs in the inning against Sabathia and the Yankees bullpen for a particularly demoralizing 4-3 win in front of 38,153 at Fenway Park.
Even in the face of Alex Rodriguez and Sabathia, the Sox cannot lose to this season's Yankees team. At least not yet.
"Man, it feels good," Ortiz said.
After Nick Green singled to open the eighth, Pedroia worked his game-saving at-bat, using those 10 pitches to fashion a walk and extend Sabathia to a pitch count where he had just one more batter in him.
"I thought that was the play of the game," Green said. "It wore Sabathia down. I think once he hit about 110 pitches, his stuff got not as good. You could tell he was fatigued. To be able to wear him down like that, for J.D. [Drew] to come up, I thought was huge."
And of those shouts as he came out of the box?
"I was just excited," Pedroia said. "I hadn't been on base in a while. Facing him, it's a battle every time. He's great. He's got great stuff. That's why he's their horse. He's tough."
Drew singled up the middle to score Green and put men on first and second. Alfredo Aceves relieved Sabathia, and the Sox took advantage, a bloop into right by Kevin Youkilis loading the bases for a single to left by Jason Bay that tied the game. The bases were unloaded by a Mike Lowell sacrifice fly to center that turned the score in the direction of the Sox.
But it needed to stay that way.
With Jonathan Papelbon coming on to close out the game in the ninth, Derek Jeter made a bid for a single up the middle to begin the inning. With the Yankees lineup, it could have gotten sticky from there. It didn't. Green ran down the ball behind the bag, an outstanding play, and came up with a rocket to first base from an arm that Lowell called "a bazooka."
"Off the bat, that's a hit," manager Terry Francona said. "I don't know how many shortstops make that play. Wet, up the middle. Have enough arm. There was a lot of different things that went into that play. Timing of it, leading off the ninth. That was a pretty special play."
It went 1-2-3, closing out a win that seemed sure to go to the Yankees after the top of the seventh.
For the first seven innings, a most improbable moment was responsible for the lone run. With Ortiz seeming to emerge little by very little from his slump, he did something that would have been hard to predict. Against Sabathia - who had held lefties this season to a .235 slugging percentage - Ortiz took one out.
But he didn't just hit a home run, which resulted in yet another curtain call. No, Ortiz took the homer out to left, an opposite-field shot that landed in the second row of the Monster seats.
The Yankees tied the game, though, on a matchup that seemed to favor the Sox. Coming into the night, Manny Delcarmen had a 1.07 ERA, and had not allowed an earned run to the Yankees since Sept. 16, 2006, a span of 16 innings. He had a 0.47 career ERA against the Yankees, the lowest of any pitcher with a minimum of 20 games since 1954.
Alex Rodriguez, who had yet to get a hit in the series, lined a double to center off Delcarmen that scored Francisco Cervelli (double) and Johnny Damon (walk) to put the Yankees up by two, after Cervelli had knocked in Melky Cabrera on a hit-and-run.
It spoiled Brad Penny's best performance to date with the Sox, just as the organization faces a choice about where to slot John Smoltz next week. Though Penny had just one 1-2-3 inning, he wiggled out of trouble in a manner that has become familiar around Fenway Park.
Between his velocity - up to 98 miles an hour - and the depth of his split/changeup (even his manager couldn't tell which it was), Penny bedeviled the Yankees, allowing no runs on six hits over six innings, with five strikeouts and one walk.
And then the improbability started. The Sox took their eighth straight from the Yankees, as the skies opened.
"Things happen, like we've seen happen here before," Francona said. "Good players doing some pretty special things in a pretty special place. It was electric. You could feel it.
"I'd like to sit up here and say it never means more than it means, but it's hard not to get excited."
Amalie Benjamin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.