|Jacoby Ellsbury corrals a ball off the bat of Mark Teixeira, but not before it fell for a single with two outs in the sixth to start a game-changing, two-run rally. (Ray Stubblebine/Reuters)|
Not their party
Sox sweep by NY ends AL East race
NEW YORK - Dustin Pedroia lingered in the Red Sox dugout yesterday for several minutes, his head poking out as he stared out at the Yankee Stadium infield. “That’s normal,’’ Pedroia explained. “I sit in the dugout after every loss.’’
He watched an abnormal scene, one that unfolds only a handful of times at a handful of ballparks each season. Yankees streamed out of their dugout and in from the bullpen and gathered in the infield, celebrating the 4-2 victory over the Red Sox that clinched their first American League East title since 2006.
The Yankees high-fived and hugged while “New York, New York’’ blared above the din of 47,576 fans and one subway train rattling past beyond left field. They won their 100th game while leveling the season series against the Red Sox, once 8-0 in favor of Boston, at nine games apiece.
While the Yankees celebrated, the Red Sox shrugged. Players in every corner of the visiting clubhouse uniformly shared on a three-point mantra: The Yankees won. Good for them. Wait for the playoffs.
“I think they have the best team in the American League East,’’ closer Jonathan Papelbon said. “Sure. Facts are facts. I think there’s a little sense of pride in trying to win the division every year. But realistically, the point is getting in and getting hot.’’
“As of right now, obviously they’re the better team,’’ left fielder Jason Bay said. “Once the postseason starts, everything else is kind of thrown out the window.’’
Didn’t it sting just a little watching the Yankees celebrate?
“I don’t care,’’ Kevin Youkilis said. “I want to get into the playoffs. Once we get there, it’s a whole other game.’’
The Red Sox are not yet in the playoffs, but they could ensure their postseason place today. Their magic number dwindled to two with a week remaining because the Rangers lost yesterday to the Rays.
The Yankees have beaten the Red Sox seven straight at Yankee Stadium, the new palace they christened with a division pennant. The final game of the weekend sweep was the most competitive for the Red Sox. They took a 2-0 lead in the third before Andy Pettitte and the Yankees bullpen stymied them, allowing two hits - both singles by J.D. Drew - while recording the final 19 outs.
Sox starter Paul Byrd bested Pettitte for five innings, throwing with more velocity than in previous starts thanks to his work with pitching coach John Farrell on creating more torque in his delivery. He allowed one hard-hit ball, a home run to right by Melky Cabrera in the third, but he cruised along, into the sixth, when he retired the first two batters he faced.
And then the Yankees provided the primary evidence for why they are division champs: Any starting pitcher, no matter how good he is feeling, must navigate around Mark Teixeira and Alex Rodriguez.
Teixeira dumped a single into center field. Byrd thought he had Rodriguez. “I threw him some really good pitches, and he just fouled them off,’’ Byrd said. “I just couldn’t put him away.’’ Rodriguez singled, too.
Hideki Matsui was on deck, and Takashi Saito was warming in the bullpen. Matsui is 4 for 13 with a home run against Byrd in his career, and Saito was holding lefties to a .189 average this season. Manager Terry Francona trudged to the mound and called for Saito. Byrd wanted to finish the inning, but he understood.
The move was going to work; Saito started Matsui with two strikes. Then he unleashed a slider that broke across the plate and scooted past Jason Varitek’s glove for a wild pitch. With both runners then in scoring position, Matsui lined a single to right, just in front of Drew’s slide. In an instant, the Yankees turned a one-run deficit into a 3-2 lead.
Byrd was charged with the runs. Both pitchers took responsibility.
“It was disappointing, especially because my pitches before that were good ones,’’ Saito said through an interpreter.
“I had two outs that inning with nobody on,’’ Byrd said. “It’s pretty frustrating to see them turn it around.’’
The Red Sox nearly mounted a two-out, tying rally in the ninth. After a single by Drew, an error by Robinson Cano, and a swinging bunt by Casey Kotchman, the Sox had the trying run on second. But that was Mariano Rivera on the mound. He induced a weak comebacker from Jacoby Ellsbury.
Champagne poured in the home clubhouse. The Red Sox appreciated and respected the accomplishment, but they didn’t concern themselves with it. “We’re just hoping to win tomorrow,’’ Francona said.
Regret about not clinching themselves this weekend emerged only in comic form.
“Damn, man,’’ David Ortiz sad. “It gives the carpet a smell a few days later. It kills me. That’s why I want to do it here. But it’s not going to happen.’’
The Red Sox might clinch tonight, or really some time after midnight, if the Rangers lose their game on the West Coast and Josh Beckett prevails. They will be the American League wild card, and that is fine with them.
“I was a wild card once and got a World Series,’’ Ortiz said. “That means I don’t care.’’