Pitchers help the Sox eke out split of series
NEW YORK — It was the stuff of dreams — or nightmares. The scenario called to mind a backyard fantasy a reliever might have had as a kid, entering a crucial game between the Red Sox and the Yankees at the Stadium with the bases loaded and just one out. And there, striding to home plate, is Derek Jeter.
Ready, Daniel Bard?
“It’s pretty cool,’’ he said. “It’s a good feeling, win or lose you still get that rush. But it’s a lot better when you come out on top.’’
Bard jogged in from the Boston bullpen in the seventh inning, asked to clean up Jon Lester’s mess against a pair of All-Stars. It took him just six pitches, all of them fastballs, all of them strikes, to leave the Yankees walking off the field in disappointment, in what ended up a 2-1 win for the Sox.
Jeter, who was 0 for 4 lifetime against Bard, had to contend with fastballs of 98 miles per hour, 99 m.p.h., and 99 m.p.h., the last one causing him to swing and miss. Nick Swisher, who came in 3 for 4 lifetime against Bard with a home run, faced heaters of 98 m.p.h., 98 m.p.h., and 99 m.p.h., and swung at the last one and missed.
“It’s kind of win-win,’’ Bard said. “You just give it your best shot.’’
It was exactly what the Sox needed, given that they have just two trustwor thy arms in the bullpen and it was only the seventh. Bard went on to give up a solo homer to Mark Teixeira in the eighth, and with two outs and runners on first and second was relieved by Jonathan Papelbon, who got Austin Kearns to ground to second. The relief work was crucial as the Sox went on to split the four-game series in New York.
“I’ve had some success against [Jeter] in the past, fortunately, just kind of stuck with what had worked, pitched him down-and-in and elevated,’’ said Bard. “Swisher has kind of had my number. Really felt good to get him in that situation too.’’
The Sox moved six games behind the Yankees in the AL East and remained 4 1/2 games behind the Rays for the wild card.
“We did need it,’’ Bard said. “To come in here and split, it’s a tough place to win games, especially for us with all the pressure, everything that’s put on these games. But when it comes down to it, there’s 45, 50 games left in the season. We’ve given ourselves a shot. We’re within striking distance. That’s kind of all we can ask for at this point.’’
Added Bill Hall, “That’s probably one of the most important wins of the season, to get out of here with a split. For the most part, we’ve got our back against the wall for the remainder of the season. We need a lot of wins. We need to, obviously, play good baseball.’’
About the Teixeira homer, Bard said, “I don’t think I did lose focus. I think I just made a bad pitch to a really good hitter. Can’t settle [after getting] those two outs.’’
So Bard’s outing was dominant and rocky, all in a seven-batter stretch.
“That was the perfect situation for him,’’ manager Terry Francona said of the seventh. “He’s been like that all year. He’s been good.’’
So has Lester, just not lately. Bard was put into that situation in the seventh after Lester allowed a single to Jorge Posada, a double to Marcus Thames that just missed being a home run, and hit Kearns with a pitch to load the bases.
It was a three-batter skid, but it didn’t erase what had occurred over the first six innings. The lefthander had bounced back from four consecutive losses to keep the Yankees without a hit until Kearns singled with one out in the fifth. He gave up just four hits and three walks in the outing, one in which he wasn’t his most dominant. Still, he did enough to help get the Sox the much-needed win.
“Tremendous,’’ Francona said. “Early on, the strike/ball ratio was even. It says a lot about his stuff.
“Against that lineup, if you’re not pounding the zone, it can be difficult. But he made pitches down and had movement, pitched out of a couple situations, because we didn’t have a whole heck of a lot of runs.’’
Lester said, “That win right there, pin that on the bullpen. They did a great job. They set us up.’’
On the other side, Phil Hughes wasn’t giving much after the Sox scored two runs in the second. Ryan Kalish singled to right with one out, stole second, and went to third on a throwing error by catcher Jorge Posada. Hall hit an infield single to short, scoring Kalish, then Jacoby Ellsbury singled to shallow left-center, sending Hall to third. The hit by Ellsbury — who had four steals yesterday — was his first in 22 at-bats overall and his first in 16 ABs since he returned from the disabled list. Ellsbury stole second and Marco Scutaro walked, loading the bases, before a J.D. Drew groundout plated Hall. But Victor Martinez’s groundout to short left two men stranded.
That was all the Sox could muster, but it would be enough, because of the pitching.
Papelbon, throwing as well as he has all season, got the four-out save with three swinging strikeouts in the ninth.
“That was a good day of baseball,’’ said Francona.
Bard said, “To quote Nuke Laloosh, ‘Winning’s awesome. It’s a lot better than losing.’ That’s all there is to it. Come in here and split, not that we’re satisfied with it, but against this team and in this situation, given how many guys we’re missing and stuff, we’ve kept ourselves where we need to be.’’