A blueprint win, but details still sketchy
NEW YORK — They were supposed to win 100 and cruise into the playoffs, but nothing has come easily for these 2011 Red Sox. Crawling toward .500 has been like climbing Kilimanjaro. So why should a weekend in New York be any different?
The Sox last night played the first of three nationally televised games in the House That George Built and came away with a 5-4 win on the strength of Clay Buchholz’s seven strong innings and Kevin Youkilis’s two-run homer off Joba Chamberlain in the seventh inning. It was “Perils of Pauline’’ to the finish. The Sox are 18-20 going into tonight’s Josh Beckett-CC Sabathia matchup.
“Starting off 2-10, we knew it would take some time to get back,’’ said Sox manager Terry Francona before the game.
“We’ve teased it [.500] a few times,’’ said Sox general manager Theo Epstein outside Francona’s office after the 3-hour-35-minute ordeal. “I’d like to think that once we get there, we can get it going.’’
“I think that’s only a starting point, but it does feel like that will be a renewal to us and our fans,’’ said Sox CEO Larry Lucchino, who is in New York for this “big’’ series.
Francona and his counterpart, Joe Girardi, have distinctly different views of the Red Sox-Yankee regular-season combats.
“Sometimes when you get in these series, it brings out the best in us,’’ said the Yankee skipper. “And we haven’t played our best baseball [at 20-16].’’
“We don’t really want to see the best of them,’’ countered Francona. “I understand why people like this. It’s fun. But wherever we’re at, that’s the most important series.’’
Last night’s win was off the Boston baseball ops winter blueprint, with a few hiccups: The Sox got seven solid from Buchholz, Daniel Bard pitched the eighth, and Jonathan Papelbon got the save in the ninth. Adrian Gonzalez and Youkilis hit homers.
Not with these guys. Bard inherited a 5-2 lead, gave up a run, and put two runners in scoring position before striking out Nick Swisher and getting Jorge Posada to ground out. In the ninth, Papelbon retired the first two batters, then gave up two hits and a run, putting the winning run in the batter’s box in the person of Mark Teixeira.
Happily, the Big Galoot got Teixeira to pop to Youkilis.
“Every win is a big win for us now,’’ said Youk.
Bartolo “Big Baby’’ Colon got the start for the Yankees and did pretty well, thank you very much. Listed as 37 years old and 265 pounds (more likely 44 and 290), the Dominican wide load has performed surprisingly well for the pitching-starved Yankees. He came into the game with a record of 2-1 and an ERA of 3.86. It was his first start against the Sox since 2005 when he won the Cy Young Award for the Angels. Colon had a short stint with the Sox in 2008, but quit, almost Manny-like, when he was asked to pitch out of the bullpen.
Colon’s story got more interesting this week when The New York Times reported that his return to form was owed, in part, to a 2010 surgery that involved stem cell transplants and possibly human growth hormone. Major League Baseball says it is looking into the matter. Good idea. Bionic Colon hit 97 on the gun in the first inning.
Leading off the fourth, Gonzalez crushed a 1-and-0 pitch into the upper deck in right to give the Sox a 1-0 lead. Yo Adrian hit only one homer in Boston’s first 28 games, but has hit seven since May 3, most in the majors since that date. He leads the American League with 31 RBIs. This is what Theo and Co. had in mind when Casey Kelly and friends were shipped to San Diego in December.
The Yankees lead the majors with 58 homers, but didn’t manage a hit against Buchholz in the first three innings. Alex Rodriguez broke up the no-no with a one-out single to left in the fourth, but Buchholz had a 2-0 lead and five strikeouts going into the fifth.
The Yanks tied it on a two-run blast to center by Russell Martin (a free agent last winter) in the fifth. It was Martin’s seventh homer of 2011. Sox catchers have yet to hit a home run.
Chamberlain came on for Colon after Jarrod Saltalamacchia singled to open the seventh. After a force play and a beautiful hit-and-run single by Dustin Pedroia (“When the game’s on the line, I want him hitting,’’ said Francona), Gonzalez put the Sox ahead with a sacrifice fly to left. Then Youkilis broke it open with his opposite-field shot to right.
“Good thing we were here,’’ said Youk. “That ball’s an out at Fenway.’’
Buchholz was not as happy to be in the Bronx.
“They always seem to come out of their struggles when they see us,’’ said the Sox righty. “This is the toughest place to pitch. All their fans come out and they all hate us.’’
The grind toward .500 continues. In the words of the Great Fitzgerald (F. Scott, not Ray), “. . . they beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.’’
Dan Shaughnessy is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.