THIS STORY HAS BEEN FORMATTED FOR EASY PRINTING
Bob Ryan

Hot team from New York has something to prove

By Bob Ryan
Globe Staff / August 6, 2011

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Forget the Big Picture. Forget the home field in October. Forget worrying about who will have to face the Rangers, if it even is the Rangers. You can even forget the little matter of who’s now in first place, and who’s in second.

The Yankees needed a win against the Red Sox. Period.

“That was a big win,’’ said Yankees skipper Joe Girardi. “To come from behind with [Jon] Lester dealing, to scratch out some runs, to take some walks . . . that was a big win for us.’’

The Yankees had come into Fenway tied with the Red Sox at 68-42. But you think the fact they had gone 1-8 vs. their prime rival in those long-ago games didn’t annoy them? With any kind of reasonable split they would have come here in first place, free and clear. Up three, at least. Maybe four.

So this 3-2 series-opening victory did mean a lot to them.

The Yankees now have won eight straight, and 11 of 13. They are on an official roll, which means they are winning games every which way, whether it’s 17-7, 17-3 or 18-7 (actual scores), or a game like last night’s squeaker, when they made do with five hits, conveniently bunching three of them in a three-run sixth inning that made a loser out of a man who had begun the game by throwing strikes on his first seven pitches and 13 of his first 15.

And the fact that the rally began with the No. 9 man in the batting order drawing a nine-pitch leadoff walk wasn’t lost on anyone, least of all MVP candidate Curtis Granderson, who had pointed out before the game that the best thing about the current streak was the breadth of team contributions.

Walking leadoff men is seldom a good idea, and walking a No. 9 man to lead off an inning is even worse, since it makes the top of the order even more menacing. But Eduardo Nunez, who will be sitting down the instant Alex Rodriguez is declared fit to play, did work Lester for that walk in the sixth inning.

Derek Jeter singled to center. Granderson, who has become a fearsome RBI man, punched one to left-center for his 86th ribbie of the season. Mark Teixeira walked to load ’em up with no one out. Robinson Cano hit into a 4-6-3 double play, but Lester’s nice little 2-0 lead was gone as Jeter scored the tying run. He still had a chance to escape the inning with the score tied at 2, but Nick Swisher, who had a sizzling July (.902 OPS), before hitting a little speed bump of late, drove in his first run in six games with a weird ground-rule double down the third base line, a ball that couldn’t have carried much more than 130 feet.

But when you’re team is hot, you’re team is hot, and that ground-rule double was the game-winning RBI.

Of course, it coulda/shoulda/woulda been a lot bigger deficit than 2-0.

That’s because the Red Sox had left the bases loaded in the fifth following a one-out single by Josh Reddick, a two-out Jacoby Ellsbury walk, and an infield single by Dustin Pedroia. At this point Girardi decided that a laboring Bartolo Colon (94 pitches) was not as viable an option against Adrian Gonzalez as Boone Logan, his resident bullpen lefty.

What transpired was, well, quite shocking. Logan made the league’s leading hitter and prime MVP candidate look like a kid parachuted in from the Gulf Coast League. Logan dispatched a flailing Gonzalez on three pitches, which certainly made his manager look like a smart man.

Corey Wade, Rafael Soriano, Dave Robertson and the estimable Mariano Rivera followed Logan to the mound, and the Red Sox didn’t do much with any of them. And just to emphasize the fact that if you hang around long enough, you’ll see something you’ve seldom, or perhaps never seen before. When’s the last time a game ended with the final two batters each taking called third strikes? But Jarrod Saltalamacchia and Josh Reddick were each mesmerized by a Rivera cutter after Carl Crawford had reached base on an infield single. Don’t tell me that very many of his first 587 career saves ended like that.

Girardi wasn’t claiming any particular genius for removing Colon when he did. “They had just made him work so hard,’’ Girardi reasoned. “And I thought a lefty had a little better chance against Gonzalez than a righty.’’

Right now the Yankees are feeling as good about themselves as they have all season, and before too long they will have A-Rod back and thus their full lineup will be restored. And talk about having a reason to get out of bed this morning: The skipper will send a man to the mound this afternoon who has won 13 of his last 15 decisions and has given up seven earned runs in his last 60 2/3 innings. Perhaps you’ve heard of this CC Sabbathia guy.

“Right now we have a lot of confidence,’’ agrees Swisher. “But it’s not a cocky confidence. It’s something inside. And it was good to get the first game of the series. They are human. They can be beat. This was a big game for us.’’

The Yankees had been waiting since June 9 to get another shot at the Red Sox. Oh, yeah, this meant something, all right.

Bob Ryan is a Globe columnist and host of Globe 10.0 on Boston.com. He can be reached at ryan@globe.com.

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