Unlikely DH Ciriaco helps power Red Sox to win over Yankees
NEW YORK — Pedro Ciriaco looked twice at the lineup the first time Red Sox manager Bobby Valentine used him as the designated hitter earlier this month.
A 170-pound middle infielder who has yet to hit a home run in a major league game, Ciriaco is not the kind of player usually suited for that role, especially on a team like the Red Sox.
Ciriaco laughed when asked whether any other manager had tried it in his career.
“No,” he said, “that happened just this year. It’s the first time.”
It was the right move for the Red Sox on Saturday night. Ciriaco, the unlikely slugger, drove a ball over the head of Yankees center fielder Curtis Granderson in the ninth inning to give the Red Sox a thrilling 8-6 victory.
The Red Sox blew a five-run lead, the Yankees coming back to tie the game in the bottom of the eighth inning on a two-run homer by Mark Teixeira off his nemesis, Vicente Padilla.
The Yankees used closer Rafael Soriano to start the ninth inning. He walked Jacoby Ellsbury with one out before Ciriaco came to the plate.
Soriano threw a low fastball that Ciriaco put all 170 pounds into. The ball flew straight to center field. Granderson, understandably, didn’t expect it to go as far as it did. He could not get back in time and the ball sailed over his outstretched glove.
“I broke in for it at first. I just thought it wasn’t hit as hard as it was,” Granderson said. “He usually doesn’t hit the ball that way.”
Ellsbury advanced as far as second base and paused to see if Granderson would catch the ball. When it fell in, he took off like a sprinter out of the blocks and scored the go-ahead run.
“I thought it would drop because it was over his head,” Ellsbury said. “I was just waiting to see if he could dive and catch it.”
Ciriaco ended up at third with his fourth career triple and scored on a sacrifice fly by Dustin Pedroia.
“You’re going to make mistakes,” Granderson said. “It’s baseball.”
Ciriaco is hitting .356 in 17 games since being called up and is 10 of 18 against the Yankees.
“He gave me a good pitch to hit and I had a little bit of luck, too,” he said. “I thought he was going to make it. But when I saw him running back, I thought I had a chance.”
Valentine, who at this point in the season isn’t afraid to try something unconventional, was smiling later when asked about Ciriaco.
“He just comes in and plays,” Valentine said. “Has good at-bats, runs the bases well and makes us a better team.”
It was only the second win in eight games against the Yankees this season for the Red Sox.
Adrian Gonzalez was 3 for 5 with an RBI double and a three-run homer off CC Sabathia. The Red Sox battered the Yankees ace, scoring three runs in the first inning and three more in the fifth.
Sabathia is 1-5 with a 6.81 ERA in his last six starts against the Red Sox.
Ciriaco singled and scored on Gonzalez’s double in the first inning. Will Middlebrooks had a two-run double later in the inning.
Ciriaco singled in the fifth before Pedroia walked and Gonzalez homered to right field.
“It was big for us to pull it off and get the win,” said Gonzalez, now 41 of 98 (.418) with runners in scoring position.
Jon Lester has started six playoff games for the Red Sox and plenty of others in the heat of pennant races, so it would be hyperbole to overstate the importance of his outing against the Yankees.
But if only for his own mental health, the lefthander needed a reasonably good outing after giving up 11 runs against the Blue Jays last Sunday. That the Red Sox had lost six of their last seven games added to the pressure.
Lester delivered, allowing four runs on four hits over six innings. He left the mound with a 6-4 lead.
“Real, real pleased with how I threw the ball,” Lester said. “The biggest thing is we needed that game. We needed to win that game. Guys came back and kept fighting. That was big for us.”
Lester retired the first eight Yankees in order before backup catcher Chris Stewart homered to left field in the third inning. Jayson Nix had a two-run homer in the fifth, part of a three-run inning.
Padilla inherited a 6-4 lead in the eighth inning. Pinch hitter Raul Ibanez singled before Padilla struck out Jeter and Granderson. That brought Teixeira to the plate.
Teixeira and Padilla have a rancorous history. The righthander has hit Teixeira three times and the first baseman has complained about it, labeling Padilla a headhunter. Padilla mocked Teixeira earlier this month, suggesting he try “women’s sports” instead.
This time, Teixeira was the man, driving a 96-miles-per-hour fastball into the stands in right field to tie it. The usually unassuming Teixeira paused to admire his shot for a few seconds.
“I just wanted to make sure it was fair. It was a long day and I didn’t want to waste any energy out of the box,” Teixeira said.
Padilla was not interested in talking.
“About what? One bad day?” he said as he walked out of the clubhouse.
That left it to Ciriaco, who hit the ball just far enough.
“We were good tonight and we were lucky,” Valentine said. “This is a good team, a good group of guys who believe that they’re going to get on a run. It was great to win the game after getting tied in the eighth, that’s for sure.”