NEW YORK — Terry Francona was asked before the game tonight if playing the Yankees might help to bring out the best in his team.
He politely shot down the question, saying that the idea is to play well against every team. While the fans and media may put extra attention on the rivalry, the players can’t afford to do that.
He’s right of course. But didn’t the Red Sox look like contenders tonight?
It started with Clay Buchholz, who had a big fastball — “Electric,” Joe Girardi said — and pitched a season-high seven innings. He allowed two runs on five hits and struck out seven with a walk.
“He was tremendous,” Francona said. “He was really good. He threw hard and down with movement then he started using his changeup and breaking ball. His fastball had so much depth to it and it had real good velocity. That was impressive.”
The Sox got a home run and a sac fly from Adrian Gonzalez and a two-run homer from Kevin Youkilis against Joba Chamberlain, a pitcher who has knocked him down a few times.
The relief pitching was a touch shaky. But winning 5-4 at Yankee Stadium certainly left the Red Sox feeling better about things after those two losses in Toronto.
A few notes and observations:
• Gonzalez is on a serious tear. He is 31 of his last 80 (.388) with seven homers, eight doubles, 22 RBIs and 15 runs scored. His 31 RBIs lead the American League.
“The guy makes everybody around him better,” Dustin Pedroia said.
• The Sox are 3-1 against the Yankees this season, 15-19 against everybody else. Go figure that.
• The Yankees have dropped three straight and seven of 10.
• Bartolo Colon was hitting 96 with his fastball and threw 103 pitches. That’s why teams sign guys off the scrap heap. You just never know.
• Jacoby Ellsbury has hit safely in 20 of the last 21 games at .362.
• Buchholz had been 1-3, 6.25 against the Yankees. He said Yankee Stadium is the toughest place for him to pitch. “You have all the fans out there, they all hate us,” he said. “It’s tough sometimes.”
• The PA system went out for the last few innings. It was weird watching the game without hearing the batters introduced, music, advertising, etc. But the fans didn’t change much.
• Tonight was only the second sellout in 22 home games for the Yankees.
• Francona and Theo Epstein met with John Lackey before the game to discuss his issues, both on and off the field. Lackey never made himself available to reporters while Francona and Epstein talked only in general terms.
But obviously there are things to deal with. Lackey has an 8.01 ERA and his wife Krista is battling breast cancer. She has surgery during spring training and is undergoing chemotherapy treatments.
“Obviously, you look deeper and deeper when you don’t get the of kind of results you’re looking for,” Epstein said. Those aren’t things that are going to be discussed publicly, but the pitching coach and others are working on it everyday to try to put guys in a position to succeed. Rest assured there’s a lot of work being done on a lot of different fronts to improve this club. Obviously, that’s one of the fronts.”
• I’ll leave you with this. The team had a day off in New York yesterday and the players scattered. Some went out for nice dinner, others went shopping or hit a club. I asked Jose Iglesias how he spent his time. He went to see The Lion King on Broadway. “It was great,” he said. “Better than the movie.”