That felt significant, didn't it? Pivotal. Like it will be one of those midsummer victories that will linger in your mind as an I-knew-it-then moment should the Red Sox play deep into the fall.
If your eyes called it a day before the 4-hour 46-minute game was settled, you missed heck of an exclamation point on the Red Sox' 20th series win and 60th overall victory this season.
Mike Napoli's walk-off homer to dead center field in the bottom of the 11th inning lifted the Red Sox an 8-7 victory over the Yankees last night at Fenway. It was his second homer of the game, his winner in the wee hours on Monday morning possibly landing before the mammoth three-run blast reached its apparent destination somewhere beyond Worcester.
Victories in July don't get much more fulfilling. The Red Sox overcame an early 3-0 deficit against CC Sabathia, taking a 7-3 lead. The Yankees rallied to tie against the weary and shorthanded Red Sox bullpen, but Junichi Tazawa got a huge out against Ichiro in the seventh following a 15-pitch walk to Brett Gardner, the 'pen held on, and Napoli delivered the ninth walk-off victory for the Red Sox this season.
It was just the kind of victory that has been the calling-card of this immensely likable team, and the added bonus is that it knocked the Yankees to seven back in the American League East race.
The mirage of competitiveness was fun while it lasted, but not even Derek Jeter's calmness of eye can make the Yankees a genuine contender now. Mariano Rivera's farewell tour will end before the time of year where he accomplished his greatest feats will begin. You bet I'm writing the Yankees off. They're the Blue Jays with a real excuse.
But the rest of the division is fascinating. There's nothing but respect for the Orioles, featuring the magnificent Manny Machado, or the smoking-hot Rays, who have won 44 of their last 67 games, including 12 of their last 13. They come to Fenway for four games beginning Tuesday night. Had the Sox not won
last night this morning, there might be a foreboding sense that Joe Maddon's talented, pitching-rich team (that Wil Myers-James Shields swap seems to have worked out well for them) would depart Fenway atop the AL East standings.
As it is, the Sox' lead is just a game and a half. And despite the steady brilliance of David Ortiz (please stop running), Dustin Pedroia, and Koji Uehara, and despite the knack for getting meaningful contributions up and down the roster, with just about everyone passing around the role of Fenway Hero of the Day, it's not downplaying their accomplishments to say that they desperately need help.
The attrition in the bullpen has been addressed to some degree. But it hasn't been solved. Matt Thornton was a nice pickup, still excellent against lefties even with his diminished velocity. Kudos to Ben Cherington for striking early there.
But with Andrew Miller, Andrew Bailey, and Joel Hanrahan all lost for the season, the burden has fallen on Uehara, Tazawa, and Craig Breslow to pitch pretty much whenever there's a victory in the balance. That's too much to ask. There's not enough ice in Fenway to keep their arms fresh at this pace.
Maybe they will bring in Jesse Crain or Francisco Rodriguez or another capable relief pitcher or two. Maybe someone such as Rubby De La Rosa or Brandon Workman will become their version of '02 K-Rod or '08 Justin Masterson. Maybe a starting pitcher will be a priority depending upon the status of Clay Buchholz, the ailing ace justifiably in search of peace of mind.
This is a really fun time to be a Red Sox fan. They matter again. It's a very likable team. This is what we missed so dearly last year. They're legitimate contenders in what has been a wildly successful bridge year.
But the competition is fierce, and reinforcements are necessary to keep the good times going into October. They've continued to win game after game while seemingly losing player after player. It's a tough pattern to maintain. Enough attrition. It's time for some additions.
About Touching All The Bases
Irreverence and insight from Chad Finn, a Globe/Boston.com sports writer and media columnist. A winner of several national and regional writing awards, he is the founder and sole contributor to the TATB blog, which launched in December 2004. Yes, he realizes how lucky he is.