That was one hell of a game to end one hell of an interesting day.
On Saturday night, the Red Sox and Yankees delivered what was arguably the most entertaining and dramatic contest thus far on Boston’s resume, a taut, 2-1 game won by the Red Sox, whose Jon Lester dealt with Yankees ace Masahiro Tanaka pitch-for-pitch, to earn the win and, in the process, added a few more zeroes to the ever-increasing contract that awaits him at the conclusion of this free agent season.
Mike Napoli hit a two-out home run in the top of the ninth inning, when Tanaka, who had allowed one run on six hits to that point, threw the Red Sox slugger a 1-2 fastball. With two out and first base open. With the helpless Stephen Drew waiting on deck. Instead of taking his chances with the $10 million waste of space, Tanaka paid when Napoli placed his offering into the first few rows of the right field bleachers at Yankee Stadium, some 320 feet from home plate.
“What an idiot,” Fox microphones caught Napoli saying as he made he way back to the dugout.
But that idiot did still help deliver nine complete innings of baseball theater in a game that fulfilled the expectations both Red Sox and Yankee fans had heading into the evening, with both teams’ aces going head-to-head; the brilliant Tanaka in his first season with the Yankees, and the dependable Lester, perhaps in his last with the Red Sox. Lester dealt eight innings, allowing five hits, one run, two walks, and seven strikeouts for his ninth win of the season. Tanaka suffered only his third loss of the season, hurling a complete game with eight strikeouts, and made only two costly mistakes, a home run by David Ross in the third inning, and his “idiotic” blunder to Napoli in the ninth.
The Red Sox moved to within seven games of the division-leading Blue Jays with the win, and a game like that, a pitching performance like that, is reason No. 1 through every single every other excuse you can come up with why the Red Sox may not want to surrender the 2014 season, despite a 37-44 record, and a laughingstock offense, a group of hitters who have a nightly difficulty stringing tougher as many as three runs with any sort of consistency.
Which all why Mookie Betts is with Boston, perhaps far in advance of when he should be.
“When a guy is performing at the level and doing it the way he’s doing it and controlling the strike zone and performing in all different areas of the game, that kind of guy deserves consideration,” Red Sox general manager Ben Cherington told reporters Saturday, after the team promoted the 21-year-old prospect from Triple-A Pawtucket. “We happen to have a need for as many good players as we can get, particularly guys that can move around positions, cover different spots. We talked about it for probably two or three days and just decided it was the right time.”
Desperation has a first name, it’s M-O-O-K-I-E….
This isn’t to deny that Betts may be deserving of a call up, but the kid hasn’t even spent a month with the PawSox, and his ridiculous ascent to the majors this season is on a stratospheric level with some other “can’t miss” guys who petered out in the bright lights. Betts, like Xander Bogaerts, seems a different cat though, a kid mature beyond one who was finally only recently able to eschew his fake ID.
If telling a rookie shortstop he was starting at third base in the World Series wasn’t enough pressure, now the Red Sox only need another child to save their desperate excuse for an offense.
“You want to feel good that it’s the right time and that you’ve sort of asked all the questions that you need to ask. But every question we asked, the answer was yes,” Cherington said. “In the minds of the Minor League staff, people around him, people here, it just seemed like the right thing to do.
“Nobody can predict exactly what will happen, but we’re confident that he’ll come up here and just be himself and this will be a great experience for him. He’ll go through his transition like everyone else does. We’re at a point where we’re looking for as many good players as we can get. He’s one of them, so he’s here.”
And yet, for better or worse, Rubby De la Rosa, who went 2-2 with a 2.51 ERA in five starts for the club, is back in Pawtucket, slated to start this week for the PawSox, most likely while Cherington finds somebody to take Jake Peavy and/or Felix Doubront off his hands in a trade. Maybe Betts can give the Red Sox the spark they need to find some semblance of balance in a last-ditch effort to compete. Maybe he’s here for good.
“I think I’m as ready as I’m going to get,” Betts said. “Only time will tell, getting out there and playing and learning more will tell if I was ready or not. But the front office felt I was ready; I have to feel like I’m ready as well.”
Betts didn’t start in his first game with the big club, manager John Farrell electing to let him sit against Tanaka. He hit .322 with two home runs and a .425 on- base percentage in 90 at-bats with the Pawtucket Red Sox. He hit .355 in 54 games with Double-A Portland before his promotion to Triple-A earlier this month. His Boston entries are ready to be written.
With every start he delivers like Saturday night, Lester is pricing himself right out of Boston, which isn’t likely to deliver the kind of long-term, $100 million-plus contract it’s now going to take to sign the lefty in the offseason, which means come November, Larry Lucchino is going to hear a similar refrain for not locking Lester up earlier.
“What an idiot.”
Betts is out to prove they don’t say the same about Cherington and company in the coming weeks. It’s a move that is desperate and deserving, all wrapped as one.
Either way, damn, did the kid have a delight to watch Saturday night during his first night in a major league dugout. And just like that, the Sox are 1-0 with Mookie on the roster.