Commentary

This weekend was the most fun at Fenway in quite a while, and other thoughts from a sweep of the Yankees

Jim Davis/Globe Staff
The Fenway faithful cheered after pitcher Yacksel Rios closed out Boston's sweep of the Yankees on Sunday.


COMMENTARY

I suppose the weekend could have gone better for the Red Sox.

J.D. Martinez could have delivered a four-homer game at some point during the first-place Red Sox’ three-game sweep of the Yankees. After all, he hasn’t had one since Sept. 4, 2017, when he was with the Diamondbacks. And the Red Sox, with their long lineage of home-run heroes, have somehow never had one. Talk about overdue on all counts.

Nathan Eovaldi could have pitched the no-hitter that Nick Pivetta was denied Thursday, when manager Alex Cora annoyingly but correctly pulled him after 6.2 no-hit innings and 100 pitches. Instead, Eovaldi gave up a hit to the first batter of the game – so much for suspense – and merely provided the Red Sox with 7.2 innings of masterful seven-hit, one-run pitching in Saturday’s 4-2 win.

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Speaking of suspense, Kiké Hernández refused to allow any to build in Sunday’s finale, whacking the first pitch Yankees ace Gerrit Cole threw for a leadoff home run, sparking a four-run first inning on the way to a 9-2 victory. Make no mistake, it’s a blast to throttle Cole, whose head has been spinning while his pitches haven’t after a forced separation from his good friend Mr. Spider Tack, but Hernández and the revving Red Sox offense could have made him briefly believe things might break his way before dropping the hammer. Don’t they know comeuppance is more painful when preceded by hope?

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So, yeah, could have been better … if you’re the nitpicking, never-satisfied sort, that is. Or a sports radio host. Otherwise, this was a weekend of pure baseball satisfaction, a reminder of what we missed so dearly last summer, and a whisper about what might just be possible with this resilient and enjoyable ball club.

Friday night, the Red Sox paid homage, perfect in tone and sentiment, to Dustin Pedroia, then scrapped and hustled their way to a 5-3 win. Fittingly, the game ended on 6-4-3 double play. Saturday, Eovaldi excelled, while Yankees discard Adam Ottavino recorded the game’s biggest outs. Sunday, the Sox dropped the hammer on Cole, and another Yankees escapee – Rule 5 steal Garrett Whitlock – pitched out of a bases-loaded jam when the visitors had inklings of attempting to make it interesting.

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These are some seriously good times, and don’t let anyone try to drag you down by saying, “Yeah, but it’s just June.” The Sox are 6-0 against the Yankees this season, having swept them in consecutive series for the first time since 2011. They’re a half-game up on the Rays in the American League East, and 7.5 ahead of the Yankees, who came in having won seven of nine and depart wondering if changes are necessary. No one outside of the walls of Fenway Park believed this before the season began, but it is the absolute truth: The 2021 Red Sox are a superior team to the 2021 Yankees, and they’ve proven it in about every way imaginable.

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A few other stray thoughts from the most fun weekend at Fenway since … well, what, October 2018? It’s sure been awhile …

• Is it time to reconsider Jacoby Ellsbury’s place in Red Sox history? I’ll admit, I wouldn’t be bringing this up after his surprising and well-received appearance at the Pedroia ceremony Friday night, but it’s worth thinking about, and not only because his cameo doubled as an excellent troll job of the Yankees, who  paid him more than $68 million since 2018 to play zero games. Ellsbury was an enigma for sure during his seven seasons (2007-13) with the Red Sox; remember when he got trucked by Adrian Beltre during the 2010 season, missed all but 18 games, and at one point that July read a statement in the clubhouse detailing how the Red Sox misdiagnosed his injury? Weird times, and he didn’t get a lot of sympathy.

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But he was also a dynamic player from the day he arrived in ’07, teaming with fellow rookie Pedroia to give even more electricity to a World Series-winning lineup. It’s easier to forget that he was also a dynamo at the top of the order on the ’13 champs, pairing atop the lineup with Shane Victorino – his most similar player statistically in baseball history – to get the Red Sox started off right game after game. He was a tremendous postseason player for the Sox – he hit .325 with an .836 OPS in two World Series – and never had a hit in the playoffs for the Yankees, whom he joined as a free agent on a seven-year, $153 million deal in December 2013.

Ellsbury never got the full Benedict Arnold treatment from Red Sox fans like Johnny Damon did, largely because he couldn’t stay on the field and ended up being a financial albatross in New York. It was nice to see him back here for Pedroia, and to let us know in a way that perhaps Boston meant more to him than he ever let on before.

• There were times when the four-year, $68 million contract that the Red Sox awarded Eovaldi after the 2018 World Series seemed lamentable. But when he’s been healthy, he’s been a trustworthy member of the starting rotation, and this season he’s been an absolute rock. Eovaldi is tied with several pitchers for the league lead in starts (16), has posted a 3.67 ERA, and his eight wins are the third-most of his 10-year career. Since coming to the Red Sox in a July 2018 trade with the Rays, Eovaldi is 17-10 with a 4.21 ERA in 260.2 innings.

Of course he was stellar in the 2018 postseason, with a 1.61 ERA in 22.1 innings. The Red Sox wouldn’t have won the World Series three years ago without him. And they wouldn’t be in first place now, as arguably the biggest surprise in the AL, without him.

• The Yankees, at 40-37, have officially entered the “If George Steinbrenner were alive he’d fire all you bums” portion of the program. They remind me of one of those past flawed Red Sox teams that could put on a fireworks display in batting practice but were exposed as too often one-dimensional once the games begin. I’m thinking of the ’84 team, when Tony Armas, Jim Rice, Dwight Evans, and Mike Easler combined for 130 homers, but the club won just 86 games.

Giancarlo Stanton hasn’t played an inning in the outfield all season because of the fear of injury. Yankees manager Aaron Boone went with a Miguel Andujar-Aaron Judge-Clint Frazier outfield alignment on Saturday, which is only slightly rangier than the Mike Greenwell-Troy O’Leary-Kevin Mitchell  trio that Kevin Kennedy threw out there once early in the ’96 season. And that’s the worst defensive outfield I’ve ever seen, maybe at any level of baseball, including t-ball.

• It’s not just that the Red Sox look quicker and more well-rounded than the Yankees. They’re more alert, which is a credit to Alex Cora and awfully close to a damning indictment of Aaron Boone. The starkest evidence came in Saturday’s win, when Rafael Devers made a couple of savvy plays, including scoring on Bobby Dalbec’s foul pop up in the second inning and beat out a grounder to shortstop in the third, helping lead to another run. Devers, who turned around a Gerrit Cole 100 m.p.h. fastball for a massive three-run homer Sunday, would be in the MVP mix this year if Vladimir Guerrero Jr. wasn’t in the middle of putting together the best season of his or his Hall-of-Famer dad’s career.

• The Red Sox enter Monday with a 47-31 record and a season high 16 games above .500. After 78 games in 2004, they were 42-36. In 2007: 49-29. In ’13: 45-33. And ’18: 51-27. Not that I’m implying anything, of course. Just noting once more that the Red Sox are almost halfway there, and things are going rather well.

 

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