NEW YORK — Two outs, nobody on in the ninth inning against Mariano Rivera. That’s usually checkout time in baseball.
But in a season that has defied expectations, the Red Sox found a way on Thursday night and the result was a 9-8 win in 10 innings.
Mike Napoli, 0 for 5 in his career off Rivera, started it with a single. Then secret weapon Quintin Berry stole second and went to third on an error by catcher Austin (son of Kevin) Romine.
Berry was an offensively challenged Triple A outfielder going nowhere in the Kansas City organization until the Red Sox traded for him on Aug. 27. Now he has a very good chance of landing on the postseason roster.
“What a blessing this has been,” he said. “I’m so thankful for the opportunity. I never expected to be in this position.”
With Berry on third, Stephen Drew tied it up with a single. He hit Rivera’s second pitch just enough to dump it into right field.
“You know what he has. But at the same time he’s not easy to hit,” Drew said. “With two outs, that’s a tough situation. Just trying to get a good pitch to hit. His ball is moving regardless. I was able to push one out there.”
In the 10th inning, Jacoby Ellsbury singled off Joba Chamberlain and stole second. Shane Victorino then singled in the go-ahead run. Victorino checked his swing on a 1-and-2 pitch but first base umpire Joe West ruled he did not go around. The single came on the next pitch.
“It was a borderline call,” John Farrell admitted.
The throw from Ichiro Suzuki beat Ellsbury to the plate. But Romine couldn’t handle the short hop.
Craig Breslow (5-2) pitched two scoreless innings for the win. Koji Uehara then picked up his 18th save. Uehara has been perfect in seven consecutive outings, retiring 23 batters. He has thrown 26 consecutive scoreless innings.
“That’s why you keep playing,” David Ortiz said. “You never know what’s going to happen.”
“A character win; a team win. A lot of guys contributed,” Farrell said.
The Sox have won three straight, six of seven and 10 of their last 12 games. With Tampa Bay losing again, the Sox now lead the division by 6.5 games. It’s their largest lead of the season.
With 20 games left, anything is possible. But this is a Red Sox team that still looks strong and committed. Unlike 2011, the foundation is solid.
The third-place Yankees are nine games out. They’re playing for a wild card at this point.
A few notes:
• As memorable as the victory was, the late-season demise of Junichi Tazawa is troubling for the Red Sox.
The Red Sox have a lights-out closer in Uehara and a trustworthy lefty in Breslow. But at the moment, do they have a righthanded set-up man they can rely on?
Tazawa entered the seventh inning and allowed three run-scoring hits. Alfonso Soriano had a single through a shift that left second base vacant. Curtis Granderson then crushed a hanging splitter to right field for a double. Lyle Overbay then grounded a two-run single into right field with two outs.
In all, the Yankees scored six runs that inning off Jake Peavy, Matt Thornton and Tazawa.
Tazawa has pitched 16.1 innings since July 31 and given up 17 hits. Of the 13 runners he has inherited, five have scored.
“It’s his split more than anything. The power is there. The strike-throwing ability is there. All the things are there. He’s using his curveball a little bit more. But the base hit to Overbay was a split that really didn’t have the bottoming-out action,” Farrell said. “It’s a matter of getting a little more consistency with the one pitch.”
Farrell said Tazawa’s grip is likely the problem. He could be squeezing the ball too much.
• The Red Sox are 27 of their last 27 in stolen bases. Berry’s swipe of second base in the ninth inning and Ellsbury stealing second in the 10th inning were perhaps the two biggest plays in the game.
The Red Sox have a relentless offense, solid starters and a closer having the season of his life. But their speed is a weapon that figures to be critical come the postseason.
• Lots of empty seats at Yankee Stadium. The announced crowd was 40,481 but there were entire sections that were open. Perhaps the Jewish holidays and it being a school night played a role. But the atmosphere was lacking.
• Napoli is 13 of his last 35 with nine RBIs over 10 games. He has an .800 OPS and 78 RBIs. He’s having pretty much an average Mike Napoli season, which is to say a productive one. People focusing on the 171 strikeouts are missing the big picture.
If he had 100 strikeouts and 71 more pop-ups, what difference would it make?
• Victorino continued what is nearly a career year for him. He was 2 for 6 with three more RBIs and his 20th stolen base. Victorino is hitting .294 and has an .800 OPS.
Oddly, he refused a standard postgame on-field interview with NESN and MLB Network and did not speak to reporters after the game.
• The Sox are 8-5 against the Yankees this season, 5-2 at the Stadium.
That’s it for tonight. Thanks for reading. Come back for more tomorrow.