Mayor Thomas M. Menino and the Hub Chamber of Commerce should be thankful for the long journey into night at Fenway Park yesterday. There are a lot of first-time visitors in Boston this weekend, folks who might have been wondering what all the fuss is about regarding this Red Sox-Yankees scramble. Now they know.
In one of the most exciting games in the century-old history of the rivalry, the Sox beat the Yankees, 11-10, yesterday afternoon/evening with three runs in the bottom of the ninth inning, capping their improbable comeback on Bill Mueller’s two-run, walkoff home run off indomitable Yankees closer Mariano Rivera.
Welcome to the rivalry, Alex Rodriguez. Like childbirth and marathon running, you can study the manuals and listen to those who have been there, but you have to experience it for yourself to know the true meaning of Red Sox vs. Yankees. Never mind those speakers at the FleetCenter podium this week. Sox-Yankees is a better, more passionate joust than Elephants vs. Donkeys. And you don’t have to wait four years between bouts.
This was the day when the passive Red Sox finally fought back. And we mean fought. Jason Varitek shoved his catcher’s mitt into the face of A-Rod in the third inning and before the day was over there was a bloodied Yankee, 5 ejections, 21 runs, 27 hits, and 4 errors in 3 hours 54 minutes of hard-nosed hardball. It marked the first time in 57 games that the Yankees lost after leading at the end of eight innings.
“I don’t think you build on a fight, you build on a win,” said Mueller, the humble homer hero. “We came back. It’s a win against the Yankees, which is always nice to have. It’s something to carry on over and see what happens.”
Red Sox manager Terry Francona added, “I hope we look back a while from now and we’re saying that this brought us together . . . I hope a long time from now we look back and say this did it.”
Mercy. It never stops with these two franchises. Go back to drunken owners Jake Ruppert and Harry Frazee and the corrupt sale of greatest player who ever lived. Trace through the golden decades of Teddy Ballgame and the Great DiMaggio and come into a new century when Red Sox Nation continues to nip at the heels of the Evil Empire.
The Sox always seem to finish behind the Yankees, as they did last winter when they courted Rodriguez, the best and wealthiest player in baseball. New York wound up getting Rodriguez (naturally) and the Yankees needed less than 100 games in this 2004 season to establish the fact that they will finish first to Boston’s second for the seventh consecutive year -- “campaign” if you will.
And thus in the top of the third inning yesterday, there were two centuries and four months of Red Sox frustration heaped on the shoulders of Varitek. The Sox had been humbled Friday night and were taking a beating from their own fans as they fell behind, 3-0, in a rain-delayed, nationally televised game. Time for somebody to step up.
With two outs and nobody aboard, young righthander Bronson Arroyo hit Rodriguez in the left arm. Instead of trotting to first base quietly, something Derek Jeter might have done, Rodriguez started jawing at the pitcher. Varitek quickly got in the way and the two exchanged words. Then there was a bump. Then the catcher put his fat mitt in the face of the Yankee icon and it was Saturday afternoon at the fights.
“Obviously, anybody who gets hit isn’t too happy,” said Varitek. “I told him in choice words to go to first base. Then things got out of hand. You lose your emotions sometimes. He lost his emotions, I lost mine. It’s not a good thing for our sport. You work on yourself for those things not to happen, but sometimes it happens.”
“I think it’s going to take this rivalry to a new level,” said A-Rod, who had bruises on his handsome face. “The intensity is something I’ve never really seen before.”
The best bout was an undercard affair near the Sox on-deck circle, where Yankees starting pitcher Tanyon Sturtze (Worcester’s own) collared Gabe Kapler from behind. The two went to the ground. The barbell-swallowing Kapler, who could bench press the tarp roll if he wanted, and therefore needed no help, immediately was assisted by teammates David Ortiz and Trot Nixon. Sturtze was bleeding around his left ear when the fight ended and wounded his right pinkie (X-rays were negative).
Pedro Martinez wisely elected to guard the equipment until the shouting and shoving subsided. When it was over, Varitek, Rodriguez, Kapler, and Kenny Lofton were ejected, and suspensions may follow.
“I was just trying to protect Bronson,” said Varitek. “For protecting a teammate, I’ll take whatever comes.”
The Fenway lawn still was littered with a bleeding Yankee starting pitcher, bullpen reinforcements, and sundry security officers yesterday when Fox television folks unearthed vintage footage of Carlton Fisk and Thurman Munson rolling in the dirt around home plate in the summer of 1973. The network also produced a grainy reel of Bill Lee getting his shoulder twisted out of its socket by a couple of Yankees in 1976. And now they’ll have Varitek dope-slapping A-Rod, triggering a donnybrook worthy of last October’s playoff mano a mano featuring Pedro and Don Zimmer.
Yankees skipper Joe Torre said, “Our rivalry is like no other rivalry. It’s something when you want to win a ballgame and you’re out there defending your space.”
The Sox got some initial bounce off the bout, scoring a pair off Sturtze in the third, then two more to take a 4-3 lead in the fourth, but Arroyo and his bullpen people could not sustain the momentum. New York scored six in the sixth inning -- an inning in which Francona was ejected for arguing a close play at second base.
The Sox scored four in the bottom of the sixth, cutting the lead to 9-8. It was 10-8 in the bottom of the ninth when Nomar Garciaparra (three hits) led off with a double to left-center. With one out Kevin Millar (four hits) scored Garciaparra with a single to right to make it 10-9. Then Mueller worked the count to 3-1, and drove a long homer into the bullpen in right-center. Varitek almost hit his head on the clubhouse ceiling when he watched the homer on the locker room TV.
There was quite a convention of Red Sox at home plate.
“It’s just one of those great feelings,” said Mueller. “Twenty-four guys, everybody at home. It’s something you have to go through to experience.”
Something you have to go through to experience. Just like the Red Sox-Yankees rivalry.