NEW YORK — Was it 2003 or 2004?
Was it Grady or Tito?
Quintin Berry or Dave Roberts?
Mariano Rivera or Mariano Rivera?
Alfonso Soriano or Bonehead Merkle?
Tim Wakefield, Keith Foulke, or Koji Uehara?
The high-flying Red Sox came to the Large Apple Thursday night and we saw a regular-season game for the ages. Absolutely everything happened. In the end, the hardball gods were with the Sox, just as they have been all season. Soriano ran the Yankees out of an inning, Cowboy Joe West blew a call, Mike Napoli and Shane Victorino got the big hits, and Uehara was perfect again. Oh, and the son of a former Red Sox outfielder couldn’t handle a throw from Ichiro, which allowed the winning run to score.
Red Sox 9, Yankees 8. In 10 innings. In 4 hours, 32 minutes. And they’ll do it three more times this weekend and six more times over the final 20 games of the season.
Both teams were hot coming into the game. The Yankees had won 12 of 17 since Ryan Dempster hit Alex Rodriguez at Fenway. The Red Sox had won nine of 11 and held a 5½-game lead in the American League East.
It was the first meeting of hardball’s Athens and Sparta since the infamous Dempster/A-Rod game Aug. 18. That game has taken on mythic proportions here in the Apple and if the Bombers wind up getting a wild-card spot it has a chance to be the equal of Boston’s Varitek/A-Rod dust-up from 2004.
The Sox were riding the wave of their eight-homer, 20-run barrage against the first-place Tigers Wednesday night and they picked up where they left off, hitting a couple of homers and rattling 12 hits around the yard in seven innings to take a 7-2 lead.
That’s when things got really interesting.
True confession: My boss had called before the game (the sports editor boss, not the John Henry boss) and asked me to do some tweeting during the night. Seemed harmless enough. And so sometime just before 10, with the Red Sox running amok, I sent out this little ditty:
“Yankees showing us nothing tonight. Total rollover for relentless Red Sox thus far . . .”
I hadn’t been so sure about an outcome since watching the Yankees leading the Rays, 7-0, in the eighth inning on Sept. 28, 2011.
That’s when John Farrell went all Grady on us. And the rest of the way was just one flashback after another.
Farrell sent Jake Peavy out for the seventh even though Peavy was at 105 pitches (that was always the number that turned Pedro Martinez into a pumpkin in New York). Peavy gave up a walk and a hit and Farrell was forced to introduce Raging Bullpen.
Farrell had used Brandon Workman in Wednesday’s 20-4 game, so he went to Matt Thornton and Thornton was awful. Thornton and the increasingly shaky Junichi Tazawa conspired to turn the 7-2 lead into an 8-7 deficit.
Enter Sandman. Mariano Rivera, the greatest closer in the history of the game — the man on the mound when Roberts stole second in 2004 — came in to close it out in the ninth. With two out and nobody aboard, we were all ready for Napoli to whiff to finish the game, but Napoli crushed a single to right. Then Berry (no relation to Chuck) pinch ran, stole second, and took third on a throwing error. Naturally, the ever-maligned Stephen Drew singled to tie the game.
The Yanks looked set to win it in the ninth, but Soriano got picked off twice by Craig Breslow. Daniel Nava gave Soriano a second life when he dropped the first pickoff toss. But Soriano was dead meat a second time when Breslow caught him breaking from second base.
“He can’t get thrown out,’’ said Yankees manager Joe Girardi.
That was just the beginning of Girardi’s frustration.
With Jacoby Ellsbury on second and one out in a tie game in the 10th, Joba Chamberlain almost fanned Victorino on a 1-2 pitch.
Enter Cowboy Joe.
Victorino attempted to check his swing and replays indicated he should have been called out.
But it was not clear to Cowboy Joe. When the Yankees appealed to first, West indicated that Victorino had held up.
“I thought he went, but you have to be able to overcome things,’’ said Girardi.
Naturally, Victorino punched a single to right on the next pitch.
That wasn’t the end of it. Ichiro charged, gathered the ball, and unleashed his bazooka. The throw was on the mark, but took a short, tough hop, and Austin Romine (son of Kevin Romine, who played for Tollway Joe Morgan) could not handle the throw. Ellsbury was safe, Chamberlain was lifted (and ejected), and the Sox had a one-run lead for the new greatest closer in the history of baseball.
Uehara worked a 1-2-3 ninth, fanning the final two batters — including an epic 12-pitch at-bat against Lyle Overbay, who was cut by the Red Sox in March. This was Uehara’s 23d consecutive scoreless appearance, totaling 25 innings. Of the last 83 batters he has faced, only seven have reached base.
Oh, and before we forget, there was even a brushback pitch. Maybe. Rivera put Jonny Gomes on his butt with a first-pitch, 91-mile-per-hour fastball in the ninth.
But Rivera blew the save. And the Red Sox converted their breaks into victory and are now 28 games over .500. Maybe they’ll clinch with a week to play. Maybe they’ll win 100. Maybe we’ll keep doubting them until the parade goes through Copley Square.