The game was won for the Yankees when Giancarlo Stanton launched a 452-foot grand slam over everything in left field in the eighth inning on Saturday night.
That’ll be the lasting image of New York’s 5-3 victory, a ball that should have been tracked by NASA instead of Statcast.
It seemed like everybody in the sellout crowd at Fenway Park threw their arms in the air, Sox fans in despair and Yankees fans in joy.
But the game was lost for the Red Sox three batters earlier when Tanner Houck got ahead of Brett Gardner 1-and-2 and walked him.
Gardner, a stone in their shoe for 14 years, saucily tossed his bat aside and merrily jogged down to first.
The game was lost again a batter later when Houck got to a 2-and-2 count against Aaron Judge and walked him on two sliders.
“They put together some good [at-bats] and held off on some good pitches,” said Houck, who walked four of the eight batters he faced.
“Just kind of tip your cap. It’s just unfortunate in that circumstance … It obviously stings now. The great thing about this game is we come back tomorrow and we’ve got to play again.”
It was lost for a third time when lefthander Darwinzon Hernandez was called in to face lefthanded hitting Anthony Rizzo and hit him with a pitch. If it hadn’t hit him, it would have been ball four.
It took that series of events to get Stanton to the plate and by then all Hernandez had for him was a 94-mile-per-hour fastball over the heart of the plate.
“Baseball happened,” catcher Kevin Plawecki said later when recounting the inning.
And the Yankees were ready.
“You see it coming, right? When they go to the lefty there, they’re kind of putting their chips with getting Rizzo out,” Yankees manager Aaron Boone said.
“We obviously like the matchup of Stanton coming up there.”
Sox manager Alex Cora felt like Hernandez was a good choice because even if he didn’t get Rizzo, he’s pitched well against righthanded hitters this season.
The Sox value Hernandez as their solution to the three-batter minimum.
“His stuff plays,” Cora said. “It’s not that you’re thinking something negative is going to happen with the lefty. But we do believe he can get the righty out, too, in that spot.”
But here’s the problem: Stanton was happy to see Hernandez.
“I’d obviously rather face a lefty than a righty at any time,” said the linebacker-sized slugger, who belted a three-run homer to help the Yankees to an 8-3 victory on Friday.
Josh Taylor likely would have been Cora’s first choice. But he wasn’t available because of a sore back. Austin Davis was available, but the Sox see him as more of a lefty specialist.
You could also argue that this game was lost a few weeks ago when All-Star closer Matt Barnes fell into a slump and lost his job. The bullpen has been a daily puzzle since.
If Barnes were waiting to handle the ninth, Adam Ottavino would have been an easy choice for the eighth inning. Instead it was Houck, a rookie who may ultimately land in the bullpen but has been a starter most of this season.
Now the Sox and Yankees are tied for the first wild card at 88-67. They play for the final time Sunday night with Eduardo Rodriguez facing Jordan Montgomery.
The Sox still have the advantage. They close with six games against the Orioles and Nationals. The Yankees play the Blue Jays in Toronto then finish with a series against the first-place Rays.
The Sox also hold the tiebreaker, having won the season series against the Yankees.
Cora was remarkably unruffled afterward. His team survived a summer slump and a COVID-19 outbreak to get to this point. They’ve gotten up from worse than Stanton’s home run, thunderous as it was.
The Sox said in February they wanted to play important games late in the season. Here they are.