John Farrell could completely understand why John Lackey didn’t want to come out.
It was the seventh inning and he had only thrown 82 pitches. The Red Sox were leading the Yankees, 4-2.
For most of the night, Lackey strafed the Yankees lineups with fastballs, and at that point all they had mustered were a pair of sewn-together runs.
But Farrell had other things to consider.
Like the back-to-back hits Lackey gave up to Robinson Cano and Alfonso Soriano the inning prior, and more pressing, the consecutive one-out singles he gave up to Brendan Ryan and Chris Stewart.
Just that quickly the Sox were staring at the top of the Yankees lineup with momentum threatening to swing to a New York team that was trying to gain in the wild-card race.
“John never wants to come out of a game, and I respect that about him,” Farrell said. “He’s an ultimate competitor. Just watching some of the balls that they hit the inning prior, then we get into a situation where the meat of the order’s going up.”
With Curtis Granderson, Alex Rodriguez, and Cano due up, Farrell figured the smartest play was to go to the bullpen.
In a matter of three batters he watched his team’s lead disappear. But the Red Sox were able to immediately respond — getting a grand slam from Jarrod Saltalamacchia in the bottom of the inning that sealed their 8-4 win Friday night — largely because they were able to keep a rough inning from snowballing.
“John threw the ball too well tonight to not get a win,” said lefthanded reliever Craig Breslow. “But as soon as New York got back in the game, we come back out, we put pressure on them, and obviously Salty’s hit speaks for itself.”
With matchups in mind, it was Breslow who got the call from Farrell to come on for Lackey.
All the numbers made sense. In his previous 25 outings, Breslow was 3-0 with a 0.70 ERA, but beyond that, Granderson was 2 for 14 against Breslow all time and Cano was 4 for 18.
“I feel pretty comfortable and confident in whatever matchup is out there,” Breslow said.
At first, everything went according to plan. Breslow won a seven-pitch battle with Granderson, who tried desperately to check his swing but couldn’t keep himself from chasing a slider down and away.
His protest to plate umpire Ted Barrett was futile.
Still, Breslow said, “I kind of snuck through that Granderson at-bat.”
The wild card was Rodriguez, who was 2 for 6 against Breslow but 0 for 3 on the night.
“I was trying to be pretty careful with Rodriguez, not give him anything to hit,” Breslow said.
But when he walked him on five pitches, things started to unravel. It brought up Cano, who sent a line drive screaming to the gap in right-center for a game-tying, two-run double.
“Cano was the guy that I needed to get out and obviously didn’t,” Breslow said.
Breslow’s slider hung high over the middle of the plate and he knew he would pay for the mistake.
“It just comes down to executing pitches and when you don’t, you’re going to get beat regardless of the matchup, and when you do, you’ve got to be able to take your chances,” Breslow said. “That Cano at-bat is obviously the one I’m the least happy with, falling behind, leaving a ball up over the plate, and he’s obviously too good of a player to make those kinds of mistakes with.”
After Cano’s double, Brandon Workman came in to face Soriano, looking to get the last out of the inning.
“I was just trying to make sure I didn’t leave anything over the middle, give him something to hit,” Workman said. “I was trying to make sure he had to hit my pitch.
Workman got Soriano to bounce to third and handed the keys over to the Sox offense.
“That’s all I was trying to do was keep the game tied up so we could give our offense a chance,” he said. “You’ve seen all year, especially lately, if we keep them in the game, they’re going to find a way at the end of a game. That’s what I was trying to do, make sure that we didn’t give up the lead right there and kept our offense in the game.”Julian Benbow can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.