The urgency of this Red Sox-Yankees series feels like late September
NEW YORK — Things did not get off to a swell start for your Boston Red Sox in the first game of their showdown series with the Yankees on Friday.
New York’s Baby Bombers rained four homers on the heads of the Sox en route to an 8-1 victory that vaulted the Yankees back into first place (mere percentage points; it is a virtual tie) in a division race that is shaping up as one of the greatest chases in the history of the sport.
According to the vaunted Elias Sports Bureau, the last time two teams with winning percentages of .667 or higher met this late in a season was in 1954 when the Yankees played the Cleveland Indians. The Tribe went on to win 111 games that year. The Yanks won 103 and went home.
That’s where we might be headed in the AL East in 2018. Whoever finishes second in the division is destined (doomed?) to play a one-game elimination contest, probably against the Seattle Mariners before the true start of the playoffs. This is why every game this weekend — every game this season — is so meaningful. Either the Sox or the Yankees could win 105 games, then go home after losing a one-game playoff. MLB, Fox Sports, and most baseball fans are hoping the Sox and Yankees advance to face one another in the ALCS for the first time since 2004 (remind me again, who won that one?).
There is no shortage of hype for this midseason meeting — the rumble in the asphalt jungle of The Bronx. The folks from Fox will telecast the Saturday night game across the land — hello Chris Sale — and then we’ll get ESPN’s Sunday Night Baseball with A-Rod and Jess Mendoza, as David Price returns to the Apple for the first time in more than 3½ fortnights.
Sale and Price have to hope they fare better than Eduardo Rodriguez, who was pounded for two homers and five runs in the first four innings Friday.
The Sox, who came into the series with a 55-27 record, presumably spent the first four innings of Friday’s loss asking one another, “Why aren’t we ahead, 9-1 yet? Is this supposed to be competitive? Why can’t we go back to playing the Angels and Orioles every day?’’
It’s always weird when the Tomato Can is in your own kitchen.
New York jumped to a 1-0 lead in the second when rookie flash Gleyber Torres smoked a leadoff triple off the center-field wall. Spiderman Jackie Bradley Jr. almost made another spectacular catch, then narrowly missed nailing Torres with a heat-seeking throw to third. A price was paid when Miguel Andujar dumped the next pitch into a no-man’s zone in shallow right-center. The ball plopped on the grass in the middle of four Sox defenders and one couldn’t help but think that Dustin Pedroia might have had a chance. Eduardo Nunez? Not so much.
The Sox weren’t able to do much with CC Sabathia. Newcomer Steve Pearce — who is something of a CC killer — doubled to lead off the second, but was stranded. Pearce singled to start the fourth and was immediately erased on a double-play grounder.
“That might have been his best outing,’’ Yankees manager Aaron Boone said about Sabathia. “This [Red Sox team] is a really good offensive club. CC set the tone. We haven’t had a lot of games where we just ran out.’’
Far be it from me to critique any personnel moves by the Sox, but Pearce has effectively replaced Hanley Ramirez in the Sox offense, right? He is the righty bat who’ll start against lefties when Mitch Moreland needs a break. The Sox lead the majors in runs, so there is not much to question, but find another first-place team that DFA’d its No. 3 hitter, then took a guy off the scrap heap on Thursday and inserted him into the cleanup spot in the biggest game of the year the next night. Strange days indeed.
The roof fell in on Rodriguez in the fourth when Andujar and Greg Bird (wearing No. 33, which is not an homage to Larry) hit back-to-back homers to left to make it 5-0. Something we did not expect to hear in the fourth inning of the first game of this series: “Number 65, righthander Justin Haley now throwing in the Red Sox bullpen.’’
The Sox scratched out a run off CC in the fifth on a pair of two-out doubles by Betts and Andrew Benintendi, but CC kept them in check through seven.
Haley came on to pitch the seventh for Boston and surrendered a two-run moonshot to Aaron Judge, then another bomb to Bird in the eighth.
The Sox and Yanks are going to be battling one another through the last weekend of September. They will duel 12 more times this season, including six games over the final 13 days of the season.
It was 90 degrees at the Stadium Friday. Alex Cora said, “It feels like the Caribbean.’’
But the urgency feels like late September.