Was a sweep too much to ask?
Red Sox fans are a greedy lot. That’s what happens when you win four championships over 15 seasons.
And so sweep talk dominated the Boston baseball landscape in the hours leading up to Sunday night’s ESPN hardball festival.
The 2019 Sox — sluggish for so much of this season — pantsed the first-place Yankees over the first three games of this series. Boston won all three games, outscoring New York by a whopping 38-13. The Sox struck a ridiculous 33 extra-base hits over three days, winning games by hideous scores of 19-3, 10-5, and 9-5. Brutal beatings, every one.
Was a sweep in the cards for Sunday? The Sox had Chris Sale — the greatest modern-day pitcher who rarely wins a game — toeing the slab against a reeling Yankee team that seemed to be putting another player on the 10-day injured list every 24 hours. What could possibly go wrong? This was going to be another sweep in the proud tradition of Sox-Yankee beatdowns.
And then the game started and it was not quite the layup Sox fans were expecting. The Yanks thrashed Sale and the Sox, 9-6.
Sale, everyone’s favorite gunslinger, spit the bit again. The erstwhile ace lefty gave up six runs on five hits (two homers) and three walks in 5⅓ innings. He is 0-3 with a 7.71 ERA in three starts against the Yankees this season. But, man, oh man, can he strike guys out. Seven more Sunday. He’s at 189 second in the league. NESN just loves that.
But ask yourself this, Sox fans. If Boston makes it to a one-game wild card, do you want your $150 million ace on the mound?
Sale had poor command, throwing only 56 of his 100 pitches for strikes. He walked No. 8 hitter Cameron Maybin in the third, then surrendered a no-doubt home run to No. 9 hitter Austin Romine on a hanging changeup. In the next inning, Sale walked Luke Voit, then coughed up another two-run homer — this one on a hanging slider — to Didi Gregorius. Sale is not in the habit of giving up homers to lefthanded hitters.
Mock the Yankees all you like, Sox fans. The S.S. Steinbrenner certainly appears to be taking on water. But Thursday is Aug. 1 and Sale has five wins over 22 starts. If the playoffs started today, the Red Sox would not be in the tournament.
Still think they have finally turned things around?
Gregorius, you might remember, said this on the eve of the showdown series: “Every time we get a chance to play them and you get a chance to bury them, that’s all you want to do: keep extending the lead.
Old-timer fans could not help but reminisce.
Here are some Red Sox Yankee second-half sweeps we have known.
The gold standard forever will be 1978 when the Yankees came to Boston in September, trailing by four games, and whipped the Sox four straight by an aggregate count of 42-9.
The finale was the worst. That was the day that Sox manager Don Zimmer refused to pitch Yankee-killer Bill Lee because he hated the Spaceman. Mighty Yaz went to Zimm before the game and begged the Skipper to use Lee, but Zimmer opened his desk drawer and whipped out a bunch of negative press clippings attributed to the Spaceman. Zimm insisted that rookie Bobby Sprowl had “ice water in his veins” and would get the job done.
Alas, Sprowl did not survive the first inning and actually never won a game in the big leagues. The Yankees completed the sweep with a 7-4 win, and went on to win the World Series.
In 2006, the Yankees virtually eliminated the Sox with a (five-game) sweep of Boston at Fenway. The first three games were 12-4, 14-11, and 13-5. Manny Ramirez went 9 for 11 with nine walks early in the series, then decided to quit on his team for the rest of the season due to a sore hamstring.
When manager Terry Francona asked Manny which hamstring hurt, Manny said, “You choose.’’
After the third of the five losses, the team went on a three-hour cruise on John Henry’s yacht to celebrate Theo Epstein’s engagement. Years later, Theo admitted, “The timing was brutal.’’
The fifth and final loss featured Kevin Youkilis ripping Fenway’s official scorer and David Wells insulting Keith Foulke after Foulke gave up the winning run.
Years later, when he was first working for the Cubs, Theo looked back on that lost weekend and exclaimed, “Who [expletive] loses a five-game series? We don’t ever play five-game series!’’
Fast forward to a better memory in August 2018 when the Sox effectively ended the AL East race with an early August four-game sweep of the Yankees at Fenway. The series inflated Boston’s lead over the Yankees to 9½ games. It was pretty impressive considering that the 2018 Yankees were a 100-win team. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, it marked the first time in 79 years that the Red Sox swept a series of four or more games against a team that was at least 30 games over .500 at the start of the series.
The 2019 New York Yankees were 66-35 at the start of this weekend’s series.
It should have been a sweep with Chris Sale dominating.
But that would have been too easy.
Nothing is easy for the Red Sox this year. And nothing is easy for Chris Sale, the once-dominant pitcher with the 5-10 record.