The attempt at venom erupted in the ninth inning, a “Yankees suck” chant that might have fit the moment – the Red Sox were two outs away from an easy 6-1 win – but couldn’t pack a real punch given the 15½-game lead the Yankees still hold over the Red Sox.
Not to blame the fans for trying. The calendar tells us it’s September and history tells us this is a series of enmity, one that is supposed to get even meaner when the season is in its final throes. But the reality of where these teams are took the bite out of the series long ago.
No, this surely wasn’t what the schedule-makers had in mind when they penciled this one in, probably the easiest decision they made in putting the 2019 season together. Instead of a taut, tense series with the American League East crown in the balance, they got a home team desperate not just to beat the Yankees, but to beat anyone.
With 6½ games between the Sox and the nearest wild-card spot when play began, this is a team that can barely afford many more losses.
“I think wins in general, they’re very precious,” Xander Bogaerts said. “We have to win a lot more.”
So no manager eruptions, no inside pitches whizzing a bit too close to batters, no boomboxes in the hallways. Too bad for baseball, which is better when the full force of bitterness of this long-standing, traditionally intense rivalry is alive.
Such is what the struggling Red Sox have wrought. No buzz. No drama. And, let’s be honest, no real surprise the Fenway Park stands were more than half empty at first pitch. Was anyone rushing into the city to see 31-year-old journeyman Jhoulys Chacin make his first Red Sox start?
Chacin did his part, two perfect innings starting a parade of seven Boston pitchers who combined to three-hit the Yankees. Chacin was the last-minute replacement for David Price, whose balky wrist scratched him from a scheduled turn in the rotation, just as Chris Sale’s angry elbow has put him out of action, just as Nathan Eovaldi’s similarly shaky elbow kept him idle for long stretches of the season, all of it adding up to another bullpen game Saturday.
Not quite the marquee matchups to go along with the likes of Sunday’s Rick Porcello/Masahiro Tanaka clash, but it’s all the Red Sox have right now. And with a glimmer of wild-card hope still flickering, they’ll take it.
“It’s definitely going to be difficult, we’re not in the best of spots, but everyone in here is looking to fight and try to help this team find ways to win,” said Mitch Moreland, whose three-run home run in the fourth gave the Sox all the cushion they would need (while also giving himself a nice 34th birthday present). “We’re going to give it our best shot.”
He was echoing manager Alex Cora’s hopeful, if wishful, tune.
“I told the guys today, let’s do what we have to do this weekend. We’ve got to win the series. And we know we have to keep winning series. But if we make it and we play that game, I don’t think too many people will like to match up with us in a playoff series,” Cora said before the game. “And that’s the fact because we’re that talented.”
Before we end up in another Bronx rehash of the team meeting that never was, Cora clarified that he wasn’t delivering any rah-rah, we-can-do-it pep talk when he referenced talking to his team, but rather chatting with different players as he made his way around the locker room.
“I know where we’re at, I know the odds are against us, but whatever percent chances we have, we still have a chance to play them in October as of now,” he told them. “So let’s not get ahead of ourselves. We’re still hungry. We know where we’re at.
“For everything I heard around the league, and where we play, [Twins manager] Rocco Baldelli told me, ‘See you in a month.’ I don’t think he’s planning on going on vacation and see me. So I don’t know. I know we haven’t played well, but we’re still talented. We’re still good. And we still got two weeks. We can get on a run, although you guys don’t believe me. But I feel that way.”
Of course he does. And I don’t doubt his sincerity. But I’m not convinced of his version of reality. The Red Sox never did deliver on their manager’s offseason “wait till this year” promise, his notion that last year’s World Series triumph was just the beginning of what this group of players could accomplish. No amount of wishful thinking across these last two weeks of the season can change that.
For every tease the Sox turned a corner, there was always another wall to crash into. The wreckage after that Yankee series was the low point, but even short bursts of success since then have proved fleeting.
“It sucks because we feel like we’re right there, we’re one swing away, one pitch away,” Cora said. “That’s the nature of our season. We still feel we’re playing good baseball. Obviously they’re a good team. The last time they were here we beat ’em three out of four. At that point, the talk was to put us away. Well that weekend they didn’t. They did it two weeks after. Probably the talk this weekend is they can put us away for good in the playoff hunt. So we’ll see where it goes.”
The Sox have a long way to go to even sniff the playoffs. Not quite what we envisioned in a September series against the Yankees.