Every loss stings, but the Red Sox’ 9-5 loss to the Yankees on Friday night hurts much more than usual. And it will be at least five days before anyone really knows how much damage was done to Boston’s championship hopes.
Until Jon Lester makes another start and shows he is no worse for the wear after taking a Melky Cabrera line drive off the inside of his right knee, New England is going to need some supersized oxygen tanks to replenish the oxygen levels of Red Sox fans holding their breath.
The X-rays on Lester’s knee were negative, and the team’s public response was positive. But on a scale of 1 to 37 of concern — with 1 being “everything is going to be fine,” and 37 being “oh, (fill in your favorite expletive), the fat lady is dead” — this is about a 31.
That’s Lester’s number, and it’s a number the Red Sox will need to call in the postseason with confidence. Otherwise, it could be a very short stay in October for the American League’s likely wild card.
Boston’s starting staff was shaping up to be the best of any playoff team. Now it’s looking as unpredictable as a weather report thanks to one untimely, misplaced hit. Cabrera might as well have just taken a crow bar to Lester’s knee. At least the lefty would have seen it coming and might have been able to get out of the way.
If Lester doesn’t return to form, the Melk Man will be cursed and maligned from every corner of Red Sox Nation. He can look forward to a lifetime of being treated with the same respect as Bucky Dent, Aaron Boone and every other Yankees villain who ever stomped out a Red Sox dream like he was extinguishing a cigarette.
Lester is the linchpin of Boston’s rotation. The 25-year-old has been the team’s most consistent starter in the second half and has developed into one of the game’s most dominating left-handers. But now the Red Sox’ surest starter is a question mark. The ace in the hole has become a possible gaping hole.
Forget about the Red Sox lining up their rotation over the last week of the season. They are just hoping and praying to have a whole starting staff by the time the playoffs begin.
Lester is vital to Boston’s success. As long as he is all right, the Red Sox will be all right in their quest to win a third World Series this decade.
But Lester’s early exit against the Yankees overshadowed his rough outing when he was standing on the mound. In 2 1/3 innings, he allowed five runs on eight hits (including a home run to Alex Rodriguez), struck out three, walked three and made 78 pitches. In the end, he suffered his first loss since July 19.
It was an ugly, forgettable night all the way around for Boston. The Yankees exposed some Red Sox flaws, and the pinstripes proved they are skilled at knocking down opponents.
Now Boston needs to get off the mat and make a statement of its own.
Then we shall see which team is best at delivering the knockout blow.
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