It was a recipe for disaster.
Five home runs later — two by Victor Martinez – and it appeared as if not only would disaster be averted, but the Sox would have their best win of the year, a come-from-behind triumph against New York when they absolutely needed it the most.
Alas, the pendulum had one more swing, and the Yankees had two.
Called upon to protect a 9-7 lead in the ninth, closer Jonathan Papelbon allowed a pair of two-run homers to Alex Rodriguez and Marcus Thames, the first reducing the chance that the signature win would ever come, the second turning a potential turn-the-season-around victory into one of the most painful losses this year.
"Just flat fastballs that weren’t located, poorly executed pitches," Papelbon said of the two he would like to have back. "When you don’t execute the pitch you want, usually in my situation, bad things happen."
Bad things, indeed. With the loss the Sox fell a season-high 8 1/2 games out in the American League East and now sit at 4-6 in a grueling stretch of seven straight series against teams with winning records.
The latest setback was made all the more worse by the fact that they fought so hard to turn the game around.
Even manager Terry Francona, normally so intent on taking a loss as nothing more than a loss, could not avoid reflecting on what might’ve been.
"Well, every game we set out to win. When you lose late, it kind of sits with you a bit more," he said. "We had a chance to have a great win tonight…we battled and got the lead. You just have to accept it and move on."
But all that hard work resulting in nothing more than a loss makes acceptance a difficult thing to find.
The Yankees led 5-0 before Boston starter Daisuke Matsuzaka could even get out of the first inning. It was still 6-1 entering the fourth and Hughes was in control. That’s when the Red Sox’ bats came out, adding life to a lifeless dugout.
David Ortiz was the first to get into the act, launching his sixth home run in the month of May into the seats in right.
J.D. Drew slugged a three-run bomb in the fifth to cut the Red Sox’ deficit to 6-5, and, after New York scored in the bottom of the inning, Martinez lined one into the first row of the left-field stands to keep Boston within one.
Then, what could’ve gone down as the biggest hits of the year, if not for the ninth-inning collapse, came in the eighth. Kevin Youkilis followed a leadoff single by J.D. Drew with a two-run bomb to give the Sox their first lead of the night, and Victor Martinez launched his second solo shot over the Yankees bullpen seconds later. Red Sox 9, Yankees 7.
About an hour later, Thames was getting a face full of shaving cream in front of the New York dugout, the tradition that has punctuated so many walk-off wins for the Yankees in their new stadium, while the Sox were left with another soul-searching session and a quick turnaround before another “must-win.”
"We battled. It happened real fast in the end," said second baseman Dustin Pedroia. "It’s tough. We’ll come out tomorrow and play hard."
To his credit, Papelbon had already moved on from the blown save, his first since last July, snapping a string of 22 straight. It’s the closer’s mentality, he said, referring to Mariano Rivera’s blown save one day earlier on the very same field.
And his manager, although frustrated, had turned an eye toward some of the positives.
"We did a lot of good things tonight," Francona said. "I thought our guys showed a lot of enthusiasm. We fell behind early against one of the toughest pitchers in the league and really battled to get the lead back."
Finally, Francona offered up some concession to how much of a grind it is to dig out of a hole.
"It’s a tough way to play," he said.
In the end, it was a tough way to lose. Perhaps more so than any other defeat the Red Sox have suffered this year.