All it takes is one home run — or two. Or balls slipping through short, or runners just beating out tags.
All it takes is one night that defies the path of an entire season.
That night was Friday night for the Red Sox, as a year in which they’ve dominated and a year in which the Yankees have been shells of themselves suddenly switched course. The best offense in Major League Baseball was at Fenway Park on Friday night, as was the most maligned player in the game. But this time, the Yankees were the ones driving in runs, and not even waves of boos rippling over Alex Rodriguez could keep New York from being New York to Boston’s Boston for one more night.
What’s been so great about this year for Red Sox fans is not just that Boston has been better than expected. It’s nice that the pitching is back to form and that a good collection of bats has become the hottest team in baseball.
The best part of this season for Sox fans, though, is not the lightning in a bottle but rather the affirmation that Boston is not just good now but can be good for a long time with this group — and that, as the Sox are playing well, the Yankees have finally begun the nosedive they’ve been asking for.
After seasons of milking production out of aging talent that had no business dominating the American League East, the Yankees’ ways are finally catching up with them. Huge contracts haven’t just underperformed — they’ve hit the disabled list for extended stretches, some of them for the rest of the season. From Rodriguez to Mark Teixeira to Derek Jeter to Curtis Granderson, the team that always paid its way out of misfortune is instead getting popped in the mouth by karma for its habits. First came the games when Lyle Overbay and Vernon Wells were improbably keeping the team afloat. Then came the fold.
The Yankees were fighting to stay above .500 earlier this month, while the Red Sox were looking like they’d take care of the single-season walk-off record by month’s end. But one Red Sox road trip later, after Boston went 4-6 against the Astros, Royals and Blue Jays (ouch), and the Yankees got 27-year-old Alfonso Soriano back despite dealing for him at 37 years old (10-for-14 with four home runs, 14 RBIs over three games coming into Friday), it’s anyone’s game again.
The Red Sox have dominated this year, but on Friday night at Fenway Park, with a prime chance to get back on track against a punchless Yankees team and its punchable poster boy, Boston instead came up empty.
It’s hard to know where to pin this loss, which essentially was cemented within the first three frames. Felix Doubront, who was Boston’s best pitcher for much of the summer, lost the handle immediately, giving up six runs on six hits over the first three innings, including a two-run bomb to Mark Reynolds and a three-spot to Soriano. (Reynolds could be a fine scapegoat for Sox fans who want to chide the Yankees for being able to buy anybody — but, considering Reynolds’ big league track record and availability this year, his acquisition and immediate luck for the Yankees is more like the 2013 Overbay-Wells good fortune, not the Yankees getting everything they want because they can pay. He was there for any team to take, and New York was desperate. His numbers should even out.) Doubront hadn’t allowed more than three earned runs in a game since May 8, but he was off the mark from the get-go against the Yankees.
Just as much blame could be handed to the Boston batting order, though. A team that has not only dominated the traditional offensive statistics but has also shown a penchant for getting hits at timely moments and moving runners along was absolutely putrid for much of Friday night. Continuing a trend that started on their poor road trip, the Red Sox failed to show the same spark and production at the plate Friday that has paced them for much of the season.
Andy Pettitte does get some kind of hat tip for handcuffing Boston, though. He didn’t allow a hit until facing his ninth batter of the night, and he bounced back in the fourth frame to limit a rally to one run. He looked to be trucking for a complete game before a few Red Sox hits got to him in the seventh. But considering Pettitte’s up and (mostly) down season so far, it wouldn’t have been a stretch to think he was ripe for the taking Friday night. Pettitte, who was once the Yankees’ best stopper when New York was coming off a loss, has shown his age this season. He’s been just another crack in the crumbling of the Yankees’ long run of dominance. Knocking him around would have really signaled a changing of the guard.
But a changing of the guard was not due at Fenway Park on Friday night.
Rodriguez was booed, but he was not cowed. He came through for two hits and a run scored, and not even the throaty crowd could force his foolish pregame words into an on-field collapse.
The Yankees came in against a wall, but they weren’t held there. They were allowed to break out and capitalize, to fulfill the narrative they’ve been given and fulfilled for so long.
It’s one defeat in a long season, a collection of three bad innings that paces a game and makes it a lost evening. But that’s all it takes sometimes — one home run, or two. One disgraced slugger bopping a single through. One graybeard pitching 6 2/3 strong innings.
All it takes is one night to change the path of an entire season.