On Thursday night, the Red Sox finally lost to the Yankees for the first time this season, falling victim to yet another catastrophic John Smoltz blowup. The Yankees rallied for eight runs in the bottom of the fourth and won easily, 13-6, at the new Yankee Stadium. It was the eighth win of the season for Joba Chamberlain, who hasn't suffered a loss since June 18.
The Red Sox fall from 8-0 against the Yankees this season to 8-1.
That record still looks pretty darn good, but with the current state of the pennant race between these two teams, it's more than a little misleading.
It's been nearly two months since the Red Sox and Yankees faced off head-to-head. From June 9 to June 11, the two teams met for a three-game set at Fenway, with the Red Sox winning all three. A lot has changed since then.
Those were the old Yankees. It was a different team in early June — the Yankees were without their catcher, Jorge Posada, and the superstar in the heart of their order, Alex Rodriguez, was on the slow road back from injury as well. Chien-Ming Wang was still embarrassing himself in the middle of the Yankees' rotation. The bullpen was still a work in progress.
Over the past two months, the Yankees have rediscovered themselves. They're slugging up and down the order, they're pitching well innings one through nine, and they're winning. Even against the Red Sox.
The Red Sox now sit 3 1/2 games back of the Yankees for first place in the American League East. Things might get easier for the Sox in the rest of this series, as Josh Beckett, Clay Buchholz and Jon Lester are slated to start the next three, but this team still has its work cut out for it.
To get back into the running for an AL East crown, the Red Sox have to bear down right now and win. Another loss, and they'll be 4 1/2 back. This thing's slipping away.
This isn't an admission of defeat on the Red Sox' behalf, but let's face it: There's always the wild card. The Red Sox currently lead the AL among non-division leaders, holding onto a two-game edge over the Rangers, so if the season ended today, they would play on into October.
And really, that's all that matters. As long as you make that final eight, you've got a shot at World Series glory. Once you make it to October, no one really cares how you got there.
Remember, the Red Sox didn't win the AL East in 2004. They won 98 games and finished three out of first place. But that didn't stop them from beating the Yankees — the division champions, for the record — in Games 4 through 7 of the ALCS en route to a world championship.
No one's saying the Red Sox should give up on the East entirely and sneak in past those Rangers. Pulling even with the Yankees now would certainly be a good move. But the fallback option is there, and the Red Sox know it.
No one likes admitting defeat. But the Yankees put a real hurting on the Red Sox in their series opener in the Bronx, and they're clearly poised to establish themselves as the American League's team to beat.
The Red Sox' playoff chances are still good — one way or another, they'll find a way into October. It's hard to bet against them on that.
But the Yankees made a statement Thursday night, and it could easily be heard 200 miles up I-95: These Bronx Bombers aren't backing down. They're in charge of the AL East for the time being, and knocking them off won't be easy.
But if you're looking for someone to beat the Yankees, you might want to look at the team that's beaten them eight times already this season. That would be the team that takes the field again at Yankee Stadium on Friday night.
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