NEW YORK — Following a heartbreaking loss Sunday night in New York the Red Sox’ playoff chances were as slim as playoff chances can get. They have to win each of their remaining seven games while the Yankees have to lose each of their last six just to force a tie.
Despite that grim outlook, Boston leaves town with its head held high. The Sox are aware of the situation but they are also proud that they did not lie down against their rivals in a series capped by the Yanks’ 4-3 victory in 10 innings.
“We came in and we played balls out for three games, that’s all you can ask,” said Bill Hall, whose RBI single in the top of the ninth off Mariano Rivera tied the game 3-3. “We still have one game left that we can’t lose. We’re gonna continue to try to win out. We came in here and showed people what kind of character this team has. I’m proud of the way the guys played this weekend. It was unbelievable.”
Boston entered with no margin for error. It took a 10-8 slugfest in Friday’s opener and rode Jon Lester to a 7-3 win Saturday afternoon, opening up talk that they could still be alive when the Yankees come to Fenway Park next weekend. That alone lifted the morale and gave the Sox the impetus to lay it all on the line.
“If you really love this game you’re going to go out there and play your best,” said catcher Victor Martinez. “That’s what we did.”
The two victories, which were also the third and fourth consecutive losses for New York, forced Yankees manager Joe Girardi to give the ball to Phil Hughes on Sunday night, two days after saying he would bump Hughes to Wednesday in order to give his young All-Star some more rest in advance of the postseason.
With no playoff berth locked up just yet and Boston gaining ground by the day, Girardi’s decision exhibited the urgency of the situation. The Sox, knowing they were the ones who brought on that urgency, were proud to have stirred the pot and played an incredibly passionate series.
“We put a little fear in their heart,” Hall said. "He planned on starting someone else. They ended up going with one of the aces of their staff. That gave us a lot of respect going into this game. They knew that it was almost a must-win for them.”
Sunday saw a little of everything, with the Sox going toe-to-toe with the Yanks in a classic duel between the two foes. Daisuke Matsuzaka outdueled Hughes for six innings before an Alex Rodriguez two-run shot in the seventh gave New York its first lead in 28 innings.
Two singles, four stolen bases and a sacrifice fly by Mike Lowell, who had not started two straight games after taking a grounder off his head Friday, capped the rally off Rivera.
Jonathan Papelbon blew his eighth save in a nail-biting bottom half of the inning and a bases-loaded walk issued by Hideki Okajima in the 10th gave the Yanks a walk-off win.
It was the Sox who walked off, headed for the sunset. Meanwhile, the Bronx Bombers chased each other around the infield like a pack of kids breaking for recess. Had Boston’s rally held up, the weight of the world would’ve been on the shoulders of the New Yorkers as they went to Toronto. When the winning run touched home that weight was lifted, and the Yanks showed their relief.
Although that scene will make many in New England a bit nauseous, the Red Sox will take comfort in knowing they made the Yankees sweat.
“For us to just come in here and lay down and give them three wins is not our ballclub,” Papelbon said. “We’re gonna go out there and fight and battle to the end, just like everybody did tonight.”
The final nail in the coffin still needs to come before that “X” can be put next to New York in the standings. At least it didn’t arrive while the Sox were in town.