When the Red Sox steamrolled through July, most of the credit was given to an offense that put up gaudy numbers. However, one key to the surge lied in the fact that Boston's bullpen was superior to its opponent's, sporting a 2.39 ERA during the 20-6 stretch.
Superiority goes out the window when the Red Sox face the New York Yankees, who showcase the best pen in the league — one that was on full display Friday night in the Yankees' 3-2 win at Fenway Park.
New York's American League-leading relief corps produced 4 1/3 scoreless innings, helping its club turn around a 2-0 deficit and reclaim first place in the AL East. Manager Joe Girardi's relievers have allowed just two earned runs in the team's last 26 innings on the road, and the bullpen's ERA as a whole is now down to 3.00 for the season.
"Our bullpen's been excellent," Girardi said. "I think it's important. We've had some troubles pitching to this club. They've scored some runs off us. To be able to make some pitches like we did tonight was important for our club."
Bartolo Colon allowed two runs in 4 2/3 innings for New York. He had loaded the bases for Adrian Gonzalez in the fifth before Girardi made his first move, calling on Boone Logan in an effort to try to keep the Red Sox from blowing the game open.
In what proved to be the biggest moment of the game, Logan struck out Gonzalez on three pitches, shifting the momentum in a heartbeat. Jon Lester gave up three runs in the top of the sixth, and Girardi could then line up his shutdown unit all the way until the end of New York's eighth straight win.
Ask any Yankees fan if they wanted to see Logan on the mound in the fifth inning of the first game of a series against the best offense in baseball and they will give you the same answer. No knock on Logan, but that simply means the Red Sox did their job against Colon. That was the thinking in the Boston dugout, unaware at the time that they wouldn't mount a serious threat thereafter.
"Got [Colon's] pitch count up enough where they make a decision to go to Logan," Red Sox manager Terry Francona said. "Pretty good decision. Their bullpen shut us down. We had a chance or two, not a lot, but their bullpen really stopped us."
Logan got the first two outs of the sixth before Cory Wade came on to get the final out with a man on second.
Rafael Soriano, pitching in a big situation for the first time since May, worked a 1-2-3 seventh and David Robertson did the same in the eighth, extending his road scoreless streak to 22 2/3 innings.
Mariano Rivera gave up a one-out infield hit in the ninth before striking out Jarrod Saltalamacchia and Josh Reddick to end it. It was his 29th save.
"Those guys have great stuff," said Dustin Pedroia, who had his only hit of the night off Colon. "You get to the eighth, those two guys at the back end, they've done a great job all year. Tip your hat to them tonight."
In a nip-and-tuck race for the AL East crown, which still has eight meetings remaining, these bullpens will be incredibly important down the stretch.
Soriano's return bolsters New York's crew, giving them another late-inning option who figures to settle in ahead of Robertson and Rivera. It was Soriano’s presence that allowed Girardi to go to Logan in a matchup situation perhaps a bit earlier than he would have if his bullpen was leaner.
Instead, even in a game in which his team trailed by two runs, the Yankees manager was able to push the right buttons. And fueled by his bullpen, his team is soaring, just like Boston was back in July.
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