Fortunately for them, the rules of Major League Baseball had something to do with that destiny.
Because the Yankees, like the Red Sox, have upwards of 40 players littering their dugout and bullpen, the late-September all-or-nothing affair took on the feel of a mid-March meeting in Fort Myers, only with one team going for the jugular with the other just hoping a September call-up could do something special.
That’s not meant to take anything away from Boston. Thanks to great pitching, a couple of clutch plays in the field and one monstrous hit by the luminescent Jacoby Ellsbury, it outlasted its rival on a night that it absolutely had to outlast its rival.
However, consider the way in which it occurred.
John Lackey pitched well, overcoming a rocky first inning to go six-plus. As the game wore on, a Yankees lineup already missing a handful of regulars began to get filled with the Brandon Lairds and Greg Golsons of the world. And it was that lineup — now roughly half Scranton, half New York — that managed to scrape across the tying run in the seventh, forcing seven more innings against the best Boston could muster.
The winning effort required Jonathan Papelbon to throw a season-high 2 1/3 innings. He was outstanding, as clutch as he’s ever been. Two of his four strikeouts came against Austin Romine and Golson.
It required Franklin Morales to throw a season-high 44 pitches in two scoreless innings of his own. He was outstanding, as clutch as he’s ever been. He got Ramiro Pena, Romine and Eduardo Nunez to escape a mini-jam in the 12th, not exactly the guys you would see if this game were to have been played in June.
It required Ellsbury’s tie-breaking, three-run blast in the top of the 14th, his third home run of the day and further proof that the Red Sox center fielder is the team MVP, if not the entire league. It came off a has-been in Scott Proctor who has given up 10 runs on 16 hits and 10 walks in just 8 1/3 innings with New York, good for a 3.12 WHIP and a .421 opponents batting average.
And it required Boston to overcome two caught stealings in as many attempts (one on a pickoff), one bunt attempt that failed miserably and one inning-ending double play, all in the last seven innings when a tie game began to take on that Fort Myers feel (with the exception of the gripping tension in one dugout, of course).
Yes, the Yankees used Rafael Soriano, Mariano Rivera, Jorge Posada and Brett Gardner in the late innings, but they never played like a desperate team and Joe Girardi passed on opportunities to make more aggressive moves. Boston had eight players appear in at least 17 innings on the day, including five who played all 23 innings. The only Yankee to appear in as many as 17 innings was outfielder Chris Dickerson.
The Red Sox deserve all the credit in the world for their win. Because of the nature of September baseball, they had an opportunity to seize a victory against a second-rate Yankees team that was intent on keeping its Hall of Famers on the bench wearing hoodies. And they did.
At another time of the year, that game plays out in a very different manner, which raises the issue of how expanded rosters impact the style of baseball down the stretch. That may be something for the commissioner’s office to explore one day. Terry Francona has said himself that he is not necessarily in favor of expanded rosters in September.
On this night, he had to be, for it presented just enough of an opportunity for his team to scratch and claw its way to a vital victory.
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