Yankeemetrics: Welcome to the show (July 10-12)

See ya (AP/Steven Senne)
See ya (AP/Steven Senne)

Home sweet home, Fenway-style
The Yankees guaranteed they’d be alone atop the AL East at the All-Star break with their 5-1 win on Friday night, the first time that’s happened since 2012 — which also happens to be the last time the Yankees made the playoffs. Coincidence? Let’s hope not.

For the 117th time (well, almost), the Yankees got out to a quick lead thanks to a first-inning solo home run by A-Rod. It was his 26th career homer at Fenway Park, passing Reggie Jackson for the most at the ballpark by any visiting player in the Divisional Era (since 1969).

A-Rod also added another single against Clay Buchholz in the third inning, making him 13-for-29 (.448) with three homers against the Red Sox righty. That is his highest batting average versus any pitcher he’s had at least 25 at-bats against.

Michael Pineda pitched into the seventh inning and allowed just one run on seven hits to earn his first win since mid-June. He’s now gone at least 6 2/3 innings and given up one run or fewer in seven of his 17 starts this season. That’s tied with Chris Archer for the fourth-most such starts in the AL, behind only Felix Hernandez, Dallas Keuchel and David Price. Oh, by the way, all those guys except Pineda happen to be going to Cincinnati for the All-Star Game.

Saturday night stinker
For the second night in a row, the Yankees were feeling good after the top of the first inning thanks to another early homer by A-Rod … but this game didn’t have the same happy ending, as the Red Sox rallied to beat the Yankees, 5-3.

A-Rod now has 17 homers at Fenway with the Yankees, passing Jorge Posada for the most by any Yankee in the Divisional Era. It was also his eighth go-ahead homer this season, the most of any player on the team. #ClutchRod?

The only other thing that made this loss watchable was the first career major-league game for Rob Refsnyder. Before he took the field, the last Yankee to make his MLB debut against the Red Sox as a starting second baseman was Hall-of-Famer Joe Gordon in 1938. No pressure, kid!

The Yankees were shut down by 22-year-old Red Sox lefty Eduardo Rodriguez, who held them to just two runs in six-plus innings. He is the youngest Red Sox starter to allow two runs or fewer against Yankees since Roger Moret in 1971, and also became the first Boston pitcher age 22 or younger to get a win against the Yankees since a guy named Roger Clemens on April 11, 1985.

”Refsnyder has Seoul!” — you know who
Rob Refsnyder’s first major-league homer in the ninth inning ended up being the game-winner in Sunday afternoon’s rubber game, capping off a more-stressful-than-it-had-to-be 8-6 win over the Red Sox. He is the only Yankee second baseman in the last 100 years to homer in either of his first two career games.

With the win, the Yankees have now won five straight series at Fenway Park dating back to last year. The last time they had a run like that in Boston against the Sawx was when they took five series in a row there spanning the 1978-80 seasons.

Brian McCann gave the Yankees a 2-0 lead with what might be the most improbable homer as a major-leaguer: opposite field, against a lefty, on the road. Yeesh.

It was his first career homer at Fenway Park; his 74 at-bats there were his most any ballpark he hadn’t gone deep yet. The home run was also his first one to left or left-center since joining the Yankees last season, and and the only other time in his career he went oppo against a left-handed pitcher was Aug. 25, 2011 off John Grabow.

Alex Rodriguez and Brett Gardner both got hits, making them the only Yankees to have hit safely in all nine games against the Red Sox this season. A-Rod and Gardy are the first Yankee teammates to have hits in each of their first nine games played against the Red Sox in the same season since Joe DiMaggio and Lou Gehrig in 1937. #MicDrop

The players we love to hate

The New York/Boston rivalry lost a familiar face on Tuesday when Jason Varitek and his scarlet C announced his retirement. Varitek had been all but pushed out by Boston and couldn’t find or imagine finding another job with another club anywhere else. And so he’ll join the long list of players who have left the game but served as familiar faces during the halcyon days of the great Yankee/Red Sox games.

Varitek, before I get too nostalgic for a player I could barely stand to watch, was one of those guys who seemingly defined the great rivalry years from the mid 2000s. He was the player Yankee fans loved to hate, and hate him we did. Ironically, his defining moment came when he went after a Yankee whom Yankee fans love to hate. After an ill-timed beanball, Varitek and A-Rod started shoving each other in a 2004 fight. Varitek kept his mask on, and the rest, they say, was history. Yankee fans could never speak of the Sox’s catcher again without referencing his fight.

Of course, Varitek’s place in this dispute was more than just about that fight. He was supposedly the Red Sox’s answer to Jorge Posada, but the comparison never was a good one. Perhaps his pitchers liked him more, but Varitek’s bat paled in comparison to Jorge’s, and despite some unfortunately memorable home runs, Varitek’s offensive career against the Yankees was subpar. In 172 games, he hit .226/.308/.388 with just an 80 tOPS. In 2005, he battered around a bruised Yankee staff, but during most years, he didn’t do much hitting.

Yet, he was always there, a reminder of what exactly for Yankee fans? A team that would fight with its masks on? An undeservedly smug attitude? Something dirty about Boston that Yankee fans hated? Whatever it was, Jason Varitek seemed to embody that ethos, that thing that we couldn’t stand.

These days, Yankees/Red Sox games are rote affairs. We must go through the overly dramatic production of a FOX game or an ESPN special. We’re forced to pretend to be outraged when the new Red Sox manager says something strange about a thing that happened 11 years ago. We try to get worked up as though beating one team during a regular season contest is about glory, life, baseball. Plus, there are only a few guys worth even somewhat despising on the Red Sox of 2012.

So today, perhaps we lost a part of a history we can’t decide if we want to forget or remember. Varitek was around in 2003 when the Yanks dashed the Red Sox’s hopes, and Varitek was front and center when the Red Sox stormed back for an historic victory in 2004. Then he hung around for years as the Yanks and Red Sox squared off now and then in a series of sometimes-tense and sometimes-tedious regular season series. Now, with his mask still on, he’s joined the long list of players who had a starring role in during the heyday of the rivalry. I don’t think I’ll be missing him too much, but I may begrudgingly tip my cap to him on the eve of his retirement from the game we all love.

Pending physical, Scutaro to join Red Sox

The draft giveth and the draft taketh away. Although the Red Sox earned themselves two first-round picks when the Braves signed Billy Wagner last night, they may be surrendering their other first-round pick as they are on the verge of signing Marco Scutaro. Lídre Deportes first broke the news, and Ed Price has confirmed that the Sox will give Scutaro two years. Michael Silverman of The Boston Herald says the deal will include a mutual option for a third year. As we thought at the time, the news about Dustin Pedroia’s potentially moving to short was just a negotiating ploy.

Scutaro turned 34 on Halloween and is a career .265/.337/.384 hitter over eight seasons with the Mets, A’s and Blue Jays. He had a career year last year, hitting .282/.379/.409 with a career-high in home runs (12) and RBI (60). It was his first season with an OPS+ over 100. My, how Jed Lowrie’s stock has dropped. No word yet on the money.

Wagner OK’s trade to Red Sox

Despite a public tiff with current Red Sox closer Jonathan Papelbon, Billy Wagner is heading to Boston. Despite rumors last night that he would decline the trade, the left-handed reliever, 11 months removed from Tommy John Surgery, has approved a trade to the Red Sox, Jon Heyman reported a few minutes ago. Wagner has looked dominant in his rehab appearances and has thrown two scoreless innings with four strike outs for the Mets this month. The Red Sox will ship two players to be named later to New York and will pay Wagner a little over $3 million — a little over $2 million for this year plus a $1 million buyout for 2010 — for five weeks of regular season pitching.

Last week, I had urged the Yankees to claim Wagner, and in the end, one of the two teams that could block the Yankees from acquiring the lefty did so. While Wagner, poor October track record notwithstanding, is a weapon in any bullpen, I believe the Red Sox made this move as much to block the Yanks as they did to improve their own team. Such are the ways of late-season trade machinations.

Making the most out of a trip to Boston

Nearly two weeks ago, the Red Sox left New York reeling. They had just been swept by the Yankees to fall 6.5 games out of first place in the AL East. It was a good weekend for Yankee fans.

Since then, though, the Red Sox have recovered. While the Yankees have gone 7-3 over their last ten games since facing Boston, the Red Sox have also gone 7-3 since leaving the Bronx. They just wrapped up a three-game sweep of Toronto in which they scored 24 runs and gave up just 11. This weekend’s match-up features two hot teams playing for right now.

The Yankees, as we well know, have not had much luck in Boston this season. They’re 0-6 in Fenway, and barring an October match-up, this weekend’s trip will be the last of the season. Tyler Kepner explored how the Yankees have something to prove in Boston.

This weekend, though, goes well beyond something to prove. This weekend will determine the AL East. We’ll find out if the Yankees have to worry about the Red Sox. We’ll find out if the Red Sox can mount a comeback. We’ll find out if the very hot Yankees can come into Fenway and make a statement.

As things stand right now, the Yankees are 6.5 games up, and they can leave Fenway in one of four positions. They could sweep and be 9.5 games up. September would be a cakewalk for them. They can win two of three and head home with a comfortable 7.5 game lead. They could lose two of three and find themselves 5.5 games up. Or they could find themselves on the wrong end of yet another Fenway sweep and feel the Red Sox breathing down their necks just 3.5 games out of first.

Of course, we’ll hope for the three-game sweep but be satisfied with two of three. Even that outcome would strip four games off the Yanks’ Magic Number, and the pitching match-ups favor the Bombers. How will it end is anyone’s guess, but it’s bound to be a wild weekend no matter what. In Fenway, it always is.

Game Thread: Sunday Night Baseball on ESPN

A lot of RAB readers and commenters requested an open thread/game thread for the Red Sox/Rays game yesterday. While we didn’t oblige yesterday, we will today. So feel free to use this thread as a catch-all for anything you want.

The Red Sox and Josh Beckett’s 6.75 ERA are hosting the Rays and Matt Garza tonight, and it should be a good one. The Rays crushed the Sox yesterday and face another pitcher with an inflated ERA tonight. Carlos Peña is not in the starting nine for the Rays, and Julio Lugo is no longer DHing or playing short. Will this finally be the Game David Ortiz hits a home run?

The lineups come to us via Extra Bases.

Red Sox
1. Jacoby Ellsbury, CF
2. Dustin Pedroia, 2B
3. David Ortiz, DH
4. Jason Bay, LF
5. Mike Lowell, 3B
6. J.D. Drew, RF
7. Jeff Bailey, 1B
8. Jason Varitek, C
9. Nick Green, SS

1. B.J. Upton, CF
2. Carl Crawford, LF
3. Evan Longoria, 3B
4. Pat Burrell, DH
5. Willy Aybar, 1B
6. Ben Zobrist, RF
7. Akinori Iwamura, 2B
8. Jason Bartlett, SS
9. Dioner Navarro, C

Have fun and behave yourselves. Happy Mother’s Day to all of the RAB mothers out there as well.

The Red Sox never forget

I know this one went around a few days ago, but with my finals schedule, I’ve had this tab open and no time to post it. Since we’re whiling away the hours until a 7 p.m. start time tonight, let’s get to some good ol’ fashioned mocking of the Boston Red Sox.

Earlier this week, with the Yanks trailing by a run and a runner already on base, Joba Chamberlain hit Jason Bay with an 0-0 fastball. At the time, I thought nothing of it and was more dismayed that the Red Sox had two runners on than anything else. Boston, apparently, thought otherwise.

As Rob Bradford detailed on WEEI’s Full Count blog this week, the Red Sox won’t forget that HBP. Red Sox pitching coach John Farrell had quite the rant too:

“Typically, we let the game play out itself because I think our guys have each others backs and they are certainly going to be supportive if a situation like that were to arise. Speaking specifically about last night, he strikes out 12 guys, doesn’t seem to have too many command issues, and if there was a purpose or intent to throw up and in you can disguise it a little bit more than making it very obvious with the first pitch in the middle of the back to Jason Bay. Those things aren’t forgotten. We know there is a history there between the pitcher in New York and our guys here and not to say that he was specifically out to do that but I think history speaks for itself and we’ve got a number of games left with these guys.”

To which I say: Give me a break. The last thing Joba wanted to do was risk falling further behind. That was probably one of Chamberlain’s least intentional HBPs, and it pales in comparison the Joba-Youkilis drama that gets played out every time the two teams meet. Maybe Josh Beckett will throw up and in to A-Rod or Hideki Matsui when these two teams next month, but that would just be blatant retribution for a meaningless hit batter. Let it go, Boston. Let it go.