Four weeks ago, Yankee fans weren’t feeling too good about themselves. Despite heading into the All Star Break with a 2.5-game lead in Wild Card race, the Yanks had just suffered a humiliating three-game sweep at the hands of the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim to find a first-place tie melt into a three-game deficit. They were 0-8 against the Sox and seemingly couldn’t handle the playoff-caliber teams.
What a difference a month makes.
After a 5-2 comeback win over the Red Sox tonight — a victory that capped a four-game weekend sweep of the Sox — the Yankees find themselves atop the world of baseball. They are 69-42 and 18-5 since the All Star Break. They lead the Red Sox by a whopping 6.5 games and lead Joe Torre’s Dodgers by two games for the best record in baseball. That 0-8 start against Boston seems as though it came in a different season.
Tonight, the Yanks relied on that tried-and-true formula of pitching and home runs. Andy Pettitte didn’t have his best stuff early on. He scuffled through the first four innings, needing 81 pitches to record the first 12 outs of the game. The Red Sox, though, scoreless since the 9th inning of Thursday’s game, could not break through. They left two on in the second and the bases loaded in the fourth.
Pettitte turned it on after a hard-hit line out by Jason Varitek with the bases juiced in the fourth. Over the next three innings, Pettitte needed just 31 pitches to record nine outs. On the other side of the ball, Jon Lester was matching Pettitte zero for zero. Lester stifled the Yanks for seven innings, giving up just a run on five hits and no walks while striking out seven.
The one run though was a big one. Leading off the seventh, Friday night’s hero lofted another home run deep into the night at Yankee Stadium. With one swing, Alex Rodriguez gave the Yanks a 1-0 lead, and with the way the Sox had been going, it seemed as though it would be enough.
Yet, the plan needed a bit of an adjustment. Phil Hughes had thrown on back-to-back days and in four of the last five games. With Al Aceves out with a sore back, the job fell to Phil Coke. Victor Martinez, 1 for the series until the 8th inning tonight, lofted a deep fly ball to left field, and the Red Sox were up 2-1, their first lead since early on Thursday when I was still sitting in Ben Gurion Airport half a world away.
Out went the Yankees’ slim edge, in came the pitcher Bill Simmons had just anointed as the Red Sox’s closer of the future. Hideki Matsui went down; Derek Jeter went down. As Johnny Damon walked to the plate, the Yanks’ win expectancy dipped to 20.2. Down but not out, the Comeback Kids weren’t done yet.
Damon blasted the Daniel Bard offering into the Yanks’ bullpen, and Mark Teixeira hit a towering drive into the second deck in right field. It was the sixth time this year these Yanks had gone back-to-back, and the 3-2 lead was there to stay. The stadium erupted as the Red Sox’s faces fell. Three batters later, a Nick Swisher single gave the Bombers a 5-2 lead, and it would be more than enough as Mariano Rivera nailed down the ninth for his 32nd save.
No team in baseball has a lead as big as the Yanks’ 6.5 game margin. No team in baseball has a record as good as the Yanks’ 69-42 record. Game. Set. Match. Sweep.