YANKEES 4, RED SOX 3 (10 Innings)
Sometimes an heroic act just comes out of doing nothing but letting the other guy beat himself.
On Sunday night, Juan Miranda did just that and his ability to let Hideki Okajima’s 3-1 pitch with two out and the bases loaded sail inside for ball four propelled the New York Yankees to a dramatic 10th-inning walk-off victory over the Boston Red Sox and clinch no worse than a tie for the playoffs.
Perhaps it was fitting that in the final regular season game at Yankee Stadium that the Yankees would throw off a week of nagging injuries, poor starting pitching and four straight losses at home and fight the Red Sox tooth and nail and virtually hammer the final nail in Boston’s hopes to stage a miracle rally to get into the playoffs.
Now in order for the Bosox to make the American League playoff dance, the Yankees would have to lose every remaining game and Boston would have to win the rest of their games. And, only then, they would have to beat the Yankees in a one-game-playoff.
After Sunday night’s victory, even Bucky Dent knows that is not real likely no matter how poorly the Yankees have played this week.
There actually were many heroes for the Yankees on this night. Not just Miranda.
First, there was Phil Hughes, who was originally scheduled to have his start skipped, only to have manager Joe Girardi change his mind on Sunday afternoon.
Good thing, too. Hughes pitched brilliantly into the seventh inning, giving up only one run on three hits and four walks and striking out four. Hughes would have deserved his 18th victory if Daisuke Matsuzaka had not decided to forget the over 6.00 career ERA he had posted against the Yankees coming into the game and pitch more like the pitcher the Red Sox thought they paid a total of $114 million to leave Japan.
Matsuzaka pitched six innings of two-hit, no walk shutout baseball. Unfortunately, for Dice-K, the Yankees got a one-out opposite field single from Mark Teixeira in the seventh inning. Dice-K must have figured, “No problem, Alex Rodriguez is 2-for-29 off me.” That is the second worst mark A-Rod had off any pitcher with that many at-bats in his career.
Matsuzaka put him into a deep hole, too. He was up on the count 0-2. The wind was also hailing in from left-center, part of a pesky storm system moving into the Bronx and pelting the 49,199 fans with some driving rain. Not easy conditions for a home run.
Tell that to hero No. 2, A-Rod. He hung a high, inside fastball out on a clothesline into right-center-field and it landed in the first row of the bleachers to give the Yankees their first lead of the evening, their first lead in the three-game series with the Red Sox and their first lead in a game since the fifth inning of Thursday’s 10-3 loss to the Tampa Bay Rays.
The Yankees then gladly took that lead into the ninth before Red Sox manager Terry Francona decided to dust off the ghost of Dave Roberts in 2004 and turn Mariano Rivera’s ninth inning into a track meet.
The Red Sox managed only two hits in the inning but scored two runs on the heels — literally — of four stolen bases, two by Ryan Kalish and two by Bill Hall. Hall’s RBI single after Kalish’s two swipes tied it and a pinch-hit sac fly by Mike Lowell with Hall having dashed to third put the Red Sox Nation into delirium with a 3-2 lead.
However, hero No. 3 arrived in the bottom of the ninth for the Yankees.
With Jonathan Papelbon having blown seven saves this season, it is easy to see why in the way he pitched the ninth against the Yankees.
With one out, Papelbon walked Nick Swisher. Teixeira followed the gift with his second clutch single of the night and Papelbon poured even more fuel on his own destruction by walking Rodriguez to load the bases.
MVP candidate Robinson Cano, hero No.. 3, stepped in and laced a solid single to right to score pinch-runner Eduardo Nunez with the tying run. Make that eight blown saves for Papelbon, a new career high. Why do they all seem to have come off the Yankees?
Papelbon wiggled out of further trouble in the ninth but he merely passed the goat horns off to Okajima, who made a hero of Miranda in the tenth.
Okajima pitched as if the plate were dynamite and the baseball contained nitro glycerine. Which is to say, Okajima tried his best NOT to throw a pitch near the strike zone and make sure it had no velocity.
Curtis Granderson opened the inning with a single and Brett Gardner moved him to second on a bunt that Victor Martinez threw into the back of Gardner for an error. Granderson made it to third on the misplay and Gardner was safe at first.
Francona ordered Okajima to walk Jeter to load the bases. That was the easiest thing for Okajima to do all night. Throwing pitches out of the strike zone is a specialty of the lefty from Japan.
After pinch-hitter Marcus Thames was robbed of glory by a bases-loaded stab of a short-hopper ticketed for left-field by Adrian Beltre, who threw home to retire Granderson for the only out Okajima got all night.
Miranda only entered the game because Girardi had used pinch-runner Ramiro Pena to run for Teixeira in the ninth. Miranda was sent in to play first base in the 10th inning.
The lefty swinging Miranda was forced to bat against the left-handed Okajima,
Miranda only swung — and missed — on Okajima’s second pitch. It was within the zip code of the plate but enticing enough. But Okajima’s other three offerings to Miranda were nowhere close to the plate and nowhere close to 90 miles per hour.
So, up on the count 3-1, Miranda was ready to pounce on anything resembling a fastball over the plate. But Okajima made it easy on Miranda by uncorking a pitch up and in and the rookie merely sidestepped it and took it for ball four.
He raced to touch first base as his Yankee teammates chased him in jubilation.
How cruel an ending for the Red Sox. Their 2010 hopes were vanquished on a bases-loaded walk to a minor-league first baseman. There is just a little bit of 2004 payback in that scenario.
Bucky Dent is very proud, too.
Hasta la vista, Red Sox!