Red Sox Head to Philly On The Heels Of Thrilling Sweep Of Yankees
(C.J. Gunther/European Pressphoto Agency)
As C.C. Sabathia continued to mow down Red Sox hitters, working in all of his pitches and consistently hitting the mid-to-late 90s with his fastball, it looked more and more inevitable to Red Sox Nation that the Yankees may finally prevail after seven straight losses against Boston to begin the 2009 season. Brad Penny pitched a gem to maintain the 1-0 lead for the Red Sox, but that lead never felt comfortable, nor should it have.
Alex Rodriguez, who certainly felt due to inflict some damage on the Red Sox, silenced the Fenway faithful with his two-run double in the eighth inning that missed the center field bleachers by about three feet. A-Rod’s hard line drive felt like a cannon blast the way it broke open such a tight game in the late innings.
Even then, in the torrential downpours, the fans remained. But with the game being Red Sox-Yankees, they were pretty much obligated. And in one big inning, they were handsomely rewarded.
The Yankees’ bullpen, which had been taxed by the dismal outings of A.J. Burnett and Chien-Ming Wang earlier in the series, imploded with a chance to close the Red Sox out. Sabathia had been overpowering the Red Sox lineup, the one blemish before the eighth inning being David Ortiz’s fourth home run of the season.
But he simply ran out of pitches in the eighth, getting worked as hard as he had been all night by Dustin Pedroia, who drew a walk in an eleven-pitch at-bat, and J.D. Drew, who singled to begin the scoring rally.
“I was just fighting,” Pedroia told Ian Browne of RedSox.com of his subtly game-changing walk. “I haven’t been feeling that well at the plate. Obviously, facing C.C., he’s one of the best in the game. I’m just trying to put a good at-bat together and hit the ball hard — just trying to find a way to get on base. That’s pretty much it.”
Yanked after 123 pitches, Sabathia could not finish what he started, and the bullpen could not save him. Alfredo Aceves took the ball to try and get to Mariano Rivera for the save chance, but he loaded the bases with a Kevin Youkilis single then allowed another hit to Jason Bay to tie the game at three.
The only out Aceves made was a sacrifice fly by Mike Lowell. J.D. Drew instinctively broke for home on Lowell’s shallow pop-fly knowing it would be very tough for center fielder Brett Gardner to make a strong throw in the treacherous rain, and scored easily. It was at that point that Fenway officially made the transition from agony to ecstasy.
“We get down by a couple, and then all of a sudden, Greenie gets the hit and Pedey has an extended at-bat and things happen like we’ve seen happen here before — good players doing some pretty special things in a pretty special place,” said manager Terry Francona. “It was electric. You could feel it.”
Sabathia took the tough-luck loss as Jonathan Papelbon pitched a 1-2-3 night to secure the sweep for the Red Sox. Boston is now 8-0 to start the season against the Yankees. They haven’t had this kind of win streak against New York to start the season since April 1912, days before the Titanic sunk. The sweep left them in first place in the AL East and the entire league at 36-24.
The Red Sox continue to assert their dominance over the Yankees this season, and also continue to dominate at Fenway Park, heading to Philadelphia with a 21-8 home record. And in a season where only two AL teams are over .500 away from home and the collective road record of the league is 180-242, home play is especially important.
The Red Sox will now take part in an exciting weekend for all of baseball as extended interleague play kicks off for the 2009 season. We got ourselves a taste of interleague action in May, which has become customary for Major League Baseball. But now the meat of the AL vs. NL schedule takes place, as has become a June tradition.
This weekend features some highly-anticipated matchups, including the New York Mets’ first trip to the new Yankee Stadium and the Bay-area showdown between Oakland and San Francisco at Petco Park. But the series that stands to be the most competitive and interesting- at least for east coast fans- is the three-game series between the Boston Red Sox and the defending World Champion Philadelphia Phillies.
Boston and Philadelphia own the third-best and second-best records in baseball, respectively. The Phillies are 7-3 so far in June and are coming off two straight victories against the Mets.
The Phillies have struggled at home (12-14) and achieved most of their success on the road (23-9). They are also dealing with key injuries, as starter Brett Myers and All-Star closer Brad Lidge are currently on the disabled list and won’t be back for this series.
The biggest surprise for the Phillies this season has to be left fielder Raul Ibañez, who signed a free agent contract in the winter. On a team that includes big-time hitters like Ryan Howard and Chase Utley producing like the All-Stars they are, Ibañez has risen above them all.
His 21 home runs are the most in his career before the All-Star break and two off his total from last season. His career-high is 33, and he should easily eclipse that total this season barring an injury, even if and when he slows down. But that slow-down period I speak of has yet to happen for the veteran outfielder.
Rollins has been the biggest disappointment thus far for the Phillies, posting a .226 average and .596 OPS through 57 games. He hit well in the just-completed Mets series, though, going 4-for-13 with a home run and four RBI. He briefly hit sixth in the batting order and hit well there, but Phillies manager Charlie Manuel insisted it was a matter of sparking Rollins to assume his role as leadoff man and offensive catalyst.
“The only thing I was trying to do was give Jimmy a different look, a little different feel,” Manuel told Todd Zolecki of Phillies.com. “I also think Jimmy knows his hitting.”
Rollins and the rest of the Phillies have a tough challenge ahead of them tonight as Jon Lester takes the mound for the Red Sox. Lester has allowed one
run or fewer in three of his last four starts and compiled 23 strikeouts in his last 15 innings. He is beginning to consistently show the form that made him a breakout star in 2008.
His most recent outing against Texas was a near-perfect game that broke up in the seventh, but Lester completed the game allowing one run on 107 pitches to improve his record to 5-5. He will try to bring his ERA below 5.00 for the first time since April 24 as he faces a tough Phillies lineup, albeit one loaded with lefties.
The Phillies will send default No. 2 starter Joe Blanton to the mound. Blanton has also pitched well of late, allowing just four earned runs in his last 20 innings. He has not lost a decision since May 9 against Atlanta, and after a rough start his record stands at 4-3.
Both teams are hitting their stride in June after somewhat inconsistent starts to the season. The Red Sox’s rotation woes are beginning to settle into a groove, and the Phillies continue to mash the ball while ace Cole Hamels recovers from a disastrous start to the season.
Francona is always excited to return to Philadelphia, where he managed the Phillies from 1997 to 2000. But it’s even more exciting knowing his team is entering Philly for a potential World Series preview.
When asked by Jim Silverman of the Boston Herald about the upcoming series, Francona said, “It’ll be a fun series for the fans, but from our standpoint, it’s just another part of the grind to see if we’re good enough to be there at the end.”
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