The Great Rivalry Goes On

In earlier blogs, I have said that one of the great attractions of televised sports is they don’t follow a script like Reality T.V.   If they became predictable, the tension and suspense one feels in watching team rivalries, indeed, would be lost.  One such rivalry that has existed for well over 100 years is the Boston Red Sox vs. the New York Yankees.

One of those surprising results that make the game that much more enjoyable to spectators occurred this past Sunday.  The two teams were completing a four-game series at Fenway Park, home to the Red Sox, in which the Red Sox had won two out of the first three contests.  Yankee pitcher, Domingo German, appeared unbeatable.  Red Sox fans had little to cheer for inasmuch as German was pitching a no hitter, through seven innings, with the Red Sox trailing 3 to 0.  By then the Yankee hurler had struck out 10 batters as the Sox hitters had been swinging at unhittable pitches way out of the strike zone.  The Sox players looked like bushwhackers waving their bats in the thin air.  Certainly, no fun if you were a Boston fan, as I am.

In the top of the 7th inning with the Yankees batting, it appeared that the game might become even more lopsided.  Yachsel Rios came in for Boston to relieve Martin Peres, and in the midst of striking out one batter, walked two Yankees and hit another.  This loaded the bases with only one man out.  Although a three-run lead is not insurmountable, any more runs this late in the game most likely would spoil any chances of a Sox comeback.  Alex Cora, the Boston manager, wisely lifted Rios and replaced him with the southpaw, Josh Taylor.  Later, Cora related to reporters he had told his team if “we can hold the Yankees to a 3-run lead, we will win this game.”  With that being said, Taylor went on to strike Giancarlo Stanton out and induce Rougned Odor, who had earlier hit a home run, to fly out to right field for the third out.  

With the Red Sox continuing to do nothing against Yankee pitcher, German, in the bottom half of the 7th inning, the picture still looked bleak for the home team.  To Cora’s dismay, the Yankees increased their lead by another run–in the top of the 8th inning–making the score now 4 to 0 in their favor.  One can only wonder what Cora was thinking at this point.

When the Red Sox came to bat in the bottom of the 8th inning, there was little noise in the background:  Red Sox players had given their fans little to root for throughout the game.  But as the bottom of the 8th got underway, Alex Verdugo promptly changed that when he ended the no hit bid of German by lining a shot into the stands for a ground rule double.  In came Aaron Boone, Yankee manager, who decided to replace German, thinking he had thrown enough pitches, since he recently had returned to the team from injured status.  Right hander, Jonathan Loaisiga, came in to relieve German.  Red Sox right fielder, Hunter Renfroe, hit his first pitch sharply down the left field line for a double scoring Verdugo.  Suddenly, the Red Sox had scored a run and, somehow, 4 to 1 looked a lot better than a shut-out. Christian Vasquez, Boston catcher, followed with a bloop single, that fell in between a group of Yankee fielders, scoring Renfroe. Now, with Vasquez on first base, the score was 4 to 2 and you could hear the roar of the Red Sox fans in the background.  Could the Red Sox come back from a 4-run deficit in the 8th inning?

The 9th batter, Franchy Cordero, usually the weakest hitter on any team, was due up.  Not a starter, but a utility player, Cordero, at the time of his at bat, was hitting a mere .180.  Because the last batter in the line-up is more often than not a poor hitter, he is a pitcher’s delight.  Cora decided to go with him rather than put in a pinch hitter, and, as has been the case so many times in the past, his instincts were right on:  Cordero delivered a ground ball single to centerfield sending Vasquez to second base.   With the score still 4 to 2, Kike Hernandez, the lead-off Boston batter, hit next.  Before one had time to take in the rapid turn of events, Hernandez smashed a double to left-field driving in Vasquez and sending Cordero to third base.  The score now was 4 to 3.

Loaisiga, who had relieved German, had given up four straight hits. Like the many fans at Fenway, I now became a believer.  Yankee manager, Aaron Boone, had seen enough of Loaisiga, who had failed to get anyone out, and brought in Zach Britton, a left-hander.  Part of the strategy by Boone was to bring in a pitcher who could produce ground ball outs.  Fly balls often advance runners, not what a pitcher wants to do when the opposing team has no outs and runners in scoring positions like the Sox had.  Alex Cora showed his coaching acumen when he brought in right hander Kevin Plawecki to pinch hit for Jarret Duran, rookie centerfielder.  Jarret had not played many games but he showed promise inasmuch as he started off hot but, more recently, had cooled off.  Duran, like many overeager rookies without a lot of experience, had been swinging at pitches well off the plate often striking out.   With men in scoring position, the last thing a manager wants to see is a strike out.

Plawecki hit just what the doctor had ordered:  A soft ground ball to the shortstop, bringing in Cordero and advancing Hernandez to third base, tying the score at 4.  At that point, the camera beamed in on poor Domingo German, who had not only lost his no hitter, but now, also the chance to gain the win for his great effort.  The Red Sox had the good fortune of having the very reliable Xander Bogaerts bat next.  With the Yankee infield in, what was needed was a ball hit out of the infield and, Bogaerts, being the team player he is, lifted an outside pitch to right field.  Hernandez, with the speed of lightning, barely beat the throw to home plate, giving the Red Sox a 5 to 4 lead in the bottom of the 8th.

In the top of the 9th inning, Cora brought in closer Matt Barnes, who has been nothing short of superb this season, to give the Red Sox the win. Fate had cast its ugly shadow on Yankee pitcher, Domingo German.  After the game, he was quoted as saying: “You find yourself on top of the world, and all of sudden you are free falling—and you fall fast.  It’s tough.  It’s so hard to process what happened.”  The baseball gods can be most cruel when least expected, but I believe it’s these inexplicable moments that make the sport what it is.