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Closing Time: Red Sox come out on top of Yankees in roller coaster contest

09.05.13 at 11:40 pm ET
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NEW YORK — This was a roller coaster.

The Red Sox seemed ready to deliver a resounding statement, marching to a 7-2 lead through 6½ innings. Then, they seemed ready to absorb perhaps their most crushing defeat of the season while enduring a six-run disaster in slow motion in the seventh, when Jake Peavy, Matt Thornton and Junichi Tazawa collaborated on a horror show of an inning. But the Sox did not shrink from their adversity, instead rallying in the ninth to tie the game against Mariano Rivera when Mike Napoli singled with two outs, pinch-runner Quintin Berry advanced to third on a stolen base and throwing error and then scrambled home on a game-tying Stephen Drew single.

That served as a the prelude to the Sox pushing ahead in the 10th, when Shane Victorino punched a 96 mph fastball from Joba Chamberlain to right for what proved the game-winning hit in a topsy-turvy 9-8 win over the Yankees that underscored the drama and chaos that characterize this attention-commanding rivalry.

At one point, the game seemed like it would be an emphatic sign of the Sox’ readiness to separate themselves from the rest of the pack in October. Then, it seemed a clear warning sign. Ultimately, it was an anything-but-simple-to-digest stew — a mix of the team’s strengths both early in games (the ability to negotiate 46 pitches from starter Ivan Nova in the third and drive him out of the game in the fourth) and late (the comeback to tie the game against the greatest closer in history, leading to the Sox’ 21st win of the year in their final at-bat), as well as its weaknesses in the middle innings, where the passage from starters to closer Koji Uehara is now anything but clearly outlined.

But for the Sox, those messages matter less than the bottom line. And right now, the Sox own 85 wins, have claimed 13 of their last 18 and continue to look like a team that is readying to pull away from the rest of the division.

WHAT WENT RIGHT FOR THE RED SOX

– Victorino continued his startling success as a right-handed hitter facing right-handed pitching, blasting a long solo homer to left against the second offering from reliever Preston Claiborne and then, most significantly, working his way back from a 1-2 hole against Chamberlain to fight off a couple of pitches for foul balls and then, in the seventh pitch of the at-bat, punching a single to right to score Jacoby Ellsbury from second. With his 2-for-6 performance, Victorino now is hitting .313/.423/.522 as a right-handed hitter facing right-handed pitching.

– Middlebrooks continued to show evidence of an improved, more impactful approach, delivering a game-changing hit for the third straight game. On Tuesday, it was his two-run single to center on a slider from Max Scherzer that proved the margin of difference. On Wednesday, he blasted a grand slam to left-center to set the Sox’ home run derby in motion. And on Thursday, he had a pair of key hits, first going inside-out on a 94 mph fastball on a 2-2 count in the third to line a single to right, and then in the top of the fourth, when he unloaded on a 1-0 fastball and pulled it down the left-field line and into the second deck to put the Sox ahead, 3-2.

Despite the fact that he’s spent roughly nine weeks this year off the big league roster (while on the DL and then in the minors), Middlebrooks is nonetheless still tied for third on the team with 13 homers. He’s shown power all year, but he’s been a drastically better hitter since returning from the minors.

Prior to being optioned to Pawtucket, Middlebrooks was hitting .192/.228/.389 with nine walks and 60 strikeouts. Since his return, he’s now hitting .347/.412/.560 with eight walks and 18 strikeouts.

– One day after launching a pair of homers and a double to surpass 2,000 hits in his career, David Ortiz continued to look like a restored offensive force — and like someone of whom opponents want no part. He went 2-for-4 and received his first intentional walk (two of them, to be exact) in nine games. Ortiz has rebounded from his six-game hitless streak to go 10-for-25 with two doubles, two homers and seven walks.

– Berry delivered exactly what the Sox hoped for when they acquired him in the last days of August, a game-changing presence on the bases who can offer a reasonable facsimile of a Dave Roberts type of pinch-running presence. He’s now 22-for-22 in his stolen base attempts in his career, the second longest streak to start a career in the last 30 years behind only Ellsbury’s career-opening 25-for-25 stretch.

– After the seventh-inning mess, Craig Breslow stabilized the game, pitching a scoreless eighth and ninth with two punchouts to earn the victory.

WHAT WENT WRONG FOR THE RED SOX

– The seventh inning represented a disaster in slow motion that underscored the shapelessness of the Sox’ setup relief crew in front of Uehara. 

The inning began with the somewhat puzzling decision to return Peavy — after six innings and 105 pitches (70 strikes) in which he’d shown less-than-dominant (but crafty) stuff and held the Yankees to two runs, despite withstanding numerous quasi-rain delays thanks to long, drawn-out innings with the Sox at the plate. That decision proved ill-fated, as the starter issued a leadoff walk to Ichiro Suzuki and then a single by Vernon Wells to put runners on first and third.

The move was then made for Peavy’s former White Sox teammate, Thornton. But the left-hander gave up a run-scoring single to the left-handed Brett Gardner and walked Derek Jeter to load the bases for Robinson Cano. Thornton elicted a run-scoring force-out on a slow grounder to second, with the Yankees moving within 7-4 on the play. Farrell then made the move for the right-handed Tazawa against righty Alfonso Soriano.

That, too, proved an unsuccessful matchup, with Soriano shooting an RBI single through the right side to beat the Sox’ shift, in which second baseman Dustin Pedroia had vacated his position. Curtis Granderson followed with a run-scoring clothesline off the base of the right-field wall. With the Sox clinging to a 7-6 lead, Tazawa rebounded to punch out Alex Rodriguez  on a hellacious splitter, but with two outs, Lyle Overbay – cut by the Red Sox in spring training — bounced a single to right for two runs to propel the Yankees to an 8-7 win.

And so, the pendulum swung, the narrative shifting from the Sox finding a dominant form down the stretch to the uncertainty that surrounds the team’s middle relievers and, at times, Farrell’s management of it.

– Peavy gave up his third walk of the night in that fateful seventh, the most free passes he’s issued in seven starts with the Sox. His presence in the game in the seventh took what looked like a compelling outing — a six-inning, two-run effort in which he managed his stuff to subdue New York in his first Sox-Yankees contest — and instead turned it into an unimpressive, six-inning, four-run effort in which Peavy threw his second-most pitches of the year (117, one shy of the 118 he threw in his last start with the White Sox) while giving up his third-highest volume of walks on the season.

– Tazawa showed some eyebrow-raising power at times (topping out at 97 mph and throwing a memorably disgusting splitter to strike out Rodriguez), but he allowed three hits and became an even bigger question mark as the Sox near the end of the year. Opponents are hitting .266/.292/.447 against him. The blown save was his eighth of the year.

Read More: Jacoby Ellsbury, jake peavy, joba chamberlain, Mariano Rivera
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