Game 36: Red Sox at New York Yankees (May 9, 2018)

This one hurts. Bad. For the second straight night, the Red Sox and Yankees went toe-to-toe and played some thrilling baseball, and for the second straight night the Sox squandered a golden chance to win the game and instead ripped our hearts out in classic fashion. Heading into this game with Rick Porcello starting, it seemed as though everything was set up for a tough and gritty Red Sox win. For the first seven innings, that's exactly how it played out. Then the eighth inning happened and any hopes of a Red Sox victory went up in smoke (or over the fence). I coached my youngest daughter's softball team and then watched my oldest daughter play a doubleheader before I got home to watch the game, picking it up in the third inning. From there, I rode the rollercoaster of emotion in both this game and the Celtics playoff game. Both teams looked like they were heading toward crushing losses at the last minute after leading their games, but the Celtics were able to fight back and eliminate Philly. The Red Sox weren't as lucky (or good).

The Yankees got on the board early with an Aaron Judge RBI single in the first, but the Sox quickly came back and took the lead when the red hot Mitch Moreland hit a two-run homer in the second.  With the way he's been swinging the bat lately, not to mention his excellent defense at first, I see no reason why Cora shouldn't play Mitch every day until he cools off. That 2-1 lead was short-lived, however, when Giancarlo Stanton drove in two in the third, followed by Aaron Hicks subsequently driving Stanton in for a 4-2 Yankees lead. Andrew Benintendi hit a solo homer in the fifth to pull the Sox within a run, but Gary Sanchez drove Judge in with a sacrifice fly in the fifth to make it 5-3 Yankees. The Red Sox kept clawing back, cutting the lead to a run on Eduardo Nunez' sacrifice fly in the sixth. In the seventh inning, Hanley Ramirez absolutely crushed a ball into the leftfield stands for a two-run homer and a 6-5 Red Sox lead. Finally, it seemed like the Sox broke through and took the lead after playing catch up for most of the night. Now all they needed to do was hold the lead for two innings. Brian Johnson, who always makes me hold my breath when he pitches, did a nice job when he came in for Porcello and Carson Smith was filthy in his short stint. However, as is usual with this team, it was too good to last and the bullpen was shaky enough to cough up the lead. Craig Kimbrel gave up a two-RBI triple to Brett Gardner after inheriting runners from Matt Barnes in the bottom of the eighth, but the backbreaker was a two-run bomb that he then gave up to Aaron Judge. That made it 9-6 Yankees and that would be the final score. Circling back one last time, the Red Sox had runners on second and third with no outs in the top of the eighth and looked to add some insurance runs but came away empty handed with two straight strikeouts and a liner to second. How different would the game have been if they'd been able to convert there? 

With the win, the Yankees are now in sole possession of first place in the AL East for the first time since March 31st. Obviously with how early it is in the season and how many more times these two teams play each other (14), the Red Sox are still in great shape. However, these bullpen problems are not going to go away unless A) the guys they have now all start performing better on a consistent basis, B) Tyler Thornburg is actually able to come back and be an impact pitcher, or C) Dave Dombrowski can make some deals for a reliever before the July trade deadline (not likely given how bare the minor league cupboard is). I've gotten in some online debates with people who have told me that based on the numbers, this Red Sox bullpen is one of the top five best in the league and that I should quit my complaining. Yes, from a purely statistical standpoint they're excellent, but as I always say when I argue with the stat-heads: I trust what my eyes tell me and what my eyes have seen over the last 2-3 seasons is that the middle relief has a tendency to either give up leads or make the situation worse. (A bit of a sidebar disclaimer here: while I love stats as much as any baseball fan, I've found the overwrought analytics of the last decade and those who swear sole allegiance to them to take away from the enjoyment of the game a bit. Also, far too many of these analytics acolytes fail to reconcile how the stats oftentimes paint a picture very different from the actual results on the field. Case in point: the Red Sox bullpen). Usually the Sox are ahead by enough runs or are able to come back that it ends up being a moot point and they win the game anyway, but far too often are instances like last night where a close game suddenly gets away from them because the 'pen can't hold the lead. Hembree, Barnes, Johnson, and Smith are my typical targets and I usually give Kimbrel a pass; he's one of the top closers in the game and is automatic 99% of the time. That being said, he does tend to have occasional outings like last night (remember the final series in New York at the end of 2016?) when he has trouble with his control and when he does, it's usually pretty ugly.

As a pure baseball fan, these first two games in the Bronx were incredibly well-played and entertaining...for early May, it doesn't get much better than this. But as a Red Sox fan these are bad losses and they hurt, mainly because both games were right there for the taking and in both cases the Sox managed to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. Being a single game back in the standings is not a big deal...I predicted going into this season that the Sox and Yankees would be battling for the division all year and for these first two months that's been borne out. We took two of three from them in April, so I'm hoping that tonight Eduardo Rodriguez can pitch a solid game and the Sox can salvage the series and avoid the sweep by taking the finale. These two teams don't meet again until late June and I'll be very interested to see where both of them stand in a month. Until then, Red Sox, please just escape from New York without getting swept!