Game 151: Red Sox at New York Yankees (September 18, 2018)

Red Sox vs. Yankees in a late season tilt...is there anything better? Well, yes...when they both actually have something to play for. There wasn't a lot of drama coming in to this series with the Sox up 11.5 games in the division with twelve remaining, but there was the goal of clinching the division at Yankee Stadium left to accomplish. Also, the Yankees are fighting for their Wild Card lives trying to fend off the Oakland's A's so any damage to that the Red Sox could do would be an added bonus. Still, for the most part this game was relatively meaningless. That being said, it's always good to beat the Yankees (especially on their field), so I and the rest of Red Sox Nation went into this game hoping for an victory so that the team could celebrate clinching the division right in New York's faces. However, that never happened and if you watched the game then you know it was for the same tired, predictable reason.

(A quick aside: this game was originally scheduled for a 1pm start on Tuesday due to it being Yom Kippur, but they ended up pushing the time back to 7pm because of rain in New York). 

Have you guessed yet? Let me set the scene. JD Martinez drove in the first Red Sox run in the third  inning off of JA Happ with a sacrifice fly that brought in Ian Kinsler. The Red Sox had other scoring chances throughout the game but couldn't capitalize. Nathan Eovaldi pitched a really good, gutsy game with some big moments. Perhaps none was bigger than striking out Giancarlo Stanton with runners on the corners in the sixth inning; it was a huge moment that quieted the New York crowd and seemed to show everyone how much more talented and composed the Red Sox were. Up to that point Eovaldi had only given up two hits while whiffing five and walking two. He'd thrown eighty-three pitches and seemed like he'd be good to go for one more inning, yet for some inexplicable reason Alex Cora decided to lift him and sent Brandon Workman out for the seventh inning instead. As it has done all season, the bullpen proved to be this team's undoing. Workman looked terrified on the mound on the big stage of New York and while he did get absolutely squeezed in Gary Sanchez' at bat (I have no idea how the umpire called what should have been strike three a ball, but it ended up costing them since it resulted in a walk), he put two on before being replaced by Ryan Brasier. Brasier worked the count full against the light hitting Neil Walker before hanging one over the plate that ended up in the right field stands. Up to that point the Yankees looked dead, tired, and defeated, but with one swing of the bat Walker gave them life and a 3-1 lead. There was some drama in the top of the ninth when the Yankees seemed determined to give the game away by botching two straight double play balls and allowing Brock Holt to score on a Zach Britton throwing error, but the third time was a charm as they turned two on Ian Kinsler's grounder to escape with a 3-2 win. The Red Sox clinch party was postponed for another night while the Yankees acted like they won the pennant or something.

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There isn't anything bad you can say about Eovaldi, who showed a lot of guts and nerve in his performance. If that's anything to go by, he'll continue to be an asset for the team in the postseason especially in the bullpen where they desperately need help. As for what not to like, the initial take would be to pick at the team's quiet night at the plate. They outhit the Yankees 5-3 but only had the one run to show for it until the ninth inning and squandered a few opportunities along the way (most notably runners on the corners with one out in the seventh that resulted in nothing). However, this loss lies squarely at the feet of the bullpen and I'll tell you why. Pitching in the postseason is better and scoring is lower, so a 1-0 game heading into the seventh inning is exactly the type of situation most teams and bullpens are going to encounter in October. If the Red Sox bullpen, which is already suspect, can't hold a slim lead in a relatively meaningless regular season road game, how are we supposed to be confident they'll be able to do the same in the crucible of October against the likes of Houston, Cleveland, or even these Yankees? In the postseason, starters typically have even shorter outings than in the regular season, where managers like to go to the pens after four or five innings to play the match up game. With as horrifically bad as the Sox bullpen is (they've blown 50% of their save opportunities since the All Star break, which is by far worst in the league), Cora and the team need the opposite: they need starters to go seven or eight innings to minimize how much the bullpen appears. That's wholly unrealistic and a sure recipe for disaster. Given how the last two postseasons have gone, this team absolutely needs to make it to at least the ALCS for this season to not be considered a failure and right now, I'm at best 50/50 over whether that will even happen.

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As a final note, and one more reason not to feel too bad about this loss, the Sox played with a pretty weak lineup: no Mookie Betts, no Andrew Benintendi (until he pinch hit late in the game), and a whole host of backup players (Brock Holt, Brandon Phillips, Christian Vazquez at this point, Sam Travis, Blake Swihart) getting playing time. To still only be one bad pitch from beating the Yankees with that anemic lineup should make the team feel pretty good regardless. It will be a much better pitching match up in the middle game of the series Wednesday with David Price against Luis Severino. Severino has been atrocious since July, but Price hasn't been able to beat the Yankees in big games so it will be interesting to see who will break through first. It's still only a matter of time before the Sox clinch the division, but it would be so sweet to shove it in New York's faces in front of their home fans...hopefully Wednesday night will be the night.

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