Game 160: New York Yankees at Red Sox (September 28, 2018)

Here we are at the final series of the regular season...can you believe it? When I had first seen the schedule back in February and noticed that the season ended with three games at home against the Yankees, all I wanted was for the Red Sox to be more than three games ahead of them by the time it came around. I harped on it for most of the summer when the division race was close, and now here we are with Boston up by nine games having sewn up the division more than a week ago. As such, these games don't mean much in terms of standings and playoff seeding, but there was still a lot for the Sox to play for in my mind. First, they could do some damage to the Yankees chances of playing at home in the gimmick play-in game. Second, they should want to take the season series (the Sox only need one win out of the three games to clinch that). Third and finally, after the way they ended the seasons in 2016 and 2017, the Red Sox need to finish this season strong and on a positive note with some momentum heading into the ALDS next Friday, especially since they'll most likely be seeing these same Yankees again.

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...and instead we got exactly the opposite. I've been a fairly vocal critic of Alex Cora taking his foot off the gas too early (as in two weeks too early) and this opening game against the Yankees continued that trend. It's really my only complaint with Cora this entire season and I'm hoping that the team can flip the switch come playoff time, but I'm skeptical seeing as it didn't work the last two years and it typically doesn't work in any sport (with rare exceptions). This game was over almost from the very beginning. Cora trotted Brian Johnson out there to make another spot start and he wasn't able to replicate his past successes this season against the Yankees. Gary Sanchez, who isn't even hitting anything close to his weight, crushed a solo homer in the third to get the night's prodigious scoring started for the Yankees. This was followed a bit later by Giancarlo Stanton singling to center field to drive in a run and end the inning with New York up 2-0. The Sox finished their crash and burn in the fourth, this time with William Cuevas on the mound. Gleyber Torres doubled on a disputed call (which the Yankees won upon review...big surprise) to drive in two and was followed by Andrew McCutchen's single which drove Torres in and made it 5-0. This entire inning was like a slow motion trainwreck and my oldest daughter and I sat there in disbelief at how badly it unfolded for Boston. After Aaron Judge reached base, Aaron Hicks finished New York's big inning when he belted a three run homer to make it 8-0 Yankees. It seemed like the Sox were just going to pack it in, especially because to that point they had squandered some excellent scoring chances (how do you put runners on the corners with no outs and come away with nothing? Not even a sacrifice fly?!). However, in the bottom of the sixth with the bases loaded and two outs, Steve Pearce hit a grand slam into the Green Monster seats to halve the lead to 8-4. At that point I was hoping the momentum would shift and the Sox could get to the Yankees bullpen (which they've beat up on all season). Instead, as they've maddeningly done the last few years, they gave runs right back the following inning. Luke Voit (who has hurt the Sox badly this month since going to New York in a trade with the Cardinals) hit a solo homer off of Drew Pomeranz to push the Yankee lead back up to five runs. The horror show continued when Sanchez hit a grounder to Xander Bogaerts that he booted allowing Didi Gregorious to score. Then in the eighth Judge hit a moonshot to center field to put the game out of reach at 11-4. The Sox tacked on a couple of garbage time runs, one in the bottom of the eighth when Pearce drove one in with a single and another in the ninth when Bogaerts walked with the bases loaded to bring in Sam Travis, but this was a thorough embarrassment as the Yankees walked all over the Red Sox to the tune of 11-6. They outhit the Sox 13-6 and other than Pearce, no one did any real damage at the plate. The pitching continued to be atrocious, too, with Cuevas giving up six runs and Pomeranz and Joe Kelly continuing to show why they need to be former Red Sox after this season. At least we shouldn't have to see either of them ever pitch for this team again after Sunday's game.

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Every Red Sox fan should be angry about this game. While there wasn't anything to play for in terms of standings or seeding implications, the reasons I listed at the beginning of this recap were absolutely in play and they fell flat on their face in every single one of them. The win gifted the Yankees home field advantage in the gimmick play-in game which increased the odds that they'll play the Sox next Friday in the ALDS. I can at least forgive the pitching because the team didn't have their best guys out there, but again that's Cora being okay with throwing a game away in the name of "rest" and coasting to the finish line. The Yankees played terrible baseball for most of the summer but look like they're starting to round into form and peak right as the season is ending; Boston has done the opposite, tearing through the league all summer and stumbling to the end over the last month. Right now the Sox have little to play for except pride and bragging rights against the Yankees, but given how much more postseason success these young Yankees have had over the last two seasons (remember, they made it to game seven of the ALCS last year before losing to the eventual champion Astros) and given that the Sox will in all likelihood play them in the ALDS (unless the banged up A's pull off a miracle), the Sox had a chance to eat the Yankees lunch and instead ended up with egg all over their face. Now it's up to Nathan Eovaldi in the middle game of the series to see if he'll finish the regular season strong and lead the team to a season series clinching win against their hated rival.