BOSTON — Don’t tell the Red Sox — or their feisty and occasionally profane fans — that the year is lost. And most definitely don’t tell them that the great rivalry is on hiatus.
Don’t say anything like that to anyone connected to the Red Sox, who showed they have a little fight left in them, and most certainly the ability to get up for the occasion of a visit from the big, bad Yankees (aka the Evil Empire).
Although the Yankees remain close to a historic track for the season, Boston’s depleted team managed to take both closing weekend games in thrilling, come-from-behind fashion to split this midsummer series with baseball’s best team. In Sunday’s finale, the Red Sox scored the final nine runs to win 11-6 as the disliked visitors performed in a very un-Yankee-like manner.
No one could have seen this coming.
Boston is missing a possible record 10 hitting pitchers (not to mention their best everyday guy) and has been playing uneven baseball through more than half its schedule. But something changed midway through this series. Fenway rocked, and this diminished Red Sox team raised its level.
“Feels good. The boys played well,” the Red Sox’s Alex Verdugo said. “For the guys to keep fighting… it gets the boys fired up.”
The matchup does seem to bring out the best in Boston, whose main competition now is really Baltimore and Seattle and the rest of the middle of the pack in the American League wild-card race but overcame all its faults and misfortune to stage two straight rollicking wins over the vaunted and much healthier Yankees. Predictably, the Fenway faithful used the occasion to chant their favorite put-down, a profane and factually incorrect, “Yankees S—.”
These 2022 Red Sox have been down, then up and now they are mostly down again, and threatening to be out. They are still 14 games behind, and unlikely to turn into the miracle 1978 Yankees, either, not with all their injuries. A kid named Jeter (Red Sox rookie Jeter Downs) did score the game-winning run late Saturday, then drove in the winning run Sunday, surely sparking some of the famously superstitious (remember The Curse?), baseball-obsessed fans here, who surely seek any sort of positive omen.
Now back to the Red Sox reality. While the Yankees are looking to break the seasonal win record of 116 by the equally improbable 2001 Seattle Mariners (they are now behind the pace for the first time in weeks), the Red Sox are threatening to break the record for pitching injuries.
Beleaguered Boston put its ninth and 10th pitchers on the injured list (that is not a typo!) on Saturday, and the roster of the hurt now includes a very viable rotation of Chris Sale, Nate Eovaldi, Rich Hill, Michael Wacha and James Paxton . Beyond that, Rafael Devers, one of the best players in baseball and a consistent thorn to the Yankees, was out again with lower-back pain, presumably the result of trying to carry his decimated squad the first two games here against a healthier, stronger , better Yankees team.
“A lot of our top-tier guys are down. But a lot of our guys are coming back,” Verdugo said. “We’re really excited to get our horses back.”
Sale is expected back Tuesday, and Eovaldi and Hill are progressing. Although even seven pitchers out remains a big hill to climb.
Whatever, hope still flickers here.
“Crazy series … but two big wins for us,” Trevor Story said.
The Red Sox hit three home runs off Yankees starter Jameson Taillon, and the frustration moved over to the visitors’ side — at least temporarily. Yankees manager Aaron Boone gave home-plate umpire Tripp Gibson an earful following a called third strike on Giancarlo Stanton that ended the seventh inning.
Of course, it didn’t rival the video of Sale, the Red Sox rehabbing starter, breaking up the Triple-A Worcester clubhouse. But then again, the Yankees still retain easily baseball’s best record. So why get too upset?
The Yankees may have left here with some bruised egos, however, the result of two blown games against a lesser team before packed houses. The Yankees played far from their best ball. Two catchable pop-ups fell in Boston’s winning rally, the normally sure-handed shortstop Isiah Kiner-Falefa made a throwing error, reliever Albert Abreu made another, and for the second straight night, the Yankees’ vaunted pen took some hits.
Much of Boston’s damage came against Taillon, who has been prone to the home run ball in recent outings. But the winning rally was staged off Aroldis Chapman, who’s already been demoted from closer to middle man.
If this turns out to be the highlight of Boston’s year, the players and fans seemed to relish it. Fenway Park was rocking as the Sawx piled it on late.
“This is our house,” Verdugo noted after Saturday’s win.
For one weekend it was, anyway.