In August 2006, the Yankees ended the Red Sox’ season with five-game sweep at Fenway. This past weekend, the Yankees had a chance to end the Red Sox’ season in Boston once again.
The Yankees needed to win one game this weekend in Boston. Just one. Anything more would be a bonus and anything left a disaster, but one win would mean three more games off the schedule with the Red Sox only picking up one game in the standings and a missed opportunity to truly get back into the AL East race.
I decided to go to the diary format that I have used for so many Yankees-Red Sox series before. Just pretend like you’re reading this in one of those black-and-white Mead composition notebooks.
A few weeks ago, a rumor surfaced that the Yankees were interested in Clay Buchholz, who I wanted no part of, even if he might be a better rotation option than CC Sabathia. (The Yankees already have two better options than CC Sabathia: one (Adam Warren) they put in the bullpen and the other (Luis Severino) is wasting bullets in the minors). I didn’t care that the Red Sox’ version of Phil Hughes had pitched to a 1.99 ERA over his last 10 starts entering Friday because I know the real Clay Buchholz and I have seen his inconsistencies since 2007 and I have seen his fragile makeup. And that fragile makeup forced him to leave the game in the fourth inning and now he’s on the DL with a strained flexor muscle, which pretty much ends any trade rumors surrounding him. During the game, I thought Buchholz decided to pull himself after giving up a double to the left-center gap to Didi Gregorius and then nearly a three-run home run to Stephen Drew, but maybe this strained flexor muscle is real.
A-Rod has always owned Buchholz, but then again, the Yankees have always owned Buchholz. Before Friday, Buchholz had a 3.85 career ERA with 50 losses. He had a 6.38 career ERA against the Yankees and they were responsible for 16 percent (eight) of those 50 losses. So it made sense when A-Rod hit a solo bomb over the Green Monster on a 2-1 pitch in the first inning to set the tone for the game and the weekend.
When Buchholz left the game, Robbie Ross Jr. nearly got out of a bases-loaded jam in the fourth before All-Star Brock Holt bobbled a routine grounder that was followed by an infield single and a walk with three more runs in. (With the last-place Red Sox trailing 4-0 in the fourth inning of a must-win game and must-sweep series, a “Yankees suck” chant broke out at Fenway.) And with Michael Pineda on the mound and Dellin Betances and Andrew Miller waiting in the bullpen, that was the game.
Pineda had a start skipped at the beginning of June and he returned to get rocked by Baltimore (4.1 IP, 9 H, 6 R, 5 ER, 2 BB, 2 K, 1 HR). With four days rest, he beat Miami in his start (6.2 IP, 1 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 2 BB, 9 K, 1 HR), but then got rocked by Philadelphia on four days rest in his next start (3.1 IP, 11 H, 8 R, 8 ER, 1 BB, 0 K, 1 HR). Since then he has had five days rest for his three starts against Houston, Tampa Bay and Boston and this is his line: 21.2 IP, 19 H, 4 R, 3 ER, 1 BB, 24 K, 1 HR, 1.25 ERA, 0.938 WHIP.
Pineda will pitch on Saturday against Seattle, giving him seven days rest, and with the Yankees having an off day on the Monday after the All-Star break, his next start after that will likely be that Friday in Minnesota on five days rest. There’s definitely reason to believe he’s going to be shaky against Seattle and dominate Minnesota since he appears to need to stick to his routine and extended time off works against him. Let’s just hope Brian Cashman and Joe Girardi have come to the conclusion that they know absolutely nothing about starting pitching and innings limited and preventing injuries and let Pineda pitch as much as possible in the second half.
The most important thing on Friday was getting the one win needed over the weekend and then there was the news that Rob Refsndyer would be called up for Saturday.
I have been calling for Rob Refsnyder to be in the majors since last season when he was dominating Triple-A and the Yankees were scoring one or two runs a night. But Brian Cashman kept telling everyone that his defense wasn’t ready, even as Gregorius, Drew and Chase Headley kept booting balls and throwing them away, while failing to his too. But after more than half of the season, I guess the Yankees realized that the Yankees of all teams shouldn’t be starting the hitter with the worst batting average in the majors and decided to finally join the rest of the baseball world, which has been implementing youth on their rosters throughout the season.
After the Yankees won on Friday and accomplished their mission of winning once in this series to keep the Red Sox at bay, I was pretty calm about Saturday’s game. I figured the Yankees would get shut down by Eduardo Rodriguez with him being a young left-hander they have never faced and that happened for the most part with the Yankees scoring just two runs against him in 6 1/3 innings.
I knew it was going to be hard to sweep the Red Sox again at Fenway and with the Yankees’ winning streak against them sitting at five straight after Friday’s win, I wasn’t surprised or upset with the 5-3 loss. All it did was put the standings back to where they were the day before with another game off the schedule and the Red Sox running in place.
It’s hard to know what to expect from Ivan Nova since he had made only four starts now since returning from Tommy John surgery and despite pitching to a 3.42 ERA in those four starts, the Yankees are just 1-3 in them. I do like that Nova holds himself and not his repaired arm accountable for the losses saying that you can’t blame losses on Tommy John surgery and not relate wins to it either. His strikeouts are down and right now with 4.6 K/9, he’s pitching to his lowest strikeout totals of his career, but if anything can be attributed to his recent return from surgery, I think it should be that and him getting the feel back for his pitches and being on a Major League mound. I still trust Nova more than 2015 CC Sabathia or any version of Nathan Eovaldi, and if we’re talking postseason rotations on July 13, then Nova gets the ball in Game 3.
The Yankees led 2-0 early then trailed 3-2 thanks to an “Eovaldi” (which is the inevitable inning for every Nathan Eovaldi start in which he allows a crooked number), but they battled back to tie the game at 3 in the fifth and then took the lead for good with three runs in the sixth to officially end the Red Sox’ season.
Rob Refsnyder got his first hit in his sixth at-bat in the majors and followed up that seventh-inning single with a two-run home run in the ninth inning, which proved to be the difference after some sloppy defense in the bottom of the ninth and guaranteed his place in the lineup after the break. I’m not sure if Stephen Drew has realized yet that his starting job is long gone or if he’s still going to go on and on about being unlucky for two years now, but I’m sure Gregorio Petit realized his roster spot is gone for good after the hit and home run and a copy of the Amtrak and Bolt Bus schedule being left in his locker after the game.
The win gave the Yankees their third straight series win and gave them the 6-3 record they needed in the “Necessary Nine” to end the first half. Here are the AL East standings after the first half.
Let’s say the Yankees play .500 baseball over their final 74 games and go 37-37. They would finish the season at 85-77. Here is what the rest of the division would have to do if that happened:
Tampa Bay: 39-32 (.549, +.044)
Baltimore: 41-33 (.554, +.054)
Toronto: 40-31 (.563, +.068)
Boston: 43-30 (.589, +.117)
So not only would the Yankees have to play awful .500 baseball and 45 points below their season winning percentage, but every other team would have to play well above their first-half performances as well.
It’s absolutely incredible that the Yankees are in first place and have a four-game lead in the loss column after 88 games despite having the worst hitter (Stephen Drew) in the league playing every day, letting a young shortstop (Didi Gregorius) get his feet wet and waiting for him to turn it around in the Bronx both offensively and defensively, letting two horrible starts (CC Sabathia and Nathan Eovaldi) make up 40 percent of the rotation, putting their most consistent starter (Adam Warren) in the bullpen with no set role, watching yet another bad contract (Chase Headley) develop, dealing with a $45 million outfielder (Carlos Beltran) who aged 15 years in one offseason between 2013 and 2014 and missing arguably their three best players (Masahiro Tanaka, Jacoby Ellsbury and Andrew Miller) at the same time for most of the first half. If A-Rod and Mark Teixeira didn’t turn back the clock and if Brian McCann didn’t start to earn his contract and if Brett Gardner didn’t suddenly find consistency for the first time in his career, this Yankees team would be on the same path as the last two.
About as much as can you ask to go your way in a Major League Baseball season has gone the Yankees’ way. It just needs to continue for 74 more games.