BOSTON -- While waning a bit, the Red Sox-Yankees rivalry still has some juice left and the two old foes squeezed out every last ounce Sunday night (and Monday morning) at Fenway Park.
In what initially amounted to a tune-up for the Boston Red Sox before a mammoth four-game set with the hard-charging Tampa Bay Rays, the Sox scored a dramatic 8-7 victory on Mike Napoli’s walk-off solo shot to center field in the bottom of the 11th inning. It was Napoli’s second home run of the night and sends Boston into its biggest series of the season with loads of momentum.
The Red Sox led 7-3 entering the sixth inning before the tide turned. The New York Yankees carved out a pair of runs in the sixth against Ryan Dempster and Craig Breslow, then got two more in the seventh, thanks in part to a throwing error by Jose Iglesias on a bunt by Chris Stewart.
The Sox blew a golden opportunity in the eighth when Napoli grounded into an inning-ending double play with the bases loaded. David Robertson’s escape in that frame was part of an impressive performance by the New York bullpen, which struck out 10 in 5 2/3 scoreless innings before Adam Warren’s 2-2 offering to Napoli disappeared into the center-field bleachers.
The Rays finished off a win in Toronto at about 4:30 p.m. Sunday. They were likely in their hotel rooms for several hours before this one ended and should be well-rested when they arrive at Fenway on Monday afternoon.
Here is some of what we saw along the way:
That did the trick, maybe: Napoli was given Saturday off to rest whatever needed to be rested. He reminded reporters who asked about a recent slump that he has always been a streaky hitter and he’d be doing damage again soon. “When I get hot, I get real hot,” he said.
Damage came in the bottom of the third, when Napoli crushed a CC Sabathia offering over the Green Monster for a three-run homer. Yankees left fielder Vernon Wells didn’t move a muscle on the no-doubter, Napoli’s 12th of the year.
In his previous 61 games, Napoli’s slugging percentage was just .365 and the strikeouts, always a part of the first baseman’s game, were piling up at a greater rate. Perhaps a few big blasts can get the slugger back on track. Then again, he also struck out three times and hit into that inning-ending double play.
On a similar note, Shane Victorino returned from a one-game layoff to deliver two singles, two RBIs and two stolen bases.
U-G-L-Y, you ain’t got no alibi: With Clay Buchholz headed to see Dr. James Andrews, Jon Lester being pushed back after the All-Star break to get some extra rest and rookie Brandon Workman starting Monday against the Rays, it was important for Ryan Dempster to put forth a good start.
Dempster gave up a leadoff single to Brett Gardner, then threw a potential 1-6-3 double play into center field to put runners on the corners. Jarrod Saltalamacchia then tossed another ball into center on a stolen base attempt by Ichiro Suzuki that allowed Gardner to walk in from third and Wells later added an RBI single to give New York a 2-0 lead before the seats were full.
Dempster walked light-hitting catcher Chris Stewart to begin the second inning, setting the tone for another Yankees rally that left the right-hander with 50 pitches and a 3-0 deficit through two frames. Several of those pitches, including one that hit Suzuki in the arm during the second, were not even close to the strike zone.
Dempster settled down a bit before he was chased with one out into the sixth, when New York scored two more times. He was charged with five runs -- three earned -- on six hits and four walks in 5 1/3 innings. His ERA in seven career starts against New York was lowered to 6.98.
The other side: There has been much talk of Alex Rodriguez, Derek Jeter and the rest of the Yankees' injured position players, and what their absences have done to the offense. Regardless of their circumstances, how much of a chance does New York have if Sabathia continues to struggle?
After giving up seven runs in five-plus innings Sunday, Sabathia’s ERA sits at 4.37. He is 5-6 with a 5.23 ERA over his last 12 starts. Sabathia turned 33 on Sunday. He’s due as much as $98 million over the next four seasons. If this season is a sign of things to come, that will become an uncomfortable situation.
Brett vs. Junichi: Even with the many superstars on these teams over the years, these marathon affairs often have come down to seventh-inning struggles between guys like Gardner and Red Sox reliever Junichi Tazawa. They provided a memorable duel, staging a 15-pitch encounter that resulted in a walk. Gardner fouled off eight straight pitches before the fourth ball.
Tazawa escaped the jam one batter later when he snagged an Ichiro comebacker.
Go, Jonny, go: Jonny Gomes provided a solo homer in the fifth inning to continue a nice stretch for the once-struggling outfielder. On June 6, he went 4-for-5 against Texas to lift his average over .200. Including that effort, Gomes is 27-for-84 (.321) with five homers over his last 26 games.
Leftovers: David Ortiz set a career high with his fourth stolen base. ... The Red Sox committed three throwing errors. ... Gardner and fellow leadoff man Jacoby Ellsbury combined to reach base nine times. ... Thirteen pitchers threw 382 pitches in 4 hours, 46 minutes of action.
Up next: The Sox are 5-1 against the Rays at home this year, but Tampa Bay was 18-9 in Boston over the previous three seasons. With Matt Moore and David Price both set to appear, as well as 9-3 Jeremy Hellickson and a Roberto Hernandez who has put together four straight quality starts, every night will be a challenge.