Red Sox best Mariano Rivera, beat Yankees in 10 innings

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Call it “Deja Drew.”

After the Red Sox let a five-run lead slip away, things were going all according to plan for the Yankees on Thursday. David Robertson pitched a perfect eighth up 8-7, and Mariano Rivera retired the first two batters he faced in the ninth. That’s when things unraveled.

Mike Napoli, who was 0-for-5 with three strikeouts lifetime against Rivera, took a two-strike cutter into right-center for a single. September callup Quintin Berry pinch-ran, immediately took off for second and then kept right on going, reaching third when Austin Romine’s throw went into center field.

Stephen Drew, on the very next pitch, got a cutter left over the plate and drove it over Robinson Cano’s head, tying the game at 8.

It was eerily reminiscent of Game 4 of the 2004 ALCS, when the Red Sox used a Kevin Millar walk, a David Roberts steal and then a Bill Mueller single to tie the game off Rivera, kicking off the greatest comeback in MLB history (they were down three games to none and came back to win the series in seven).

The Red Sox went on to win this one off Joba Chamberlain in the 10th after Jacoby Ellsbury singles, stole second and came around to score on a Shane Victorino single. There was some controversy mixed in; Victorino appeared to strike out on the pitch prior to the single, but first-base ump Joe West ruled he checked his swing.

Koji Uehara followed with a flawless bottom of the 10th for his 18th save.

The blown save was Rivera’s sixth in 47 chances this year. That’s his high total since 2003, when he was 40-for-46. His career high for blown saves was nine, from his first year as a closer in 1997.

It wasn’t a particularly well-played four-hour game for the old rivals. The most notable example came in the bottom of the ninth, when Alfonso Soriano stole the Yankees’ sixth base of the game despite being picked off first, only to follow that with a caught stealing of third base when he was again picked off by Craig Breslow.

On the go-ahead run in the 10th, Romine appeared to have a play on Ellsbury at the plate, but he couldn’t handle the bounce throw from Ichiro Suzuki in right field.

Ivan Nova, the AL Pitcher of the Month for August, came out after throwing 96 pitches in four innings. He gave up three runs. Jake Peavy was better, but the Red Sox brought him back out for the seventh at 105 pitches and he allowed back-to-back batters to reach, kicking off a six-run inning that brought the Yankees back from a 7-2 deficit.

In the playoffs, the Yankees’ weakness has become their strength

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Two weeks ago, when the playoffs began, the idea of “bullpenning” once again surfaced, this time with the Yankees as a focus. Because their starting pitching was believed to be a weakness — they had no obvious ace like a Dallas Keuchel or Corey Kluber — and their bullpen was a major strength, the idea of chaining relievers together starting from the first inning gained traction. The likes of Luis Severino, who struggled mightily in the AL Wild Card game, or Masahiro Tanaka (4.79 regular season ERA) couldn’t be relied upon in the postseason, the thought went.

That idea is no longer necessary for the Yankees because the starting rotation has become the club’s greatest strength. Tanaka fired seven shutout innings to help push the Yankees ahead of the Astros in the ALCS, three games to two. They are now one win away from reaching the World Series for the first time since 2009.

It hasn’t just been Tanaka. Since Game 3 of the ALDS, Yankees pitchers have made eight starts spanning 46 1/3 innings. They have allowed 10 runs (nine earned) on 25 hits and 12 walks with 45 strikeouts. That’s a 1.75 ERA with an 8.74 K/9 and 2.33 BB/9. In five of those eight starts, the starter went at least six innings, which has helped preserve the freshness and longevity of the bullpen.

Here’s the full list of performances for Yankee starters this postseason:

Game Starter IP H R ER BB SO HR
AL WC Luis Severino 1/3 4 3 3 1 0 2
ALDS 1 Sonny Gray 3 1/3 3 3 3 4 2 1
ALDS 2 CC Sabathia 5 1/3 3 4 2 3 5 0
ALDS 3 Masahiro Tanaka 7 3 0 0 1 7 0
ALDS 4 Luis Severino 7 4 3 3 1 9 2
ALDS 5 CC Sabathia 4 1/3 5 2 2 0 9 0
ALCS 1 Masahiro Tanaka 6 4 2 2 1 3 0
ALCS 2 Luis Severino 4 2 1 1 2 0 1
ALCS 3 CC Sabathia 6 3 0 0 4 5 0
ALCS 4 Sonny Gray 5 1 2 1 2 4 0
ALCS 5 Masahiro Tanaka 7 3 0 0 1 8 0
TOTAL 55 1/3 35 20 17 20 52 6

In particular, if you hone in on the ALCS starts specifically, Yankee starters have pitched 28 innings, allowing five runs (four earned) on 13 hits and 10 walks with 20 strikeouts. That’s a 1.61 ERA.

While the Yankees’ biggest weakness has become a strength, the Astros’ biggest weakness — the bullpen — has become an even bigger weakness. This is why the Yankees, who won 10 fewer games than the Astros during the regular season, are one win away from reaching the World Series and the Astros are not.