BOSTON, MA - SEPTEMBER 1: Catcher Russell Martin #55 of the New York Yankees pumps his fist after Adrian Gonzalez #28 of the Boston Red Sox strikes out to end the game at Fenway Park on September 1, 2011 in Boston, Massachusetts. The Yankees won the game 4-2. (Photo by Darren McCollester/Getty Images)
Sadly, this bad news comes only as the result of a loss that seemed all-too-winnable before the game was actually played. Jon Lester vs. AJ Burnett? It should be a cinch, right?
Well, tell that to Burnett, who somehow managed to turn in his first quality start since June against a team that's made aces regularly feel like spot-starting scrubs. The only man who managed to get to him for some runs was Dustin Pedroia, who made it a career-high 18 shots when he went deep to straight-away center in the fourth.
Credit where credit is due, however: that was only a portion of the equation, and the Yankees' lineup deserves credit for a performance that damn near epitomizes this rivalry in recent years. The hated New Yorkers took pitch after pitch, fouled off strike after strike, and generally just prolonged their at bats in order to knock out Boston's southpaw ace early. Lester had to throw 44 pitches in a 1-run first, and while he wouldn't allow another runner to cross home plate in the next four innings, it took him up over 110 pitches, meaning an early end to his night.
Of course, for the Red Sox of one month ago, a 2-1 lead was the sort of thing that could hold up. But ever since the effective demise of Matt Albers, well, it's been a challenge to figure out those middle innings. Thursday, the hope was for Alfredo Aceves to provide a couple of quality frames, but with his control off he struggled badly in the first, and then couldn't escape the second, giving up two free baserunners with just one out. Daniel Bard couldn't put out the fire immediately, and three runs came across to make the score 4-2. Despite an attempted rally against Mariano Rivera in the ninth, it would prove to be a deficit they could not overcome.
Really after that first bad inning Terry Francona shouldn't be sending Aceves back out there, except that he pretty much had to. Unless your faith in Wheeler and/or Morales is really so great as to entrust them with a one-run lead, then his back was to the wall. And it will continue to be this way right up until they can find an internal option in the late-going.
It's not a disaster to have lost the series. The Sox still lead the division by a half game, the Yankees can't really be particularly enthused about A.J. Burnett's chances to beat the Sox based on just the one game, and it's not like Lester was man-handled here, particularly.
But man, 12-3 somehow seems a lot nicer than 11-4.