After the disaster that was Friday night, the Red Sox came out Saturday afternoon and responded in the best possible way.
There are few criticisms to be levied against the Red Sox for their 4-1 win over the Yankees Saturday, and more importantly some truly exceptional performances to highlight.
Let's get this out of the way first: Nick Punto was fantastic. This is one of the last places on the internet to come for Punto praise--I believe Weather.com has had more positive comments on the diminutive infielder than we have--but today he is entirely deserving. Jon Lester was in a ground ball mood today, and Punto received opportunity after opportunity, coming through each time.
Even when he was bad, booting a sharp-hopping ground ball into the air in the middle innings, Punto was good. With the ball sailing over his head, Punto made the barehanded midair grab, spun, and fired to first for an impressive out. But more often than not he was good without any of the preamble, coming in to make a strong play on a short ground ball from Andruw Jones, diving to stop a sharp hit destined for the outfield before making the throw from his knees. Throw in an RBI triple and you've got quite the performance.
Then there was the man who he brought home with his triple: Pedro Ciriaco. As FOX was so eager to point out, the last time the Sox and Yankees played on their channel, Ciriaco grabbed four hits for the Sox in five at bats. That was the second game for Ciriaco with the Sox, and most assumed it would be his one flash in the pan. Well, here we are 30 games later, and today Ciriaco just decided to give that whole fifth at bat a miss. Four times to the plate, four hits, one double. That flash in the pan is now hitting .343 through more than 100 at bats, and whether you believe he can be a valuable member of the team long-term or not, he's sure fun to watch at the moment.
Punto and Ciriaco would carry much of the load late in the game, but early on it was Adrian Gonzalez who got the job done. When David Phelps released his 2-1 pitch to Adrian, he probably felt pretty good about it. It was headed down and away, right around the corner, making it a tough take for Gonzalez and a tough call for the umpire. Well, Gonzalez didn't take, and the umpire never had a call to make. Taking one of those effortless opposite field swings we haven't seen enough of over the last two years, Gonzalez put enough of a charge into the ball to drop it into the stands in left for a two-run shot.
Gonzalez would reach base twice more on the night, and the second time was extra satisfying: an intentional base on balls not simply dictated by reputation or strategy, but one that Gonzalez had earned. Since the All-Star break, he's hit .366/.406/.618, leaving the park with a consistency we haven't seen from him in a Red Sox uniform. Though the walks are still a bit scarce, this is the closest we've gotten, arguably, to the Gonzalez we expected. Not a guy who kills it for a series, hits singles for a while, and then kills it for another series in another month, but a constant threat.
But the crown jewel of the game was the performance turned in from Jon Lester. The outing started shaky, he never really got his strikeouts going, and he had some good help from his defense. But the most important thing was that today, Lester threw his cutter, and it looked like it used to look. He got ground ball after ground ball to the left side, got out of all the real trouble situations he faced (and I don't think it's any coincidence two of his four strikeouts came in the first inning when he found himself in the greatest danger), and left with seven innings and just the one earned run to his name.
Just a few short weeks ago, Lester was smiling after giving up four runs in six innings to the Yankees. His season had gone so terribly wrong that even just a decent outing like that was considered a real significant break for him. Now, after shutting down the Yankees for seven, he's got something he can really hang his hat on. Somehow, some way, the old Lester may have found his way back.
Defeating the Yankees on any day is enough to make Sox fans quite happy indeed. But there's something about this game that made it better than any 4-1 game has a right to be. Whatever happens tomorrow, take this night to feel good about the team.