Sunday, August 9, 2009

Boston Sweep Party

If there was any question, any doubt, any uncertainty about the character of the 2009 New York Yankees, this weekend it was answered.

Oh, was it answered.

All the talk, all the rumors that the Yankees could not beat decent teams, that they were a bully team that could only beat up on teams like the Mets and the Orioles, all the insinuations that Alex Rodriguez couldn't hit in the clutch, all of it has gone for naught.

The Yankees came into the weekend set with the Red Sox needing to win one--just one--to ensure they woke up on Monday morning still in first place, and to get the 0-fer off their backs.

So they won the first game.

It wasn't pretty, a 13-6 slugfest in which the Yankees walked twelve of the Red Sox, but it counts.

After winning the first game, the rhetoric turned to winning the second. Win the second game and ensure a split, ensure that no matter what there is no net loss in the standings. Win and get AJ Burnett's own Boston monkey off his back.

So they won the second game.

It was pretty--a thing of baseball beauty--until it went too long, well into the early morning hours. Eventually, Joe Girardi out-managed Terry Francona's bullpen strategy; while Girardi maximized the relievers he did use in extra innings, Francona opted for one-inning stints and eventually Junichi Tazawa made his Major League debut, and Alex Rodriguez was waiting.

After winning the second game, the rhetoric turned to winning the third. Win the third game and ensure a net gain in the standings. Win the third game and ensure a series victory in a series in which most would have been satisfied with a split.

So they won the third game.

It was pretty, too. The pitching was pretty--more, actually, like domination than pretty--and with a starter like CC Sabathia on the mound, domination seems a better term to describe it. The offense scored early enough and the team never looked back. It wasn't a 15-0 thrashing, but the way the Red Sox had been hitting, it might as well have been.

After winning the third game, then, the rhetoric turned to winning the fourth game.

To a sweep.

No one wanted to utter that word before--too much attached to it, it might too quickly act as a jinx--but now, three wins already down, the fans (and, one senses, the Yankees) smelled blood in the water.

The match up, on paper, favored Boston. Jon Lester, in his career, is (still) undefeated against the Yankees, although he has not always won.

Tonight, Lester wasn't much different. He made only one mistake--a solo home run to Alex Rodriguez--in seven innings of work. That the Red Sox were held scoreless, too, had less to do with Andy Pettitte (though it must be said that Pettitte got much stronger in his last two innings of work) than it did the Red Sox offense, which has simply disappeared.

Between the ninth inning of Thursday's game and the eighth inning of tonight's, the Red Sox did not score a single run. Thirty-one-and-a-third scoreless innings. Blame Boston's offense or laud Yankee pitching, it's your choice, but the fact remains that in four games against their rivals the Red Sox scored eight runs and four of those came before the fifth inning on Friday.

If there was one blemish tonight, it was Phil Coke giving up a two-run home run to Victor Martinez, but Girardi's reasoning for using Coke in that spot was sound: Phil Hughes was unavailable after pitching four games out of five, and if the game got to extra innings, the Yankees needed pitchers available who could give length.

During the postgame interview on YES, Coke explained that the pitch to Martinez was supposed to be up near his hands, and not down by his thighs. He was angry about it, and then was not angry anymore once the Yankees won. "So much for 8-0," he said.

Johnny Damon and Mark Teixeira were there to bail Coke out, though, with back-to-back home runs in the next half inning. In fact, while with two outs, the Yankees would proceed to bat around in the inning.

So the Yankees won the fourth game.

They won the fourth game and swept the Boston Red Sox.

Had they swept this series against any other team it would be noted for the stellar pitching, clutch hitting, brilliant defense and everything else that went right. Since the series was against the Red Sox, though, it'll be remembered, rightly or wrongly, mostly for being a sweep of the Red Sox.

The Yankees are now 6.5 games in first place--the first time since 2006. It's still early, and there's still a long way to go, but there it is.

This is a team that is not just playing like it could, but playing like it will go on to do special things.

They can't get complacent now. They have to keep going. This has the feeling right now that the Yankees have just clinched the division. They have not, and with a month and a half to go it's not really that close, either.

Look for some of the regulars to get a day of rest while playing Seattle--after that it's back to the West Coast and then Boston again the weekend after.

For the moment, enjoy what you've seen.

And so much for Boston being 8-0, huh?