Jon Lester vs. A.J. Burnett at Fenway Park. It had all the makings of a mismatch that would widen the gap between the Yankees and Red Sox in the American League East. It didn't work out that way, however.
An encouraging performance by Burnett, a clutch at-bat by Russell Martin, and a sweating-bullets save by Mariano Rivera added up to a 4-2 Yankees win on Thursday in the second-longest nine-inning game in baseball this season.
This was an important win for the Yankees on several levels. It marked the first time this season they took a series from their rivals. It potentially gets Burnett back on track. And most importantly, it pulled them even in the loss column with Boston.
After squandering numerous opportunities in the first six innings, Martin delivered the big blow, a two-run double off Daniel Bard in the seventh. Eric Chavez chased Martin home with a single, finishing the scoring for the day.
Rivera will get the save in the boxscore, but it was Joe Girardi's decision to pull Burnett at the first sign of a meltdown that really saved the Yankees. It happened in the sixth inning with the Yankees trailing 2-1. After Burnett lost David Ortiz on a close 3-2 pitch to put runners on first and second, the right-hander gestured angrily toward home plate and stalked around the mound.
It was clear Burnett had lost his composure, and history has taught us that an implosion wouldn't be far behind. This might explain why moments later Girardi popped out of the dugout and pulled his starter after 5 1/3 innings.
Logan entered and struck out the utterly lost Carl Crawford. Then came another huge moment in the game with Jed Lowrie blooping a Cory Wade pitch into right-center. Curtis Granderson added to his MVP reel with an outstanding diving catch to keep the game from getting away.
Rivera went 2-for-2 in save opportunities in the series, but it wasn't easy. He loaded the bases with two outs in the ninth, giving Adrian Gonzalez the chance to play hero. But Gonzalez (2-for-12 in the series) couldn't get it done, taking a questionable third-strike call to end the game.
"That pitch was down, I should still be hitting. That's all I have to say," the Red Sox first baseman said.
I'd be remiss not to mention Jesus Montero, who made his big-league debut and went 0-for-4. He did score the game-winning run in the sixth when he was hit by a pitch then came around to score on Martin's double.