Yankees 1, Red Sox 2: Mike Napoli homer ends Tanaka/Lester pitching duel

Al Bello

The two aces were brilliant, and the game was decided on one bad pitch.

Tonight was a vintage pitchers' duel between Yankees ace Masahiro Tanaka and Red Sox ace Jon Lester, as the two men threw brilliant one-run ball through eight innings. Sadly for Tanaka, someone had to lose. An errant decision by Tanaka to throw Mike Napoli a ninth inning two-out, two-strike fastball up in the zone led to a home run to short porch in right field, and the Red Sox held on for a gut-punch 2-1 victory.

The game started off quietly in the first inning, as Tanaka threw only seven pitches in a perfect frame while Lester allowed just a walk. Although Tanaka struck out the side in the second, the Red Sox came out swinging on Tanaka's first pitches in the third. Jackie Bradley Jr. drove Jacoby Ellsbury to the warning track in center field before backup catcher David Ross connected on a solo homer just over the left-center field fence to give Boston the early advantage. Tanaka worked out of the inning, and the Yankees' offense countered by scratching out a run against Lester. Stephen Drew bobbled Brian Roberts's leadoff grounder to shortstop, and Lester drilled Yangervis Solarte on the foot to move Roberts into scoring position. (Solarte limped around but stayed in the game.) For some reason, Brett Gardner bunted the runners to second and third (decreasing the chances of a bigger inning). Fortunately, the Yankees got the tying run out of it anyway on Derek Jeter's slow grounder to shortstop, but the inning ended with just the one run. It would have been nice to see if they could have gotten more with one of their best hitters swinging away. That decision would loom larger when the Yankees failed to score for the rest of the night. Alas.

Tanaka quickly ran into trouble in the fourth when Dustin Pedroia and David Ortiz send a pair of rockets down the right field line that were poorly played by Alfonso Soriano, putting the Yankees' ace in a second-and-third, no one out jam. Undeterred, Tanaka reached into the bag of tricks that has led to a mere .215 wOBA against with runners on and struck out both Napoli and Drew, preventing a run from scoring on an out. He then got Xander Bogaerts to roll a grounder to shortstop to end the inning. Tanaka did it again when Brock Holt doubled to right on an ill-fated Soriano dive (seriously, Soriano is awful out there); Daniel Nava grounded out to second to strand another Red Sox runner. It's a good thing he kept those runs from scoring too because the Yankees' offense was basically doing nothing against Lester, who held them hitless through five innings.

After a couple of correctly reversed calls through instant replay erased a runner each for both the Yankees and Red Sox, the Yankees put a rally together in the bottom of the sixth. Gardner singled up the middle to halt the no-hit bid, though he was erased on a missile throw by Ross to second base. Jeter and Ellsbury followed with singles to give the Yankees a chance with runners in scoring position, but this time, it was the Yankees' turn for some RISPfail. Mark Teixeira hit a lazy fly to right field and Carlos Beltran fanned when he couldn't check his swing on a low pitch. The game continued in a 1-1 tie, as neither team managed much against the two aces in the seventh or eighth.

With only 103 pitches through eighth, Tanaka returned to the mound in the ninth inning and got two outs when David Ortiz hit a low liner to second base that Solarte played off the ground and got a double play. It looked like Tanaka was going to get out of the inning with the tie preserved, but Napoli came up with the decisive blow. It was unfortunately a poor call in hindsight to go with the fastball on a two-strike count against a smart hitter like Napoli (Tanaka shook off McCann to get to the fastball), and the Red Sox carried a 2-1 lead into the ninth, where dominant closer Koji Uehara retired the Yankees in order to end the game. Five hits just is rarely going to be enough to win a game, as Tanaka was sattled with a hard-luck loss despite nine innings of two-run ball in his third complete game of the season.

Chase Whitley will pitch for the Yankees in the rubber game of this three-game series tomorrow on ESPN's Sunday Night Baseball, and the offense will try to recapture their Friday night form with John Lackey pitching for Boston.

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