That was a depressing weekend of baseball, wasn’t it? Three crushing losses to the Red Sox followed by a win that felt an awful lot like a loss. While it didn’t technically eliminate the Yankees from postseason play, it dealt their hopes a tremendous blow. They didn’t lose any games in the standings to Tampa Bay for the second wild card, but they were passed in the standings by Baltimore and Cleveland, leaving them three teams to leapfrog and only 19 games to play. If it makes you feel better (and it probably won’t right now), the Yankees have done far worse to the Red Sox over the years. In 2006, 1978 twice, and 1949, the Yankees had the privilege of derailing the Red Sox postseason hopes in painful fashion.
In August 2006, the Yankees went to Boston for a five game series. The Red Sox were in second place (as usual), just two games behind the Yankees with 43 left to play. They started with a doubleheader on Friday the 18th in which the Yankees won the first game 12-4, in what was an unmanageable three hour, 55 minute marathon. Johnny Damon tripled, homered, drove in four runs and scored three, Bobby Abreu had four hits, Derek Jeter had three hits and scored twice, and Jason Giambi drove in three. Chien-Ming Wang improved to 14-5 with a six inning, three-run performance. Mike Myers, Scott Proctor and T.J. Beam closed it out. The Yankees won the nightcap 14-11 behind a five-run second inning and a seven-run seventh. Damon homered again and drove in three more, while Brian Bruney, Myers, Kyle Farnsworth and Proctor picked up an ineffective Sidney Ponson with four scoreless innings. That game took four hours and 45 minutes. The Yankees jumped all over Josh Beckett on Saturday afternoon in a 13-5 win. Damon had three more hits, Robinson Cano drove in five and Jorge Posada drove in four and somehow tripled. Randy Johnson was good enough (five runs in seven innings), with Jaret Wright and Beam each throwing an uneventful inning.
The Yankees won in 10 innings on Sunday night, scoring one in the eight to close to 5-4, one in the ninth to tie, and three in the tenth to win on Giambi and Posada home runs. Monday’s game was actually a pitcher’s duel. Cory Lidle gave the Yankees six shutout innings, while David Wells allowed two runs in 7.1 IP. Four days, five games, five wins, almost 21 hours of game play, and the Yankees were now 6.5 games up. Although there were still 38 games to play, the Red Sox were done, going just 17-21 the rest of the way. If you think the Yankees’ roster looks like crap now, look at the names from just 7 years ago – Myers, Proctor, Beam, Ponson, Ron Vilone, Farnsworth, Wright, Octavio Dotel and Cory Lidle all pitched in a big five-game series against Boston. Craig Wilson played in all five games, starting three at first base. Nick Green played in all five games, starting one at third base and one at shortstop. Sal Fasano started two games and PINCH RAN for Posada! Aaron Guiel was a late-inning defensive replacement for Abreu twice. I’d forgotten that most of them ever played for the Yankees. If we think the Yankees are bad about giving their own minor leaguers a chance now, a look at those five games makes them seem a lot better than they were. Or maybe they were worse at developing young players. Maybe a little bit of both.
In 1978, the Red Sox were hoping to get back to the World Series just three years after their heartbreaking seven-game loss to the Big Red Machine. They still led the Yankees by nine games on the morning of August 14. By September 7, that lead was down to four games, with the Yankees arriving in Boston for a four-game series. The Yankees hammered Boston 15-3 in the first game, behind five RBI from Willie Randolph and six innings of two-run relief from Ken Clay. Mike Torrez allowed five runs, and left without recording an out in the second inning. The Yankees scored at least two runs in each of the first four innings, and led 12-0 after the top of the fourth.
The Yankees won the second game 13-2, scoring twice in the first inning and six times in the second. Lou Piniella doubled, tripled and homered, and Reggie Jackson hit a three-run home run. Jim Beattie allowed two unearned runs in 8.2 IP, striking out eight. The Yankees knocked Boston’s starter out in the second inning for the second consecutive game, this time after Jim Wright allowed four runs while recording four outs. Saturday afternoon was more of the same: a 7-0 Yankees win, with all the scoring in the second inning. Pinella had three more hits, and Ron Guidry improved to 21-2 with a two-hit shutout. The Red Sox finally put up a fight in the fourth game, but not before their starter, Bobby Sprowl, lasted just two-thirds on an inning, allowing four walks. The Yankees led 5-0 after two innings, and won 7-4. Goose Gossage pitched three innings for the save, and the Yankees were now tied. They outscored Boston 42-9 over the course of the series.
In New York the following weekend, the Yankees took two of three from the Red Sox, but Boston won 12 of their final 14, including their last eight, to force a one-game playoff for the division title. In case you’re new to the whole Yankees-Red Sox rivalry, the Red Sox led 2-0 through six innings before Bucky Dent hit a three-run home run over the Green Monster in the seventh, and Reggie Jackson added a solo shot in the eighth for a 5-4 win and the division crown.
In 1949, the Red Sox were 31 years removed from their last World Series win (and still 55 years before their next one), and three years removed from a seven-game World Series loss to the Cardinals. Boston had a one-game lead over the Yankees with two games left to play, both in the Bronx. The Red Sox jumped out to a 4-0 lead in game number 161, but the Yankees scored two in the fourth and two more in the fifth to tie it. In the bottom of the eighth, Johnny Lindell hit a two-out homer for a 5-4 win. On the final day of the season, needing a win to force a playoff, the Yankees scored a quick run in the bottom of the first on a Phil Rizzuto triple and a Tommy Henrich groundout. Vic Raschi and Ellis Kinder then traded scoreless innings until the Yankees scored four in the eighth against the Boston bullpen on a Henrich home run and a three-run double by Jerry Coleman to go up 5-0. The Red Sox then scored three in the top of the ninth, and brought the tying run to the plate with two outs, when Raschi got Birdie Tebbetts to pop out for first for the win, and the pennant.
Hopefully that reminder takes some of the sting out of last weekend. If it didn't, then also keep in mind that the Yankees are only four years removed from their last championship, as oppossed to the long drought the Red Sox had already endured by 1949 and 1878. The fact that I've been preparing myself for a disappointing season since pretty much the end of last season, combined with the fact that the Yankees have been a playoff participant in 18 of the last 19 seasons, also makes last weekend a lot easier to take.