Brett Gardner, despite being in the bear hug of a slump, fought back from 1-2 down to draw a walk to load the bases because — well — because that is the way this should have gone.
Because it meant bases loaded, tied score, seventh inning, and now it would be Aaron Judge vs. Joe Kelly — the most beloved current Yankee versus public enemy No. 1 in The Bronx.
Through the years and decades and games, the Red Sox and Yankees so often avoid the disappointing. They honor storylines and then some. And here on this Tuesday night they played a game befitting both their long history and short — the short being that they arrived here the two best teams in the majors, circa 2018.
“Games against them,” Gardner said, “seem to have a little more importance than against other teams.”
The rivals did not offer art, but rather drama. There were errors, a wild pitch, a balk, a poor send by a third-base coach and a ripped fingernail. But before it was all over there also was Kelly versus Judge. Bottom of the seventh. First place — albeit in the second week in May — on the line. The Rivalry delivering again.
“I told a couple of guys on the bench that I had forgotten how much fun these games are,” said Aaron Boone, who is probably the Yankees’ manager now because he has maybe the singular most important hit ever for the Yankees against the Red Sox (sorry, Bucky Dent).
This was not that kind of late October atmosphere. But it was more intense than general when Memorial Day is still in the future. That is because Kelly hit Tyler Austin on April 11 at Fenway Park after the Red Sox took exception to an Austin takeout slide of Brock Holt. Benches emptied for both incidents, in a more serious way for the Kelly-Austin confrontation. Suspensions were issued. Austin became a pariah in Boston, Kelly in The Bronx.
The Red Sox took two of three in that series, reiterated an early dominance that saw the Yankees drop as many as 7 ¹/₂ games behind Boston. But the Yanks’ great play of late had moved them within one game to open this three-game set. After two early homers by Giancarlo Stanton and Boston starter Drew Pomeranz settling down to pitch well despite allowing those homers and ripping a nail on his pitching hand and Gary Sanchez failing to corral yet another catchable wild pitch that led to a slew of extra pitches and eventually a run against a once more brilliant Luis Severino and a bunch more stuff that makes Red Sox-Yankees, Red Sox-Yankees, the score was tied at 2-2.
Neil Walker, suddenly hot, pinch hit for Austin and doubled with one out. Gleyber Torres walked and then so did Gardner. That knocked out Heath Hembree. Enter Joe Kelly. Bases loaded. Judge due.
“For what happened over there [at Fenway], of course it was the perfect script,” Stanton said.
The move to Kelly was logical. Judge was hitless in six at-bats with three strikeouts against the hard-throwing righty. But now it also was emotional. He was bracketed by the full-throated hostility of a crowd of 45,773 that was mostly in its seats from the outset and mostly into near every pitch of a riveting game.
Stanton, hitting in the batting cages behind the dugout, said he heard the response to Kelly through closed doors. Boone said, “It got the decibels up in the stadium a little bit.” Kelly described it “like a playoff atmosphere.”
Judge found calm by deciding the pitcher was in the tough spot with the bases loaded and the heart of the order up, and by remembering Kelly’s pattern of sliders away and fastballs up and internally preaching to not offer at anything that was not out over the plate. At 1-1, Judge lashed a slider for a single to left that scored the go-ahead run — the Yanks’ lone hit in 11 at-bats with men on base.
“I was focused on the situation,” Judge said. “You can’t worry about the past.”
But everything in the present when it comes to Red Sox-Yankees is informed by their long, contentious, melodramatic past. Which is why the Yanks’ 16th victory in 17 games was so sweet. They climbed to 25-10, same as Boston, tied now with a team that had that 7 ¹/₂-game lead less than three weeks ago.
These clubs are playing for more than just the AL East this year. The shared best record in the majors brings even more resonance to the two more games in this series, the 14 more against each other this year. The Rivalry feels full throttle again.
Another reminder came in the seventh inning Tuesday night. Of course, it was bases loaded, Kelly versus Judge, tied score.
The Red Sox and Yankees delivering great theater yet again.
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