Red Sox Nation leaving Blitz behind
With Dice-K on deck, Boston goes for historic sweep
BOSTON -- This may not make up for the Blitz of Boston. But, it's a start, enough for the Red Sox to lift their eyes off the ground when a Yankee enters the room.And if Daisuke Matsuzaka, Boston's other pitcher from Japan, can seal the Red Sox's first Fenway Park sweep of New York in 17 years on Sunday night ... well, it may be easier next week to score an appointment with therapists in Red Sox Nation. "That's just a number ... and an odd one," Jason Varitek said upon being informed that a potential sweep would be the Sox's first at home over their nemeses since 1990. "We just want to keep playing quality baseball." They won't be playing quiet or serene baseball Sunday night, when Matsuzaka's second Fenway Park start crosses paths with Alex Rodriguez's road to sainthood. New York opponents, you should know, play games these days on A-Rod (Scare the Living) Daylight Savings Time. Like, for instance, the ninth inning Saturday, which began at four men to A-Rod. Jonathan Papelbon retired Bobby Abreu on a flyout to center with A-Rod the next tick-tock to preserve Boston's 7-5 win. Dice-K has got to begin pulling his weight. For two weeks now, he has started the only two games Boston has lost. Truthfully, they've been among the Sox's best-pitched games of the young season, a 3-0 loss to Felix Hernandez's one-hitter and a 2-1 defeat to Toronto's Gustavo Chacin. But "nice try" doesn't count, which is why at the moment Matsuzaka ranks below countryman Hideki Okajima, the left-hander who contributed mightily out of the bullpen to both wins over the Yankees. Saturday, the Red Sox, by playing opportunistic baseball, did what they had to, beating up on a rookie pitcher (Jeff Karstens) then holding on. If they can perform a similar number on another rookie Sunday night (left-hander Chase Wright), they will have partially atoned for an oversight in both 2005 and 2006: Not seizing an opportunity presented by Yankees injuries.
They will also have knotted post-2001 business against the Bombers. Since 2002, including their postseason clashes, the Yankees now lead in wins, 56-55.A chance to claim equality against the Yankees certainly looked far-flung last August, when the Yankees finished up their five-game, 49-run blitz here. Earlier in 2006, Boston was unable to pull rank on a New York team carrying on minus Hideki Matsui and Gary Sheffield. "Well, we were banged up pretty well, too, later in the season," said Varitek. Certainly, but before injuries to Varitek, Papelbon, David Ortiz, Jon Lester and Manny Ramirez finished off the Red Sox, the Yankees had read at least their first rites here on Aug. 18-21. That sweep had opened up wide wounds. The healing continued Saturday when Josh Beckett, after starting out by pitching down to Karstens' level, recovered to go 6 2/3 innings. In total, Beckett allowed nine hits, four earned runs -- and two walks. Last time he saw the Yankees here, on Aug. 19, he'd gone an inning shorter and given up nine earned runs -- and nine walks. "Didn't think about that at all," Beckett said. "That was just one of those days. You just hope they come few and far between." Even on a late afternoon when he was kept in the park, Rodriguez was a focal point. He went 2-for-4, not a bad "off" day. His first hit of the nationally-televised game was a leadoff double in the third, when it occurred to us how perfect he was for FOX, the NASCAR network, because he keeps making left turns. Yet Rodriguez remained a central character primarily for upsetting Beckett and stalking Papelbon. Upon being chased by Rodriguez's opposite-field single with two outs in the seventh, Beckett made his slow walk into the dugout -- where he promptly challenged the cooler. "Sometimes I get so frustrated with myself. I expect to be perfect," Beckett explained. "That pitch to Alex got a little too much of the plate, and that's why I was frustrated. "You never want someone else to clean up your mess." Eh, that's pretty much the bullpen's job description, Josh. Okajima, Mike Timlin and Papelbon did that job in hitless fashion. That's Papelbon routine style, naturally. In six games, he has allowed one hit. When he came into this game at four to A-Rod, people became clock-watchers. A one-out walk to Melky Cabrera brought Papelbon closer to A-Rod time. "If it had to happen ... I'm always up for a challenge, for sure," Papelbon said. "But I'm still going at it one hitter at a time, one pitch at a time. "I'm not thinking about having A-Rod on deck. I had a task at hand, and that's all I focused on." "I don't want to get to Alex, because that would've meant decision time," said Boston manager Terry Francona. "And the less decisions you have to make, the better." Presumably, Francona was alluding to confronting a decision of whether to let Papelbon pitch to Rodriguez had he reached the plate. That would have been interesting because, had Francona chosen to intentionally walk A-Rod, he would have been putting on base the potential lead run. He was spared from considering such baseball sacrilege when Abreu lifted Papelbon's second pitch to the edge of the warning track in center, where Coco Crisp clutched it for Boston's seventh win in eight games. Sunday night, the Yankees will try to avoid leaving town five games behind in the standings. Jason Varitek rolled his eyes. "There is so much equality in the league now, a lot more than when I started (1997). We're just trying to win series," he said. This is what he meant: In today's baseball, it doesn't matter how far apart you are -- especially so early in a season -- because there are too many teams out there more than willing to assist with a reconciliation.
Tom Singer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.