NEW YORK, NY - SEPTEMBER 25: Jonathan Papelbon #58 of the Boston Red Sox reacts after striking out Austin Romine #71 of the New York Yankees (not pictured) with the bases loaded to end the bottom of the ninth inning on September 25, 2011 at Yankee Stadium in the Bronx borough of New York City. (Photo by Christopher Pasatieri/Getty Images)
The dry facts: In a 14-inning game, the Boston Red Sox defeated the New York Yankees, 7-4. The win for the Red Sox moved them a game ahead of the Tampa Bay Rays for the Wild Card lead, and it virtually eliminated the Los Angeles Angels -- three full games back -- from playoff contention.
It was more than that, though. If you were a Red Sox fan looking for bad omens in the second game of the Yankees/Red Sox doubleheader, the first inning would have had a lot to offer. First, there was that which the prophecies foretold: John Lackey was the starting pitcher for the Red Sox. And in the bottom of the first, after allowing a walk and a single, Lackey gave up a hit to Mark Teixeira that almost, almost went out of the park. It was this close:
For that split second, that brief moment, Red Sox fans exhaled a bit. The Yankees had taken the lead, perhaps, but at least it wasn't a three-run home run, right?.
Two runs scored, though, and when Teixeira tried to take third on a fielder's choice, Jason Varitek winged the ball into left field. Teixeira scored anyway. It went from a home run that wasn't to a double that was to a (de facto) home run. If Lackey had ripped his jersey off, stormed off the field, and joined the Peace Corps at that exact moment, no one would have blamed him.
And if there were an omen that could be even more foreboding, then, it would look something like this:
That would have been the tying run in the sixth inning of a probably-should-win game. It was as close as a regular-season game can get to a must-win game without actually being an elimination game. It was a 3-2 Yankees lead with two outs and Dustin Pedroia on third. Ivan Nova retched a ball to the backstop, and it came right back to catcher Austin Romine.
That's the universe telling you to call your travel agent. I hear Belize is nice in October.
The Yankees took a 3-0 lead on the Teixeira debacle in the first inning. The Red Sox clawed back with single runs in the fifth and sixth innings. Doubles by Jed Lowrie and Marco Scutaro in the seventh inning, followed by a single from Varitek, gave the Sox a 4-3 lead. Joey Gathright -- who isn't still on the Rays' payroll, honest -- got picked off to end the seventh, and the Yankees came right back to tie the game with a Chris Dickerson sacrifice fly.
With a tie game, the Yankees were in constant walk-off threat mode in the ninth ... tenth ... eleventh ... twelfth ... and thirteenth innings. The best chance for the Yankees might have been in the ninth, when Austin Romine came up with the bases loaded and two outs. Jonathan Papelbon didn't do anything special enough for a save -- like pitch the final three innings of an 18-2 game -- but he might have gotten the most important out of the game by striking out Romine to end the inning.
In the 14th inning, Scott Proctor, who is the John Lackey of relievers -- which is quite the coincidence, as Lackey is the Proctor of starters -- gave up a single to Darnell McDonald and a walk to Marco Scutaro before facing Jacoby Ellsbury, who has become quite the fashionable MVP candidate lately. If he wins the award, this game might have been the tipping point. Ellsbury launched a three-run home run to right-center field -- his third homer of the doubleheader -- to give the Sox a 7-4 lead they wouldn't relinquish. Felix Doubront, who was a starter in Pawtucket for most of the season, came in for the save.
The Sox aren't free and clear just yet, but they do get to play the Orioles this week, while the Rays have to host the Yankees. Boston has a one-game lead over the Rays with three to go, and we've got a race that didn't seem possible just two weeks ago.