NEW YORK -- For the Red Sox, these are hardly the times that try men’s souls. Not with an 8 ½-game lead in the American League East and three weeks to play. Even Sox CEO Larry Lucchino, who spent his birthday weekend here, is alleged to have exhaled.
The line of desperation formed to the right, where the New York Yankees have seen both the Cleveland Indians and Baltimore Orioles leapfrog them in the wild-card race in the past couple of days, their bullpen in tatters and the Captain, Derek Jeter, back on the bench with a bad ankle.
So Joe Girardi made an early call for The Great Rivera on Sunday afternoon, asking his 43-year-old closer to give him a two-inning save, something he had asked Mariano Rivera to do just once all season.
But for the second time in four games, the Red Sox had the temerity to treat a first-ballot Hall of Famer like a mop-up man, Will Middlebrooks hitting a home run with one out in the ninth to tie the score.
Thursday night, it had been shortstop Stephen Drew’s broken-bat single that had pinned a blown save on Rivera. Sunday afternoon, Yankees right fielder Ichiro Suzuki broke in on Middlebrooks’ high fly ball, then retreated, farther and farther, until he ran out of room, the ball landing in the seats for Middlebrooks’ 15th home run of the season.
Boston’s euphoria was short-lived. The Yankees avoided a four-game sweep by answering in the bottom of the ninth against Sox reliever Brandon Workman. Suzuki singled, stole second, advanced to third on a fly ball and scored on a wild pitch, catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia unable to glove Workman’s high fastball to Alfonso Soriano.
The Yankees’ 4-3 win, on a day that Sox manager John Farrell rested starters Mike Napoli and Shane Victorino while anxiously awaiting word on Jacoby Ellsbury's injured foot, ended Boston’s five-game winning streak and kept the Sox's magic number for winning the AL East at 12.