PHILADELPHIA -- Takeaways from a night on which Jacoby Ellsbury went home with a new record and a souvenir to commemorate it, Franklin Morales stuck his first win in his back pocket and the Boston Red Sox headed up the Jersey Turnpike to face the suddenly reeling New York Yankees, losers of a season-high five straight, including four to the crosstown (and heretofore harmless) New York Mets:
"That doesn't mean they're not going to play against us," said Jarrod Saltalamacchia, who warmed up for the weekend with two RBI doubles, missed a home run by no more than a foot and threw out an attempted base-stealer, the only catcher to do so on the night Ellsbury stole a club-record five bases.
"I always get pumped up to play those guys," he said. "What does Pap say -- if you want to be the best, you got to beat the best?"
At least Jonathan Papelbon, who had saved Philadelphia Phillies wins each of the previous two nights, was limited to just being quoted. The Sox jumped on the Phillies with four in the first, expanded their lead with solo home runs by Jonny Gomes and David Ortiz, then tacked on three more in the eighth, rendering Papelbon no more useful than the Phillie Phanatic.
The Sox and Yankees haven't played since the first three games of the season, when the Sox won two out of three despite missing Ortiz and pinning their hopes on a rookie with one full year of pro experience, Jackie Bradley Jr. The Yankees, meanwhile, have been playing short-handed all season, though two missing regulars, Mark Teixeira and Kevin Youkilis, are due to return Friday night.
Before the season started, New York injuries and Boston's extreme makeover had the smart money speculating that the Bombers and Sox would be bringing up the rear of the division. What would Gomes have said in March if someone had told him Sox-Yanks would rank 1-2 entering June?
"You nailed it," Gomes said. "I think we talked about it in spring: The AL East was going to be a five-team crapshoot. We've seen it in the past -- big teams, big payrolls, big everything, go into the season and not work out, and then there's the other side of it. The AL East is the Beast.
"I didn't think there was going to be a five-way tie for first."
Gomes, a newcomer to the rivalry, likes the added cachet that comes with it but says no one should read too much into what takes place.
"I don't think who wins these three games or who wins the series tells anything," he said.
But he saluted the Yankees for persevering under daunting circumstances.
"It's awesome, it really is," he said. "I think it says a lot about their secondary players. I think their manager [Joe Girardi], it says a lot about the ship he runs and the organization.
"It doesn't matter who they run out there, they're expected to win. It comes from the past there and definitely Joe Girardi. Just because all their guys are banged up, I don't think they're going to lay down. And granted maybe they're secondary players now, but you're talking Vernon Wells, [Brennan] Boesch, Lyle Overbay. These aren't no-names. These aren't Triple-A call-ups. These guys have track records, too."
Gomes has a point, although of the three guys with "track records" he cites, Overbay and Boesch were other people's discards this spring, while Wells was a consensus choice as the most-overpaid player in the game.
Still, the Yanks are coming, with Tex and Youk back in the fold. Derek Jeter remains a speck on the horizon (All-Star break, perhaps?) and Alex Rodriguez is a salvage job with a very uncertain outcome.
The Sox used two emergency starters against the Phillies this week, Alfredo Aceves on Monday and Morales on Thursday, and those are the two games they won in the four they split with the Phils. Aceves gave the Sox six innings and allowed just a run, and Morales, after giving up a two-run home run in the first to Delmon Young, tacked on four scoreless innings before giving way to a four-man bullpen shuttle that put up four more zeroes.
You can't overstate the value of being able to call on guys like that who deliver that caliber of performance. Bobby Valentine used Zach Stewart for two emergency starts last season: He went 0-2 with a 22.24 ERA and lasted a total of 5⅔ innings. Yes, Allen Webster was knocked around in an emergency start earlier this season, but Webster, Morales and Aceves offer depth that was lacking last season.
What difference does defense make in a game decided by seven runs? Plenty. A key play Thursday night was the double play turned by Stephen Drew and Dustin Pedroia on Erik Kratz with the bases loaded and one out in the fourth, when it was still a two-run game.
"A huge play," Sox manager John Farrell said. "It wasn't a hard-hit ball. Stephen gave him a firm feed, and Pedey [Pedroia] hangs in tough with [Kevin] Frandsen right down his throat. A momentum shift."
Ellsbury's souvenir? The Phillies gave him a base to commemorate his five steals. "Very nice of them," he said.