NEW YORK -- The surprise was not that Friday night's game between the Red Sox and Yankees was postponed, rescheduled for Sunday night as part of a day-night doubleheader.
The surprise was that the decision came so swiftly, the game postponed right around its scheduled 7:05 start time, even though only a light but steady rain was falling and Jon Lester, who was scheduled to start for the Sox, was out on the field long-tossing with catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia.
The last time the Sox were here, the teams sat through heavy rains and a rain delay of 3 hours, 32 minutes before commencing hostilities at 10:32 p.m., with the final out recorded at 1:43 a.m.
The decision whether to start Friday night's game was in the hands of the umpiring crew and officials from the commissioner's office, but Red Sox manager Terry Francona said Yankees GM Brian Cashman couldn't have been more accommodating in discussions of how to proceed.
"Cash actually said, 'This game means more to you, even though this is our home game,'" Francona related. "He was terrific."
These teams have played in much worse weather, but Francona said the forecast called for conditions to become progressively worse, so the decision was made to postpone, just as the Mets in nearby Flushing postponed their game against the Phillies.
So the Sox, who already had been given a day's respite to regroup, had another night in midtown Manhattan to call their own as well, probably not the worst development for a team badly in need of a break from the suffocating angst of their 5-16 September. The off night turned even more festive with news that the Tampa Bay Rays had fallen at home to Toronto, 5-1, leaving them 2½ games behind with just six games to be played for Boston, five for the Rays. Any combination of four Sox wins and Rays losses, and the Sox will play in October.
The postponement could have significant ramifications for the last day of the regular season, Wednesday in Baltimore, when the Sox could have brought back Lester on regular rest if needed. Now, if the wild card is still hanging in the balance, the Sox could still bring back Lester, but he'd be pitching on short rest.
Lester has pitched on short rest only once in his big league career, regular season or playoffs, and it did not go well. That was April 23, 2008, when Lester lasted just five innings against the Angels in Fenway Park and was lit up for four runs on nine hits, including two home runs, in a 6-4 loss.
The Yankees also will run out the same three pitchers as they had planned -- Freddy Garcia, A.J. Burnett and Ivan Nova -- manager Joe Girardi having already decided to save his ace, CC Sabathia, for the playoff opener next Friday, with Sabathia throwing a simulated game Sunday instead of facing the Sox.
The Sox have won all six of the games played here between the teams this season, and it's possible that Friday's rainout could mean Kevin Youkilis and J.D. Drew will both be available for a game they otherwise would have missed. Drew took batting practice in the cages Friday without a problem, Francona said, while Youkilis did some hitting off the tee and soft toss. "I told Youk to check back with me tomorrow,'' said Francona, noting that the third baseman was still sore and he wanted to see how he recovered before making any predictions about when he might play.
The atmosphere in the clubhouse before the game was relaxed, with some players amusing themselves while watching on-field reporters doing TV standups under the protection of umbrellas. Both Francona and GM Theo Epstein, meanwhile, addressed Francona's job status after veteran analyst Peter Gammons had gone on a radio show and said he sensed an "increasing disconnect" between the manager and GM.
Epstein had disputed that assessment with an e-mail Friday morning. "There's no disconnect,'' Epstein wrote. "We've had each other's support and admiration for eight years and that doesn't stop because the team has had a very difficult month so far.''
He later elaborated in a conversation with reporters in the visitors dugout before the game.
"I think anyone who's been around the club on a daily basis can see that,'' Epstein said. "We talk several times a day. We spend a ton of time together. I was in [Francona's office] today, laughing, joking, like I was yesterday, like I was the day before with him. Obviously, less laughing and joking this month than previously because of the way things are going. We're on the same page. For eight years, I've respected and admired him. I believe the feeling's mutual.
"This is what happens when teams play poorly down the stretch. There's a tendency to turn a stretch of bad baseball into a soap opera, and we're not going to let that happen. Have we played good baseball this month? No. Are there any sort of deeper issues in our personal problems or dramatics around here? No. This is not a soap opera. This is a team that hasn't played well all of a sudden for two or three weeks, and we need to go out and win some games. But Tito and I are on the same page. There is not a disconnect."
Gammons, who formerly worked for The Boston Globe and ESPN, and now works for NESN and MLB.com, is the dean of Boston baseball writers, spends a great deal of time at Fenway Park, and is perceived to have a close relationship with Epstein, lending credence to his report. Epstein, however, could not have been more emphatic in his denial, although he would not address Francona's contract, saying whether the team exercised the two option years in Francona's deal was an offseason matter.
Francona also addressed the issue in his pregame media session. "I don't feel any different than I ever have,'' he said. "The organization not only has the right, but it's their obligation to get the right person, the person they think is the best. If at some point they think it needs to be somebody else -- other than that, I think it's disrespectful for me to spend one waking moment thinking about my situation. We need to win games, so that's how I intend to do it."