NEW YORK -- Twenty-five days left in the month, 20 games to be played, a season-best 28 games over .500, a season-best 6½-game lead in the American League East after the Tampa Bay Rays lost Thursday night in Anaheim. The Yankees are on fumes; the Rays may be close behind.
October for the Boston Red Sox: close enough to touch?
"Yeah, I think everybody can feel it," pitcher Jake Peavy said after the Red Sox inflicted a near-mortal blow to the Yankees' hopes of sneaking into the playoffs with a 9-8, 10-inning win in the Bronx that negated a Yankees comeback from five runs down.
"At the same time, you have to stay present and not look ahead," Peavy said. "If you do, you can see tonight how easily things can get away from you. I think this team knows what the ultimate prize is, and that's in our mind, but at the same time we're in the present, and I think that makes us the team we are, that we can fight back and win games like this."
It looked like anything but a fair fight when Yankees manager Joe Girardi, knowing that the Bombers could ill afford to lose a chance to gain ground in the wild-card race, summoned Mariano Rivera for a third straight night to close out a game that had swung the Yankees' way in the seventh. That's when the Sox bullpen imploded during a six-run Yankees rally in which Lyle Overbay, deemed expendable by the Sox at the end of March, gave the Yankees the lead by hitting a hanging splitter from Junichi Tazawa for a two-run single.
"If we'd have lost that game, it would have been a tough night for me to swallow," said Peavy, who had begun the seventh by walking Ichiro Suzuki and giving up a pinch single to Vernon Wells, making it open season to second-guess Sox manager John Farrell for sending him out after he'd thrown 105 pitches.
"That's on me," Peavy said. "Pitch count, I'm used to throwing 120 pitches. I've got to do a better job there. Any night when we lose on my night is tough to swallow, but losing that way would have taken a lot to get over."
But Peavy was spared a night of agonizing, thanks in great part to a guy who hadn't even been with the Red Sox a week ago. Quintin who? That might have been a valid question at the start of the night, but not after Quintin Berry, auditioning for the role of Dave Roberts in the reprise of The Steal, succeeded spectacularly Thursday night.
Girardi had used Rivera on three straight nights only once before this season, and that trifecta didn't include a four-out save like the one Rivera had delivered Wednesday night against the White Sox.
But when Rivera quickly disposed of David Ortiz and Daniel Nava, the Yankees appeared primed for a night of celebration in what has been mostly a season without cheer. Instead, Mike Napoli, playing the role of Kevin Millar, delivered a two-out single (Millar, you remember, walked in the 2004 version), then gave way to Berry, imported from Kansas City in a minor league deal last week for one reason and one reason alone: The man can run.
"We knew we needed speed off the bench," Farrell said. "And tonight was the first time he was really pressed into that role."
Berry is a San Diego native, as was Roberts. "I heard a lot about him," said Berry, who played for Hall of Famer Tony Gwynn at San Diego State. "I remember what he did for this team, and I saw him play center field for the Padres."
"I hope [fans] understand why I'm here and what I'm trying to do for them," he said. "I'm not trying to sleep on opportunities. I'm going full speed on opportunities.
"What I did tonight is pretty much why they got me."
For all that, Berry was still 90 feet away from home plate. The burden remained fully on Drew, who up to that point had whiffed three times, had a hit taken away from him by Alfonso Soriano's shoestring catch, and had been laughed at by his teammates in the dugout, who howled when Drew lost his footing digging up a divot and had to make a circus catch of what started out as a routine foul fly.
"They were all laughing, telling me to take another route," Drew said. "I could hear 'em. They were chirping. All in fun."
Now, in a situation that smacked of anything but fun, Drew's heart surely was racing as he stepped in against Rivera. Well, no.
"It was one of those things I was even keel," he said. "There was no heart rate."
So, attach him to an EKG machine, and there'd be a flat line?
"It might be," he said. "Tonight it was. Other nights it might be different. But it worked out for me."
And it worked out splendidly for the Red Sox, as Rivera broke his bat, but couldn't prevent Drew from lifting a single into right field, Berry scoring the tying run.
Suddenly, the night had turned again in Boston's favor, and it promised to stay that way when Soriano elected to throw in some slapstick in the bottom of the ninth. Craig Breslow picked him off first only to have Soriano escape when Breslow's throw got away from Nava at first base, but then Breslow picked him off second, this time with no exit.
"That can't happen," Yankees manager Joe Girardi said.
But it did. Just as it happened that after Jacoby Ellsbury singled for his third hit of the night and stole second, first-base umpire Joe West ruled that Shane Victorino had held up on his swing at a two-strike slider. Replays begged to differ, and so did pitcher Joba Chamberlain, who gave up Victorino's tie-breaking single on the next pitch and was ejected after he lit up West from the dugout afterward.
When it was finally over, 4 hours and 32 minutes after it began, someone raised the Berry/Roberts analogy to Farrell.
"If he leads us to where Dave did," Farrell said, "we'll take that, too."
October: It's close enough to touch.