They had been frustrated early by Red Sox starter Daisuke Matsuzaka. A bases-loaded, one-out situation in the first inning yielded nothing. The first three Yankees in the fourth inning reached, and this produced only one run.
The Yankees' defense had suffered costly lapses. This was not a pretty contest, and this was obviously not the Yanks' night. Not only were they five runs down, but the Red Sox had premier setup man Hideki Okajima on the mound and top-shelf closer Jonathan Papelbon behind him. It was practically over, and the Red Sox were going to walk out of Fenway Park with an extremely comfortable 6 1/2-game lead in the American League East. Maybe this was the night when reality would leave the Wild Card as the Yankees' only October option.
Hold it. Wait a second. Back that up. The Yankees still had six outs left at this point. The fact is they didn't even need any of those outs to completely alter the nature of this event.
Jason Giambi, home run. Robinson Cano, home run. Melky Cabrera, walk. Johnny Damon, double. OK, this isn't Okajima's night, and they'll be asking Papelbon to get a six-out save, but this thing hasn't completely turned around. Papelbon had not allowed a run in his last 16 2/3 innings, and he entered with an ERA of 1.52.
So what? Derek Jeter, single, scoring a run. Bobby Abreu, double, scoring two runs, Abreu reaching third on a throwing error. Alex Rodriguez, single, scoring a run.
Just like that, in the blink of an eye, a lead the Red Sox had raised and nurtured all night, like so many dutiful parents, had disappeared. Seven Yankees batters, six Yankees runs. New York 8, Boston 7. And that's the way it ended.
The outcome was a tribute to the Yankees' never-say-die mentality. And it was a tribute to the offensive abilities of this team, which simply cannot be overstated. These abilities had been apparent for the vast majority of the first 146 games of the season, but they were never more in evident than right here in Game No. 147.
"This ballclub never stopped fighting," manager Joe Torre said. "We knew it was ugly, but you can't do a lot about it, other than go out and try to score some runs. And that's a big difference in this ballclub -- they just never get to the point where they feel that they cannot win a game."
In this case, "some runs" ended up being six runs. The back-to-back power burst opening the inning pointed the Yankees in the right direction.
"Emotion grabbed us," Torre said. "I think it was the two home runs, because then it's only a three-run deficit."
Okajima had given up only four home runs in 67 innings before those two blasts. Then again, Papelbon had blown only two saves in 37 opportunities before this offensive awakening.
But that's the issue with facing the Yankees. With the bats in their hands, they're not all that much like the rest of humanity.
"Look at our lineup," Damon said. "There is no easy out."
There were no outs to be found at all for the Red Sox, while the Yankees were turning a 7-2 deficit into an 8-7 triumph.
The whole thing took four hours and 43 minutes -- nearly a record for a nine-inning game. OK, this one dragged a little bit at times. But the truth is, the Yankees won it in a relative handful of minutes, in the span of seven at-bats. What came before was not good, but what came after was Mariano Rivera, and that meant the Yankees had another one in the plus column.
This is not a club without some serious question marks. But on the strength of its offense, no questions need be asked. The Yankees can look like a lost cause nearly all night, but their approach and their run production can turn any contest around in a matter of minutes. This sort of thing does not require a bonus, but when it happens against the Red Sox, the bonus is there, anyway.