New York entered this contest with some momentum, generated by a three-game sweep of Baltimore. The Yankees were encouraged, but the Orioles are not the Red Sox. Now, even if the worst happens for Boston in the next two games, the Sox will leave Yankee Stadium with a lead of no less than four games over their rivals.
Tuesday night's result put the Yankees six games behind the Red Sox in both the American League East and the race for the AL's Wild Card berth. And it brought the second-place Red Sox to 3 1/2 games behind the first-place Tampa Bay Rays.
Even with the semi-demise of the Yankees, the Red Sox's route to the postseason has not become any easier, what with the astounding emergence of the Rays. And a complicating factor for the Wild Card berth is the improved play of two AL Central teams, the White Sox and Twins. The second-place team in that division is, at this moment, a much more realistic Wild Card threat than the Yankees.
In any case, the Red Sox took care of business on Tuesday night. This may be their last trip to Yankee Stadium, but as opposed to wallowing in nostalgia, they were clearly looking at what was directly in front of them.
Whatever the Sox do here is a tribute to their depth and their resolve. J.D. Drew joined Mike Lowell on the disabled list on Tuesday. In the post-Manny Ramirez era, the Boston lineup grows less familiar, but the team's level of play has not noticeably diminished.
The Red Sox on offense are not clubbing anybody over the head, but as Yankee manager Joe Girardi said: "It's obviously a different lineup, but it's still a very potent lineup."
On Tuesday night, the Red Sox had nothing larger than three doubles, but they found seven runs against the Yankees, based largely on patience and persistence. Boston's selectivity at the plate drove New York starter Andy Pettitte's pitch count over 100 before the fifth inning had ended.
"Pettitte was around the plate," Red Sox manager Terry Francona said. "If we leave the strike zone, he's going to chew us up."
The Red Sox were also opportunistic. A high point in this area occurred in a three-run fifth inning, when center fielder Coco Crisp scored from second on a mere infield hit. Crisp alertly kept coming as Jeff Bailey beat out a grounder to third, while Yankees first baseman Jason Giambi held the ball. It was a display of alertness on Crisp's part, and a show of bewilderment on the part of Giambi.
In the other halves of the inning, whenever the Yankees mounted a threat of their own, somebody on the Boston pitching staff was able to get Alex Rodriguez out and order was restored.
Rodriguez came up in the seventh with the bases loaded and only one out, representing the tying run. Rookie reliever Justin Masterson was brought in to face him. What happened next thrilled the Red Sox and sent the Stadium crowd of 55,058 into a festival of booing. Masterson got Rodriguez to hit into an inning-ending double play -- "the best-case scenario," as Francona put it.
What did it mean to Masterson that the Red Sox have the confidence to use him in that spot?
"I don't know what it means to me," Masterson said with a smile. "It just means I have a good sinker. It means that I can throw it for a strike."
That is all it needs to mean. The Red Sox, of course, need one, or two, more happy occasions in this series for their own postseason aspirations. This one victory doesn't guarantee anything except this: The New York Yankees will not be making a major move on the Boston Red Sox over the course of this three-game series.
For one late-August game, that's a decent accomplishment. The Red Sox will be leaving Yankee Stadium, but they won't be leaving in the company of disaster, which is what a three-game sweep by the Yankees would typically seem to be.