Friday night at Fenway Park was a resounding reaffirmation of what could go right. For this weekend specifically, based on the pitching matchups alone as the Yankees and the Red Sox renew baseball's most heated rivalry, you would give the Yankees two out of three games, with the third one having at most a very slight edge for the Red Sox. At this point in the season with the standings favoring New York in such a decided way, a series victory over Boston would be an even more positive development than usual.
The identity of your starting pitcher doesn't seem to matter so much when you score 20 runs, but on Friday night, the Yankees still had an edge in that category. Andy Pettitte, coming off four consecutive very strong starts, with a career reputation as a second-half pitcher, was up against Brad Penny, who had three bad starts out of his past four, and came to this moment with a 5.22 ERA.
The Yankees won, 20-11, but the game was more of a rout than even the score suggested. The Bombers were twice up by 13 runs. They knocked out Penny with eight earned runs in four-plus innings, and then shelled his successor, rookie Michael Bowden, who had just been recalled from Triple-A Pawtuckett. Pettitte gave up five earned runs in five-plus innings, and manager Joe Girardi suggested that he had been affected by the extremely long innings with the Yankees batting, particularly the six-run fifth inning. Pettitte was still far less hittable than Penny, and the way that New York was scoring runs, all that suffered even slightly was his ERA.
Hideki Matsui drove in a career-high seven runs. The Yankees had 23 hits, eight doubles, 11 extra-base hits. What will they do for an encore? On paper, the Yankees have another fine matchup for Saturday's game. A.J. Burnett is 10-6 with a 3.69 ERA. Junichi Tazawa is a 23-year-old with three Major League appearances on his record, two of them unsuccessful.
On Sunday, the ace of the Red Sox's staff, Josh Beckett, will face CC Sabathia. Both pitchers are having highly successful campaigns. Beckett (14-4, 3.38 ERA) has slightly better numbers than Sabathia (14-7, 3.58 ERA). But these are two pitchers of the first rank and the distance between them is minimal. In their previous starts in this rivalry, neither gave up an earned run.
On Friday night, the Yankees met the minimum daily requirement for this series. Yes, the 20 runs should not be associated with the term minimum. But New York won for the first time this year in Boston. The occasion was delayed, but rewarding.
"This is a really tough place to play and [the Red Sox] play very well here," Girardi said.
After eight successive losses to Boston this season, New York has now won five consecutive outings. With Friday night's result, the Bombers will leave Fenway Park for the last time this season leading the AL East by no fewer than 5 1/2 games. And if they were to keep succeeding this weekend, they would leave with a lead just short of double digits.
There is no reason to become complacent or smug or anything else in that neighborhood.
"I don't think this division is ever yours until they put an 'x' next to your name," Girardi cautioned.
The manager's mantra is "you want to keep pushing," which is always a particularly good idea in the AL East. "That's the one thing," Girardi said. "You want to keep pushing as a club."
Scoring 20 runs in one game probably qualifies. Over time, you can't let the other fellows score 11 very often, but the Yankees are well set up in that area, too.
Both past and present were tied together in this one Friday night fact: The 31 runs were the most in a game between these two franchises. The previous high was 29 in a July 29, 1903, game in Boston won by the Yankees, 15-14. The basic difference here, apart from the distance of 106 years, is that this time, the sizable majority of the run-production credit had to go the Yankees.