By Mike Vaccarro
New York Post
July 26, 2008
BOSTON - JULY 25: Mariano Rivera #42 and Jose Molina #26 of the New York Yankees celebrate after defeating the Boston Red Sox, 1-0, at Fenway Park on July 25, 2008 in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Jim Rogash/Getty Images)
BOSTON - There was only one way for this beauty of a baseball game to end, of course. The tying run had to be on base. There had to be two outs in the ninth inning, with the MVP of the All-Star Game digging in to face the greatest closer in the history of the sport.
Some nights demand the full regal treatment. Those nights also deserve an appropriate conclusion. And so it was that Mariano RiveraMariano Rivera zipped a 95-mph cutter toward the outside corner, and J.D. Drew stood and stared at it, and home plate umpire Marty Foster lifted his right arm and tied it all up in a bow.
New York Yankees 1, Red Sox 0.
"That," Joe Girardi said after he'd breathed his final sigh of relief, "was one whale of a game, wasn't it?"
It was that. It was even more than that. It was a grizzled ace of the present named Josh Beckett bringing C-plus stuff to Fenway Park and nearly getting away with it, tip-toeing in and out of trouble for seven innings, somehow scattering nine hits, burned only by a Jason GiambiJason Giambi bleeder that nudged in the only run.
It was a fuzzy-cheeked ace of the future named Joba Chamberlain accepting that one-run lead after nearly getting cold-cocked by the Boston bats an inning earlier, then grinding his way through seven innings of his own, retiring the last 10 hitters to face him, extending by another game a brewing feud with Kevin Youkilis which is either a relentless quirk of fate or a conflagration waiting to happen.
Joba Chamberlain pitches to designated hitter David Ortiz in the first inning of a baseball game at Fenway Park in Boston, Friday July 25, 2008.
(AP Photo/Charles Krupa)
And at last, naturally, there was the great Rivera, summoned with one out in the eighth, re-proving one more time why he is the best ever born at his job, striking out three, retiring five of the six he faced, kicking the plug out on the crazed crowd of 37,744, dragging the Yankees another game closer to the Red Sox.
"We're not in a position where we can afford to take any games off," Derek Jeter said. "This one just felt like a team effort from the very beginning."
It felt that way because it was that way, starting with back-to-back fielding gems in the second, when Melky Cabrera made one of the best catches you'll ever see robbing Drew of what would surely have been a run-scoring double, Robinson Cano following that with a breathtaking start to a 4-6-3 that rescued Chamberlain from the only real trouble he'd see all night.
Unless you count the kind that generally visits whenever he's on the mound and Kevin Youkilis is at the plate. A year ago, a high hard one too close to Youkilis' melon earned him a suspension, and earlier this month a slider behind Youkilis' legs drew a chorus of hard stares and harder feelings.
BOSTON - JULY 25: Jason Giambi knocks in the winning run against the Boston Red Sox at Fenway Park on July 25, 2008 in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Jim Rogash/Getty Images)
Last night, leading off the home seventh, ahead in the count 2-and-0, Youkilis got an up-close look at another heater, one that missed drilling his helmet only because his bat got in the way. Chamberlain recovered to strike him out, Youkilis screaming "Horse [bleep]!" all the way back to the bench.
"He has great command," Terry Francona said of Joba, "until Youk gets in there."
"It was at his head!" an incredulous Beckett muttered.
The Yankees pled innocence, naturally, Girardi insisting it was "coincidence," Joba defiantly proclaiming "If you think I'm going to throw at him leading off an inning with a one-run lead, that's just crazy."
It's always dangerous to wrap yourself too closely around one game in July, even if the presence of the Yankees and the Red Sox makes such hyperbole mandatory. But this one begs you to praise it and to re-watch it when it inevitably winds up a Yankee Classic on YES. There is still so much season left to play, and there are still the Rays, refusing to be pulled offstage by the vaudeville cane.
But you aren't human - or, at the least, you aren't a baseball fan - if this game didn't make you salivate over what could be across the next two months. And beyond.