New York since the All-Star break has been the best team in baseball, their recent 2-5 road trip notwithstanding. Their pitching staff has gotten younger and stronger and their hitting has gotten healthy.
But don’t ask Red Sox manager Terry Francona about that. “I don’t get real caught up in evaluating the other teams,” he grumbled after the 45-year-old Roger Clemens out-dueled Boston’s finest, Josh Beckett, 4-3. He started to say something about having his own team to worry about but never really got it out. Instead, he went back to the visitor’s clubhouse, where his players were busy being unavailable for comment.
There’s one more game in this three-game set, then three more in Fenway Park in mid-September. The rest of the schedule for both teams is softer than the life being enjoyed by Leona Helmsley’s dog, and with their lead still at six games, the Red Sox are hardly panicking about losing the AL East. Not that that’s out of the realm of possibility. It’s just not probable.
But the Sox have to know they’ve blown a golden opportunity to keep the Yankees out of the playoffs altogether. Two days ago, the Yankees were two games behind Seattle in the AL wild card race. But two wins over Boston, and two Mariner losses have pulled the Yankees even, with the M’s clinging to a lead measured in percentage points, not games.
And that’s Boston’s problem. Just because they didn’t have to win this series to win the division doesn’t mean these losses won’t come back to bite them. Keeping the Yankees from winning the AL East is just half the job. The other half is keeping them out of the playoffs.
And the Red Sox definitely want the Yankees to be on the sidelines in October, precisely because of how well the Yankees are playing. They don’t have the best record on the year, but right now they may be the best team in the game. For the first time since 2001, I can actually see the Yankees with the pitching and bullpen they need to get their 27th Series trophy.
They’re a better team than they were two months ago because rookie Philip Hughes has returned to the rotation and fellow phenom Joba Chamberlain has been flawless as Mariano Rivera’s set-up man. Rivera, in turn, has regained his dominant form; he’s closed out Boston twice in two games in this series.
ATLANTA (AP) - Matt Harvey pitched six hitless innings, John Buck homered and the New York Mets held off another Atlanta comeback, beating the Braves 4-3 Tuesday in the first game of a doubleheader.
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