After burning the Yankees’ seemingly indomitable closer for the second time this year, the surging Red Sox will look to move closer to the Yankees in the ever-tigthening division race as the bitter rivals continue a three-game series in the Bronx.
Guarding a 3 1/2 -game lead entering Friday’s series opener, the Yankees appeared on the verge of adding to their cushion as Rivera took the mound with a 2-1 lead in the ninth. Seeking his career high-tying 50th save, Rivera instead was handed his fourth blown opportunity of the year, and first since July 26 at Toronto, as the Red Sox rallied for a 3-2 victory.
“If I made my pitches, I wouldn’t have had a problem,” Rivera said. “The guys gave me a tremendous opportunity, but I blew it.”
Orlando Cabrera and Johnny Damon hit RBI singles in the ninth inning off the majors’ top reliever as Boston closed within 2 1/2 games, improving to 25-5 since trailing the Yankees by 10 1/2 games on Aug. 15.
“Without question, it was definitely a blow to their ego,” Boston pitcher Bronson Arroyo said. “We start getting a little closer, they start doubting themselves a little bit more.”
Bill Mueller slammed a game-winning homer off Rivera in the bottom of the ninth at Fenway Park on July 24, giving Boston an 11-10 win and fueling Boston’s charge back into the division race.
Both of Rivera’s losses have come against the Red Sox. He had converted 14 straight save opportunities before Friday. The two-run inning boosted his ERA from 1.73 to 1.95.
The series opener lived up to the hype as Boston slugger Manny Ramirez hit an apparent two-run homer in the first, but after the Yankees argued that it was foul, umpires conferred and reversed the original call.
Ramirez got his revenge in the fifth, robbing a homer from Yankees second baseman Miguel Cairo with a spectacular leaping catch. The grab kept the deficit at 2-1, paving the way for Boston’s ninth-inning comeback against Rivera.
The Red Sox have won nine of 14 meetings from New York this year, leaving them one victory shy of clinching the season series. Boston has finished second to New York in the East in each of the last six seasons, and also lost a pair of postseason series to the Yankees during that stretch, including last year’s seven-game heartbreaker in the AL championship series.
After completing this set, the Yanks and Red Sox will play three more big games at Fenway Park next weekend.