Yankees 3, Red Sox 1
The Yankees, with their AL East lead suddenly down to 1 1/2 games, came up with a big win Sunday as Wells pitched his finest game this season and Bernie Williams woke up with his first home run since mid-August, propelling New York over the Red Sox 3-1.
“A game like this, it’s huge,” Wells said. “Those guys are coming in for the sweep—you want to try to get the momentum back, and that’s what we did today.”
New York fans were pumped up by the return of Derek Jeter, who talked his way into the lineup after a missing five games with an injury. They really sprang to life when Williams broke a scoreless tie with two-run homer in the seventh off Jeff Suppan (1-2).
In the final scheduled meeting this year between the teams, New York (85-56) boosted its division lead to 2 1/2 games over Boston (83-59) with three weeks remaining.
“There’s a big difference between being three games back in the loss column than one,” Boston manager Grady Little said.
With owner George Steinbrenner—a.k.a. the Boss—in town and watching, New York had been blown out by a combined 20-3 in the first two games. Its lead, which had been 7 1/2 games on Aug. 20, was disappearing along with the summer heat.
Steinbrenner made his displeasure known.
“A few guys out there are making a lot of money and not producing,” he told the New York Post on Friday. “A few guys need a kick in the butt to get going.” Of his coaches, Steinbrenner said: “I think they better be a little uneasy.”
On Saturday, Steinbrenner backed off.
“There are no plans anywhere to fire anybody,” he told The New York Times. “I’m behind my coaches. I’m behind my players—particularly behind the players that they will come through and win for us.”
On Sunday, there was little to be angry about.
While Suppan took a one-hitter into the seventh and the Red Sox twice advanced runners to third base in the middle innings, Wells (13-6) got out of trouble each time, pumping a fist after escaping.
He had been winless in seven starts since July 19, and pitching coach Mel Stottlemyre had publicly challenged his work ethic after a loss to the Chicago White Sox on Aug. 27. Wells’ spot in the rotation was in jeopardy.
“Boomer responds to challenges,” New York manager Joe Torre said. “There’s no bigger challenge since he’s been back here than this game today. He certainly restored order.”
Suppan, who dropped to 0-5 against the Yankees, needed just 67 pitches to get through the first six innings as New York forced the outfield to handle just four balls—Jeter’s single in the fourth and three weak flyouts. But Suppan wound up throwing 33 pitches in seventh.
He walked Jorge Posada with one out, then allowed Williams’ first homer in 65 at-bats since Aug. 19. While he has 11 homers this year, just two have been hit at Yankee Stadium. Williams, who had been in a 9-for-60 (.150) slump, doesn’t think the final three weeks will be easy.
“It’s going to be a grind,” he said. “Very hard.”
Torre said it was “inspiring” for Jeter to return from a rib cage injury. The team captain wasn’t in the original lineup but persuaded the manager to let him play after two batting practice rounds. Jeter said he had “five or six” conversations with Torre over the weekend.
“I would have kept talking to him, over and over,” Jeter said. “Eventually, he’d have to cave in.”
Jeter was 1-for-3 with a walk, and made a high throw for an error on Johnny Damon’s one-out grounder in the eighth. After Bill Mueller singled, Torre brought in Mariano Rivera, who retired Nomar Garciaparra on a flyout, allowed a bloop RBI single, then got David Ortiz on inning-ending forceout.
“It’s the heavyweight championship,” Embree said. “These teams have always played each other so tough, that why it’s the rivalry. What it comesdown to now is how we do against the other teams.”
Jason Giambi was 0-for-4. He is hitless in 15 at-bats and has one hit in his last 40. … Ramirez made a leaping catch against the left-field wall to rob Aaron Boone in the third. … New York won the season series 10-9. If the Yankees and Red Sox finish with the same record and the wild card is assured of coming from the AL East, New York would win the division. Boston is 1 1/2 gamesahead of Seattle in the wild-card race.