“It’s a lot of fun to play in these games, I’m not going to lie,” said Manager Aaron Boone, whose most iconic moment as a player was a home run that sent the Yankees to the 2003 World Series and the Red Sox home for the winter. “Obviously I’m not playing, but a couple times I said to guys on the bench I just forgot how fun these were.”
Red Sox left-hander Drew Pomeranz gave up two solo home runs to Stanton — lasers to left and then right — but nothing else, keeping his team within striking range of Yankees ace Luis Severino, whose six hits, no walks and 11 strikeouts belied that he was not quite as sharp as last week’s masterpiece in Houston.
The Red Sox crept close in the fifth when Andrew Benintendi, after taking a 2-2, 100 mile-per-hour fastball from Severino that was just off the plate, looped a two-out changeup into center field to score Eduardo Nunez, who had reached when catcher Gary Sanchez could not block Severino’s slider in the dirt after Nunez had swung through the pitch for a third strike.
Boston got even in the seventh with a similar bit of fortitude. Nunez, who reached on an infield single to begin the inning against Severino, stole second with two out against reliever David Robertson. Then Betts delivered a base hit down the left-field line that landed in front of a diving Brett Gardner. The ball skittered away from Gardner and Betts slid safely into third with a triple, but Robertson bounced back to strike out Benintendi.
That kept the score even at 2-2 and set the stage for what seemed an inevitable appearance from Kelly, who had become a heel to Yankees fans after he drilled Tyler Austin with a 98-m.p.h. fastball last month — a punishment that Kelly delivered after Austin clipped shortstop Brock Holt with his spikes on a slide earlier in the game.
When a Boston reporter suggested to Red Sox designated hitter J.D. Martinez — who was wearing a “Joe Kelly Fight Club” T-shirt before the game — that Kelly might be the second most despised figure in New York behind the disgraced former attorney general Eric T. Schneiderman, Martinez did not disagree.
“It should be exciting when he comes out of the bullpen,” Martinez said.
Indeed, it was. When Heath Hembree loaded the bases on a double by Neil Walker, a walk to Gleyber Torres, a balk and then a walk to Brett Gardner, in came Kelly and up came Judge.
“For what happened over there, of course: perfect script right there,” Stanton said.
Judge, who had deftly thrown out Vazquez trying to stretch a single into a double in the third inning, said he was thinking less about retribution than about how Kelly might attack him. Even though Kelly possesses one of the best fastballs in the game, Judge said he often used the pitch — delivered at the letters — to set up a slider away.
“I was just trying to get something out over the plate that I could drive because in that situation,” Judge said. “Bases loaded and one out, I’m in the driver’s seat.”
Judge fouled Kelly’s first-pitch slider in the air just beyond the first-base dugout, but it drifted back far enough that Red Sox first baseman Hanley Ramirez had no play. Judge then took a fastball for a ball before grounding a slider into left. Walker scored, but Torres, trying to score from second, was thrown out at the plate — as was Stanton an inning later.
Judge dismissed any notion of payback.
“You don’t forget, but you’ve got to move on,” Judge said. “You can’t live in the past. There’s nothing that you can do about it. It happened, it got resolved and now it’s time to play baseball.”
In their recent run, the Yankees have leaned heavily on their starting pitching, which held an opponent to two runs or less for the 10th time in the last 17 games. But they have also gotten contributions — large and small — from all components in the lineup. Walker, who started Thursday’s ninth-inning comeback in Houston with a walk and Sunday’s ninth-inning rally against Cleveland with a double, ignited the seventh inning with his double. Walker was pinch-hitting for Austin, who is 0-for-11 since returning from the suspension he drew for his role in last month’s brawl.
Then Hembree’s balk with one out and runners at first and second changed the complexion of the inning, Red Sox Manager Alex Cora said.
“I just flinched,” Hembree said. “I was kind of stuck in the middle of seeing the pitch and stepping off. I know I did it. It’s on me. Mental lapse.”
At the moment, those types of breaks — and those types of battles — are going the Yankees’ way.
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