NEW YORK -- All season, the Red Sox have shown an uncanny capacity to quickly recover from whatever setback they might suffer, whether it was losing an ace, a closer (or two), or blowing a big lead, the way they did in Anaheim in July, coughing up a four-run ninth-inning lead in an extra-inning loss to the Angels.
That quality was put to its biggest test yet, after what looked to be a pedestrian night in the Bronx -- the Sox taking a 7-2 lead before a disgruntled gathering of 40,481 in the Bronx -- suddenly went all Heisenberg on them, the Yankees scoring six runs in the seventh inning to seize an 8-7 advantage.
But down to their final three outs, against the Great Rivera, Red Sox resilience enjoyed perhaps its finest hour -- though it took a Dave Roberts wannabe, a last-out single by hitless Stephen Drew, and Shane Victorino knocking in the winning run after umpire Joe West issued a dubious reprieve for the Sox to emerge with a 9-8, 10-inning win over the mortally wounded Bombers.
The Sox have 20 games left. They have won 10 of their last 12 games. They are 28 games over .500 for the first time all season. They already have won 16 more games than the Class of 2012, the biggest one-year improvement since the ’67 Impossible Dreamers were 20 games better than their predecessors.
The Rays, playing in Anaheim Thursday night knowing the Sox won yet again, are running out of time.
And so are the Yankees, who could ill afford to lose any more ground in the AL East. They showed just how much they meant business Thursday night when Joe Girardi called on Mariano Rivera for the last three outs, only the second time all season the 43-year-old closer has pitched in three consecutive games, and the first time he has pitched the night after being asked to get four outs.
Rivera quickly retired David Ortiz and Daniel Nava, but Mike Napoli lined a single to center and was replaced by pinch runner Quintin Berry, recruited by Sox general manager Ben Cherington -- who got him in a minor league deal from the Royals in late August -- to reprise the role of base-stealing legend Roberts, should the opportunity present itself.
Berry’s audition went spectacularly Thursday night, as he stole second and continued to third when catcher Austin Romine’s throw went into center field. Drew then lined a single to right, and after Craig Breslow picked off Alfonso Soriano in the bottom of the ninth -- Soriano picked off second after avoiding a similar fate when he broke early from first, only to have Breslow bounce his throw -- the Sox staged their winning rally in the 10th.
Jacoby Ellsbury singled with one out off Joba Chamberlain, the seventh Yankees pitcher, and stole second. Victorino, who appeared to have gone around on a two-strike slider from Chamberlain but was spared by first-base ump West’s no-swing call, lined the next pitch to right field for a single. Ichiro Suzuki came up throwing and beat Ellsbury to the plate with a bullet to the plate, but catcher Romine couldn’t handle the short hop and Ellsbury slide safely in.
After Chamberlain was taken out of the game, he directed some choice words at West from the dugout, and was ejected.
The Sox, who for the better part of three weeks have been playing some of their best baseball of the season, have seldom looked worse than they did during Thursday night’s bullpen implosion in the seventh, which began with manager John Farrell’s decision to send Jake Peavy out to start the inning even though his pitch count through six was at 105.
Suzuki worked an eight-pitch walk, Vernon Wells followed with a pinch single, and the comeback was on. Lefty Matt Thornton gave up a flared RBI single, a walk and a force play, then gave way to Junichi Tazawa. Alfonso Soriano singled through an overshifted infield for one run, Curtis Granderson doubled home another, and Overbay, whom the Red Sox deemed expendable in March, finally extracted his pound of flesh, delivering a two-run single that gave the Bombers the lead.