- Gordon Edes, Red Sox reporter, ESPNBoston.com
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BOSTON -- You have to go back to George Steinbrenner's first year as owner of the New York Yankees -- 1973 -- for the last time the Boston Red Sox held such a one-sided advantage over the Bombers in their head-to-head meetings.
Even after Thursday night's 4-2 loss, which ended with Adrian Gonzalez shaking his head in disbelief after being rung up by plate umpire Alfonso Marquez with the bases loaded in the bottom of the ninth against Yankees icon Mariano Rivera, the Sox still lead the season series, 11 games to 4, with a chance to match the 14-4 record that was Steinbrenner's introduction to the rivalry.
You know what that means, of course.
It was nice while it lasted -- the Sox swept the Yankees twice in the Bronx and beat the Yankees two out of three in their first two series here before dropping the rubber match of this three-game set. But with the calendar now turned to September and a possible ALCS rematch looming on the horizon, these teams look across the diamond and see mirror images of themselves.
A half-game separates them in the American League East. The Sox have 26 games left, the Yankees 25, and they have a date in the Bronx for three more games in the next-to-last series of the season. The makings of a classic race, if both teams weren't already assured of their spots at the postseason table, one as the wild card.
"We went into New York and swept them early on," said Sox setup man Daniel Bard, who gave up a two-run double to Russell Martin and an RBI single to Eric Chavez in the three-run seventh that turned this game in New York's favor. "That gave us a lot of confidence. We needed that as a team at the time."
"Then you go and play the next series -- we know what just happened, they know what just happened -- it carries over for a couple of series," Bard said. "I think that's kind of worn off at this point. Now we're both pretty good teams. We know we're pretty evenly matched. Both teams are going to grind it out to the end. Nobody's going to roll over for the other."
Rolling over is left for their fans, many of whom were reaching for their night lights before the end of a protracted siege that lasted 4 hours, 21 minutes. It was the longest nine-inning game the Sox have played in more than two years, since going 4:21 on April 25, 2009 -- also against the Yankees.
"You know these games are going to be five hours long, whatever," said Dustin Pedroia, whose two-run home run off A.J. Burnett in the fourth accounted for Boston's only runs. "They are kind of ridiculous. But it's two good offenses who take lot of pitches. Both teams do. It's the nature of the thing."
The Sox imported Gonzalez for moments like the one he faced in the ninth inning, coming to the plate after two walks and Marco Scutaro's two-out single had Rivera in a bind.
Gonzalez had come through earlier this season against Yankees ace CC Sabathia, cracking a three-run home run while doing what he called an impression of Ichiro.
No Ichiro on this night, only sayonara, as Marquez decided that Rivera's final cutter had carved through the low end of the strike zone. Gonzalez, sitting in front of his locker after the game, still hadn't embraced that judgment.
"I have only one thing to say," Gonzalez said. "That pitch was down. I should still be hitting."
A big reason the Sox have taken the measure of the Yankees as often as they have this season is that their hitting stars have produced while their Yankee counterparts have not.
David Ortiz has five home runs against the Bombers this season and a dozen RBIs. Pedroia, who had five hits in this series, is batting .418 against the Yanks and knocked in 13 runs. Jacoby Ellsbury, who was on base eight times in this series, including his game-turning home run Wednesday, also has 15 RBIs. Even Gonzalez, who has been mostly held in check by the Yanks -- a .186 average (11-for-59) -- has two home runs and 11 RBIs.
And Carl Crawford, who hasn't hit anyone this season, had nine hits in three games last month against the Bombers, and added a home run and double this week before vanishing again in a seven-AB stretch of three strikeouts and a double play.
The Yankees? Mark Teixeira, before he was knocked out of Thursday's game with a bruised right knee after being hit by Alfredo Aceves, had a soft single in three games this week and is batting .129 against the Sox this season, with a homer and four RBIs. Last season, Teixeira shredded the Sox for eight home runs and 16 RBIs.
Derek Jeter and Curtis Granderson needed a couple of singles apiece Thursday to raise their averages over .200 against the Sox, though MVP candidate Granderson has three home runs against Boston and took a run away from the Sox on Thursday with a splendid diving catch of Jed Lowrie's sinking liner. Alex Rodriguez is hurt and did not play, but he is sub-.200 (.194) versus the Sox this season.
Good scouting? Great execution by Sox pitchers? Both, no doubt. But again, it may mean little if these teams rumble again in October -- for the first time since 2004. Past is not prologue in the postseason.
"We're similar in a lot of ways," Bard said. "Two of the best offenses in the league. The rotations are probably looking kind of similar. The bullpens as well. We both have really good bullpens.
"We both have really good teams. You can put us up 100 times, it's going to come out close to .500, I guess."
But don't assume that rendezvous with destiny in October is a sure thing. Anything but. The Yankees leave town, and the Texas Rangers pull in. They're the defending AL champions. Remember?
That's why Pedroia wasn't hearing any talk of a Yanks-Sox ALCS.
"There's a long way to go," he said. "A long way for that."
Gordon Edes covers the Red Sox for ESPNBoston.com.
When it comes to the Yankees, the Red Sox know nothing comes easy.