BOSTON -- This is what can make the Red Sox so dangerous these last three weeks of the season. They have nothing to play for, beyond the satisfaction that comes from inflicting a little misery on those who have not suffered the same way they have this season.
"Nothing would be more awesome than knocking these guys out of the playoffs," newly mustachioed catcher Ryan Lavarnway said Tuesday night after Jacoby Ellsbury's fourth hit of the night, a line single to right, scored Pedro Ciriaco from second to give the Red Sox a 4-3 walk-off win over the New York Yankees.
Lavarnway wasn't done. "Then we get to play the Rays and knock them out, then play the Orioles and knock them out, too."
Let's say the Sox could eliminate just two of the three. Did Lavarnway have a preference or was he equal opportunity?
"I don't want to be fodder on any of their bulletin boards," he said, "but we're equal opportunity and we're going to go out and we're not going to lay down. We're here to play, and we're here to win."
Brave words from a team that had lost 11 of its last 12 before Tuesday night, but why not? Nights like these have been rare for the Sox, who knocked the Yanks back into a first-place tie with the Baltimore Orioles before a charged crowd of 37,437, which began the night in solemn fashion during pregame observances commemorating 9/11.
"We've only got three [walk-off wins] this year," outfielder Cody Ross said. "It's one of the only times you can stand out there as a professional and act like a kid. Bounce around and have fun.
"I mean, we don't care who we play, we just want to win. You know winning feels good, losing sucks -- stinks, I mean. It doesn't matter, it doesn't matter if it's the Yankees, it doesn't matter if it's the Orioles, the Blue Jays, we just want to win. It just feels good to come away with a victory today."
Lavarnway had thrown out just one of 21 baserunners attempting to steal. Nunez had been successful in seven of his eight previous attempts. That's why he allowed himself a small fist pump in celebration.
"Andrew did a great job giving me a chance," Lavarnway said. "If he's not a 1.5 to the plate, I'm not throwing Nunez out. He gave me a chance, I handled the pitch well and Pedey made a great tag on him."
Pedey, of course, is Dustin Pedroia, who in the sixth inning hit his 15th home run to draw the Sox into a 3-all tie with the Yankees, who wasted numerous chances to make Jon Lester pay for the seven walks he issued in six innings. Derek Jeter had flared a two-run double off his fists to give New York a 3-2 lead in the top of the sixth, knocking out Lester, but Pedroia answered off Yankees starter Hiroki Kuroda with a liner that just cleared the top of the Monster.
An inning later, Pedroia had a chance to give the Sox the lead, but popped out with the bases loaded against Joba Chamberlain. But Ciriaco, an unknown before this season but now a member of the Yankees' all-time, all-opponent team (17-for-35, .486 versus the Bombers) punched an 0-and-2 pitch through the left side with one out in the ninth off reliever David Robertson.
Mike Aviles followed with an infield hit into the hole, bringing up Ellsbury, who already had a double and two singles on his 29th birthday. He started the celebration early with his drive to right, Ciriaco just beating a strong throw from Ichiro Suzuki.
"We told ourselves to keep on competing," Ellsbury said, "and I thought the fans were great tonight. We just want to (get) through the rest of the season and keep on putting on a show for them."
The show has been more farce than fantasy for most of the summer, but Ellsbury, who homered Sunday after being dropped to the 6-hole following a 5-for-36 slump, gave an announced crowd of 37,437 the kind of night they'd hungered for.
"I knew it was only a matter of time," Ellsbury said. "The more at-bats I get, the better it's going to be."
Time long since ran out on the Red Sox, of course, and with Lester admitting "I didn't have a feel for anything," it looked like more disappointment loomed when the Yankees took a 1-0 lead and loaded the bases with two out in the first.
But Lester induced Curtis Granderson to pop out to end the inning, manager Bobby Valentine gave plate umpire Chad Fairchild an indirect earful during a third-inning visit to Lester, who set down the next three batters in order after walking the first two, and the Sox stayed close enough -- with some terrific work by Junichi Tazawa (1 2/3 innings, 3 K's) -- to win it in their last at-bat.
"We've seen a lot of walk-offs this year," Valentine said. "We haven't celebrated enough of them. I'm happy for the guys. They're all smiling.
"I told the guys before the game, the fans are still pulling for us and they want to see us play well. The season is not over. We owe it to them, the organization, to give it everything we have. I think we did tonight."