Commentary

Yankees spoil Boston's big day

A celebration of Fenway Park turned into a nightmare for the reeling Red Sox

Updated: April 21, 2012, 12:07 AM ET
By Wallace Matthews | ESPNNewYork.com

BOSTON -- While the rest of this baseball-crazed town was celebrating the 100th birthday of Fenway Park, it seemed as if Bobby Valentine was a week behind, still commemorating the 100th anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic.

And this time, instead of wearing a fake mustache, he came disguised as the captain.

[+] EnlargeAlex Rodriguez
Greg M. Cooper/US PresswireAlex Rodriguez and Russell Martin both homered in the Yankees' romp over the Red Sox on Friday.

Only rather than hearing the sweet strains of an orchestra playing as the ship went down, Valentine's ears were assaulted by a chant of "We want Tito! We want Tito!"

That is the kind of mess the Yankees made of Boston's big day, the kind that leaves you wondering about the future of both the home team and its new manager.

And even though it was just one game, the first of three this weekend and 18 this season, it offered more evidence that the balance of power in the American League East might have shifted and that the real rivalry to watch is no longer Yankees-Red Sox, but Yankees-Rays.

Invited to share the centennial of a 7-6 Red Sox win over the club from New York then known as the Highlanders, the Yankees didn't just attend the party. They trashed it.

And in the process, they made Fenway Park sound as if it were the site of a wake.

Rarely has this ballpark been as quiet in the ninth inning of a Yankees-Red Sox game as it was Friday afternoon, with the Yankees leading by four runs and the human iceberg himself, Mariano Rivera, on the mound to close it down.

The silence was deafening, broken only by the chanting of what was left of the crowd calling for the man Valentine had replaced, Terry Francona. (Editor's note: Francona is an analyst for ESPN.)

"Before the game was spectacular, well-orchestrated, a major league presentation of pride and glory," Valentine said after Rivera and the Yankees had nailed down a 6-2 win that left the Red Sox with just four wins in their first 13 games and a private room in the cellar of the AL East.

"It's a downer now," he said.

Not to mention, anything but well-orchestrated, proud, glorious or in any way major league.

Once the festivities were over, the legendary Red Sox were escorted off the field and the current Red Sox took over, the shenanigans began. It started early, with Dustin Pedroia, a former MVP, dropping a routine popup by Derek Jeter. It ended with Rivera, in a nonsave situation, blowing away his three batters, the dwindling crowd heckling the new manager and -- worst of all -- the Yankees almost feeling sorry for their former tormentors.

"We know Boston is good," said Jeter, who had a single to pass his boyhood idol, Dave Winfield, for 18th on the all-time hits list with 3,111. "We know we have to play well here."

"They're a good team," said Alex Rodriguez, whose fifth-inning home run -- one of five solo shots hit by the Yankees -- gave him 631 for his career, one ahead of Ken Griffey Jr. for fifth on the all-time list. "I know it's only April but they count as much as August and September. So, every game here, every win here is a big win for us."

Every win here is big for the Yankees, but few, if any, are ever this easy.

This one was a snap for several reasons -- the home runs (two of which were hit by Eric Chavez, getting a rare start with A-Rod at DH), and most importantly the pitching of Ivan Nova, who simply seems to have forgotten how to lose. In fact, he has not lost in more than 10 months, going back to last June 3, and has won his past 15 decisions.

"If you ask me, who is the best pitcher in the world, I say me," Nova said. "You have to believe that. That's why you win so many games. I like to win, and like I say, every time I get a chance, that's what I go for."

If winning begets confidence, losing breeds despair, and even at this early stage of the season, the Red Sox and their fans are starting to look desperate. Clay Buchholz, their starter, gave up all five home runs. His ERA is now 9.00. Overall, the Red Sox starting staff is 2-8, and not one of those pitchers has an ERA better than 4.50.

They got a home run from David Ortiz in the second inning, and that would have been it if not for the late-afternoon sun that blinded Nick Swisher in right, causing a routine fly ball to drop in front of him in the fifth inning and become an RBI double for Mike Aviles.

"That sun looks like a blaze of fire out there," Swisher said. "That's all right. I'll take it. Just as long as I didn't catch one in the teeth, I was cool with that."

The Red Sox had 10 hits, three of them doubles, but couldn't get a timely hit off Nova, Cory Wade or Dave Robertson, striking out 10 times and going 1-for-10 with runners in scoring position.

And the fans seemed to give up early; after Swisher and Chavez homered in the third to make it a 3-0 lead, all the festivity seemed to have been sucked out of the park, replaced by an air of doom.

Asked whether he could remember a Yankees-Red Sox game as quiet as this one, New York manager Joe Girardi said, "Not very often. Not very often."

Nova, whose spring was as misleading as his April has been spectacular, limited the Red Sox to seven hits in six innings, striking out five. His slider, a work in progress last season, looks like a finished product this season. And for the second time in three starts, he didn't walk a batter; his strikeouts-to-walks ratio for 2012 is a ridiculous 10-to-1.

"He's a monster," Rodriguez said. "I don't know when people are going to realize that. He is a fantastic pitcher. He has four plus pitches. All are above major league average. And his velocity -- he threw a pitch today that was 96 [mph]. All he knows how to do is win. He's very composed. And he's turning the corner, big time."

So, too, the Yankees hope, is Russell Martin, who came in batting .133 with no home runs and a single RBI, and left with his first home run, a shot that stayed off Lansdowne Street only because it hit a sign above the left-field bleachers.

"I've been telling you that his at-bats have been better," Girardi said. "He has taken his walks. It was a little mechanical thing. He hit two balls right on the screws today."

And Chavez, who had gotten all of six at-bats in the first 13 games of the season, made the most of his four Friday, crushing two home runs in one game for the first time since 2006.

"It's good for my own confidence," Chavez said. "I hit two home runs all last year, so to be able to do that in a single game is definitely rewarding. It's hard. I didn't get a lot of at-bats prior to this, so you just try to do the best you can when you get the opportunity."

The Yankees seemed to harbor no remorse over screwing up the script to what the Red Sox had hoped would be a storybook day for them, a day that instead turned into a nightmare.

"It was a great day," Girardi said. "I loved it. I'm really glad we were a part of it, I really am."

Bobby Valentine's thoughts on the subject were not recorded for posterity, but even 100 years from now, it won't be hard to figure out what they were.

Wallace Matthews has covered New York sports since 1983 as a reporter, columnist, radio host and TV commentator. He covers the Yankees for ESPNNewYork.com after working for Newsday, the New York Post, the New York Sun and ESPN New York 98.7 FM.
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