Commentary

Yanks have big opportunity Sunday

The Bombers stumbled on Saturday night, but the Red Sox are still on the ropes

Updated: July 8, 2012, 5:31 PM ET
By Andrew Marchand | ESPNNewYork.com

BOSTON -- The New York Yankees go into Sunday night with a chance to make themselves a little more comfortable, and force the Boston Red Sox to tumble into the All-Star break a little more restless. If Ivan Nova can shut the door on Jon Lester and the Sox, then the Yanks will have nearly a double-digit advantage over their main rival at the midseason recess.

The Red Sox are a classic Bobby Valentine team, surrounded by endless controversy which could actually make them stronger as they become healthier. So when you have a chance to put them away, you can't be like the bad guy in the movies, waiting for the perfect moment and leaving an opportunity to be fooled in the end.

[+] EnlargeRussell Martin, Joe Girardi, Derek Jeter, Robinson Cano
Jim Rogash/Getty ImagesIt was a long night for the Yankees, on the mound and in the field.

The Yankees have won two of the first three against the Red Sox this weekend, four of five on the season, and as of right now they are clearly the better team.

But the Yankees aren't flawless, and they don't want to create an opportunity for the Red Sox to breathe in the East -- especially with the two teams having played only five of their 18 games so far.

On Saturday night, the Yankees looked lost, making a season-high four errors. Phil Hughes, who has never pitched well at Fenway Park, couldn't overcome all the extra outs and took the loss in a 9-5 defeat. Russell Martin finally got a hit -- a second-inning double -- after 30-at-bats. But his frustration with the loss was so strong that he ripped in half three towels  only one of which was shown on TV -- when he was pinch-hit for by Alex Rodriguez in the ninth inning.

"I was just frustrated by the game," Martin said. "It wasn't because I got pinch-hit for. It had really nothing to do with that. I was just frustrated we gave up some runs late there. It was actually three towels so now we have six."

Rodriguez is aging before our very eyes. In the bottom of the eighth, with the bases loaded and the Yankees down by five, Joe Girardi chose to pinch-hit with Raul Ibanez over A-Rod against Vicente Padilla.

"Ibanez has pinch-hit more," Girardi said of Ibanez, who popped out. "Ibanez has been a DH more. That way I didn't have to put A-Rod in the field, as well. Ibanez has seen him more than A-Rod has. And A-Rod was going to hit next. My hope is that I'm going to hit both of them that inning."

Still, Rodriguez is increasingly becoming an issue -- one that has been smoothed out, or overlooked a little -- because of all the winning. But A-Rod has not been a No. 3 or No. 4 type hitter this year. Girardi is so concerned about Rodriguez's age and health, he wouldn't dare start him in both games of the doubleheader. Rodriguez is on pace for a home run total in the mid-20s, and a little more than 70 RBIs. It has not been as big of an issue because of the Yankees' success, not A-Rod's.

The defense has been good this season for the most part, but it was ugly on Saturday night. Curtis Granderson stood up and said he should have been charged with the error on the ball he and Darnell McDonald could not decide on in the fifth inning. In the sixth, Derek Jeter felt like the Yankees would have gotten at least one out, maybe two, if he could have cleanly fielded a ball in the hole. Those two errors contributed to seven of Boston's nine runs.

"It lengthens the innings," Girardi said. "When you give them extra outs, it is dangerous, especially in this ballpark."

The Yankees have beaten up the Red Sox four of five times at Fenway this season. They have pounded Boston in the first inning. On Friday, it was five runs. On Saturday afternoon, it was four. On Saturday night, it was three. So the Red Sox are actually improving in that regard.

After the Saturday night three-spot, courtesy of a Mark Teixeira three-run blast, the Yankees offense could barely accomplish anything else. They didn't score again until Andruw Jones went deep in the seventh for his third home run of the day.

The Yankees didn't have enough to finish off the Red Sox on Saturday night. But if they can put another loss on Boston on Sunday night, they will send the Red Sox into the break a .500 team, staring at a 9.5-game deficit.

The Yankees can leave the Red Sox feeling bad about their first half, instead of on an upswing. The Yanks have munched on McDonald's this weekend -- as their pregame meal on Friday, and their between-game feast on Saturday. But this is not the time to get too fat.

Andrew Marchand is a senior writer for ESPNNewYork. He also regularly contributes to SportsCenter, Baseball Tonight, ESPNews, ESPN New York 98.7 FM and ESPN Radio. He joined ESPN in 2007 after nine years at the New York Post. Follow Andrew on Twitter »

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