Yankees-Red Sox in the Bronx still means there is a long way to go

By Rich Mancuso

The late June rivalry in the Bronx with the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox still had some meaning. Ask the Red Sox, who took two of three from their AL east rivals with an 8-5 win Sunday night at Yankee Stadium. More importantly the Yankees had an opportunity to narrow the gap with first place Toronto and that awaits another day.

And that can happen the next three games, narrowing their two game gap, or taking first place as this stretch of 15-straight with divisional opponents concludes with last place Tampa Bay. Yes it is still early, with Monday night the halfway point for the Yankees however winning series against teams in the division are just as vital.

“We don’t want to go out here and lose games,” Carlos Beltran said. “Feels right now these last two games we haven’t been able to do that.” Beltran did his part with a 3-for4- night, including his 366th career home run in the fourth inning, tying Lance Berkman for fourth place on baseball’s all-time home run list among switch hitters.

His eighth home run in the fourth inning, a solo shot to right at the time narrowed the Boston lead to 4-3.  Mark Teixeira led off the inning with his team leading 15th home run. Both long balls coming off John Lackey (9-5) who earned the win, allowing five runs on six hits.

Lackey did not produce a quality start of 6.0 innings or more, three-runs or less, for the third time in his last 13 outings. And in the position the Red Sox are in, also at the halfway point of their schedule, they need Lackey to produce.

This is a year of the mediocre AL east. The Yankees know, with any type of winning streak that they can take control, even though they are not the Yankees that battled the Red Sox over the years when the division belonged to the two rivals.

“Anytime you win a series on the road, particularly against a team that's ahead of us, these are key,” Boston manager John Farrell said.  There is plenty of time to overcome a six game deficit in the division and the defending world champions with all of their first half problems are realizing the same thing:

Winning a series against the Yankees in the Bronx was important. The Red Sox, a team in transition, are also reaching into their minor league system for that extra help. Mookie Betts, their 21-year old outfield prospect made his Major League debut and got his first single in the fourth inning.

“It was great,” he said.  And it came with no extra pressure, if that can be understood, because it came during a game in what has been described as the biggest rivalry in sports. Derek Jeter can echo those sentiments and remember the first time he took part in the Yankees-Red Sox rivalry as a rookie.

Except, Jeter, did not get the first of many hits against Boston. He had many significant and big hits over the years when the Yankees and Red Sox battled down to the wire for a spot in the post season.

 And then there is David Ortiz. He has made the Yankees miserable over the years in this rivalry, and that continued Sunday night. Ortiz has hit 40 home runs against the Yankees since putting on the Boston uniform in 2003, and he launched one off Chase Whitley in the third inning. It was the 450th of his career and good for 37th on the all-time list.

Whitley said he was frustrated about the pitch to Ortiz. The Yankees have got more than expected from the rookie right-hander, but this was his second straight loss. He tossed four innings and gave up five earned runs. And it comes at a time when the Yankees want to make some significant inroads in the division.

Whitley can’t always be a difference maker as the Yankees wait for CC Sabathia and Michael Pineda to return from the disabled list. When these teams meet in September for six more games, pitching could be the decisive factor as to where they are headed in October.  

"We are all going through are issues, there is no doubt about it, in the division," Yankees manager Joe Girardi said. "As I said, it is probably going to come down to the end and it is going to be who handles the injuries the best. Obviously, we need to play better. I'm sure every club in our division says that."

This time the Red Sox were the better team, next time it could be the Yankees and that is what makes this rivalry so special. 

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