A foul popup was heading into the stands. Chris Stewart leaned into the seats to make the catch, turned quickly and fired an on-the-money throw to second base. Even Stewart himself said he’d never so much as seen that sort of double play, much less turned one. It was the final out of the eighth inning, and it was a kind of symbol of what made the Yankees so much better today than last night.
They were essentially, the best version of themselves.
They pitched extremely well. Hiroki Kuroda had one rocky inning, but he was ultimately terrific before getting the ball to Dave Robertson and Mariano Rivera. They made big plays. Beyond the two outs at the plate, Stewart also made the highlight reels with that physically and mentally impressive play in the eighth. And the Yankees took advantage of scoring opportunities. This isn’t a team that’s going to hit many home runs, but they had some doubles and collected four hits with runners in scoring position.
“It’s a collective win,” Stewart said. “We’ve been playing pretty good defense, and we’ve been pitching pretty well, but for us to the get the hits in the runners-on situation is big for us today. We were able to move some runners over, get them into scoring position with less than two outs, and we had guys get the big knock to drive them in.”
There seemed to be some legitimate excitement in the clubhouse about the Stewart play, because it came at a huge time — with David Ortiz coming up as the potential tying run — and it was so unusual that both Joe Girardi and Tony Pena were legitimately impressed.
“I was surprised I had such a clear path to the ball,” Stewart said. “I jumped in there and didn’t see anyone trying to go after it. I was able to catch it because of that, and I was able to hop out too. It was nice to have a clear path to go in and come out. … I’m catching it first, and then, as soon as I caught it, I tried to get out of the stands as soon as possible to pick up the runner. At that point I saw him going, so I just got rid of it as quick as I could.”
The Yankees had lost their past three games against the Red Sox, and they were on the verge of sliding to eight games out of first place heading into tomorrow’s series finale. Now they’re back to six-games out, with a chance to win the series with CC Sabathia on the mound tomorrow. They didn’t have a home run. Didn’t score a massive amount. Just had some defensive highlights, got some strong pitching, and got hits when they needed them.
“That’s what we have to do,” Girardi said. “Not too many nights when we’re going to slug. That’s not who we are. We have to pitch extremely well. We have to get distance from our starter and allow our bullpen to go to work and have a lead. Having a lead is really important.”
• Girardi said he didn’t know much about Alex Rodriguez’s tight quad that kept him from playing third base tonight. Even though he’s not in the field, Rodriguez has had three at-bats as Scranton/Wilkes-Barre’s DH. He’s 0-for-4 with three strikeouts. “Obviously we’re going to DH him some too, but I’d like to be able to play him at third,” Girardi said.
• It seems to go without saying that Rodriguez’s quad tightness is considered incredibly mild. “I would think so,” Girardi said. “I would hope so!”
• Here’s something I didn’t expect: Mariano Rivera got a legitimate standing ovation tonight. It was his first Boston appearance of his final season, and the Red Sox fans showed him considerable respect. “Yesterday, when I was going to the bullpen, they did the same thing,” Rivera said. “It’s like an appreciation, I guess. It’s great, though. They do that — acknowledge you — knowing that you’ve been there for so many years.”
• Rivera closed out the game with his 31st save of the season. He’s saved his past 12 opportunities at Fenway Park dating back to June 3, 2007.
• Setting up for Rivera, Dave Robertson made his 311th career appearance. He’s tied with Steve Hamilton for 17th on the Yankees all-time games pitched list.
• Of course, the pitching standout was Hiroki Kuroda who allowed two runs on five hits through seven innings. He retied nine in a row at one point, but his string of 18 scoreless innings ended with a sacrifice fly in the seventh. “It was a close game all along, so I had to be careful with my pitches,” Kuroda said. “When they gave me the run support, I think I was able to be more bold.”
• In his past 10 starts, Kuroda has a 2.63 ERA with 49 strikeouts and 11 walks. What had the biggest impact today? “His two-seamer away to the lefties,” Stewart said. “He was able to keep it out there and down. He got a lot of pop outs to left and center on it. And then his slider was able to put them away. Other than that, he was throwing strikes all day. That was the difference maker.”
• Kuroda did have two wild pitches for the first time this season. Of course, one pitch that got away was turned into a key out at the plate. “The ball didn’t go all the way to the backstop,” Stewart said. “Fortunately it stayed somewhat close to where I could pounce on it pretty quickly. I was able to slide in there, pick it up and kind of make a throw all in one pretty cleanly. And then he was there in time to catch the ball and put the tag down.”
• Robinson Cano extended his hitting streak to a season-high 11 games. … Eduardo Nunez had his second three-hit game of the season. … Lyle Overbay also had three hits and is batting .331 with 17 doubles and 32 RBI in 45 career games at Fenway Park.
• Overbay, you might remember, was released by the Red Sox in spring training. “I don’t hold grudges; it’s not a grudge,” Overbay said. “I didn’t leave on bad terms or anything like that. But to do that, it makes it a little bit better.”
• We’ll give the final word to Girardi, talking about Kuroda: “I felt pretty good about him when I saw him in spring training and the way he was throwing the baseball. He’s very professional. He works very hard. You know eventually as you’re getting older that at some point your stuff is going to change or your swing is going to change and you’re not going to move as well defensively, but it has not seemed to affect him, and he’s throwing the ball as well as or maybe better than last year.”
Associated Press photos