While it occurred under protest from the ESPN broadcast booth, the fact that last night's game featured slow and deliberate play, multiple tie scores, and in general the sense of the proverbial irresistible force meeting an immovable object really shouldn't have come as a shock. This was Sox-Yankees, after all.
These days, there's a gravity which has no regard for time when these teams face each other, particularly when something meaningful is at stake. And last night was heavy with meaning --the teams came in not just tied in the series with a win apiece, but tied for first place. And not just tied for first place on a technicality, with a half-game here or there, but tied precisely, both with 69-43 records on the season.
As is their habit, then, the teams proceeded to grind past one another for ten long innings with the force and glacial pace of tectonic plates. Neither team ever enjoyed more than a one run lead, or for very long.
Josh Beckett was every bit the force of nature we Red Sox fans had expected him to be in a game like this, with a curveball that buckled knees and, in general, a presence on the mound that suggested he'd enjoyed his usual big-game breakfast of nails, bolts, light bulbs and raw meat. On the Yankees side, Freddy Garcia found himself in more jams -- the Red Sox would leave a dozen men on when all was said and done, 8 of them at the hands of Jacoby Ellsbury alone. But he would always wriggle out of them, or the Red Sox would decline to take advantage of the opportunity, take your pick.
As a result, Beckett and his filthy curveball were in for another tough no-decision when he'd pitched well enough to win (and make no mistake, this is a trend this season). The win, and first place, lay four innings beyond his efforts.
There were buckets of spittle devoted to the top four batters in the Red Sox lineup last night from aforementioned broadcast booth, but these vaunted hitters would end up a combined 1-16 fpr the night. That "1" belonged to Dustin Pedroia in the bottom of the fifth, and was promptly negated when he was caught attempting to steal second. Ellsbury, who has singlehandedly won several of this past week's games, was so ineffective at the plate all night that when it came run-scoring time in the bottom of the ninth, his contribution was a sacrifice bunt to move the runner -- Marco Scutaro -- over to third base. Pedroia would then bat him in with a sacrifice fly, and Adrian Gonzalez would end the inning rather than continuing the rally.
Still, with Mariano Rivera on the mound and this precision at work -- station to station baseball, the overall feel of an arm-wrestling match breaking slowly and painfully from a standstill -- it was hard not to think of past nights at Fenway that looked very much like this one, right down to the strange atmosphere of slow-motion inevitability.
In the end, it was the bottom of the tenth inning before the Red Sox would put this one away and take sole possession -- at least for now, by a single game -- of first place, when Josh Reddick, until then 0-4 on the night, singled in Darnell McDonald (running for Big Papi) with a single to deep left field. It was about 12:30 am, and had become the longest game between these two teams all season. Color me unsurprised.