Division titles are not determined in early August. There are too many games left for that to happen. But they can be collared for safekeeping. Teams can have stellar streaks that maybe, just maybe, are the impetus for their never tumbling out of first place.
The Yankees might have collared something memorable over the last four days at Yankee Stadium, their home sweet home.
Johnny Damon and Mark Teixeira had back-to-back homers with two outs in the eighth inning on Sunday night to help the Yankees stun the Red Sox 5-2, sweep the four-game series and shove Boston six-and-a-half games out of first place in the American League East.
“It felt like the playoffs,” Damon said.
There have been too many games this season when the fans have hardly screamed in the new Yankee Stadium, but as the Yankees rallied against the Red Sox with four runs on 15 pitches in the eighth, the fans acted as if it were October. The Yankees have won 13 of their last 14 home games, which makes it a lot easier to stand and shout.
“There was a little extra buzz this time,” manager Joe Girardi said.
With Daniel Bard and his 99-mile-per-hour fastball serving as the eighth-inning bridge to Jonathan Papelbon, the Red Sox were hoping to hang on to a 2-1 lead. But those hopes vanished when Damon hit a fastball over the fence behind right-center field for a tie.
Before Damon had finished receiving congratulations in the dugout, Teixeira sat on a curveball and lifted it over the fence in right to give the Yankees a 3-2 lead. Was it August or October?
As Teixeira waited to see if his ball would stay fair, he glided down the first-base line with his bat in his hands. When the ball stayed fair, Teixeira dropped the bat and made history. Damon and Teixeira have now hit back-to-back homers six times, a franchise record.
“For all of the good players that have played for the Yankees, that’s pretty cool,” Teixeira said.
The Red Sox are dragging. They could not score for almost three games. They hate visiting Yankee Stadium, but this trip was particularly galling.
Once Victor Martinez hit a two-run homer in the eighth to break Boston’s 31-inning scoreless streak, four of the Yankees’ next six batters scored. Nick Swisher added a two-run single during the splurge.
Not only did the Yankees dominate the Red Sox, but David Ortiz also had to hold a news conference in enemy territory to discuss steroids. The plane back to Logan airport could not depart soon enough for the Red Sox, who have lost six straight games and are tied with the Texas Rangers for the wild-card lead. The Yankees have won seven in a row.
The AL East standings could change if the Red Sox have a superb week and the Yankees have a lousy week. But right here and right now, the Yankees, who have been in first for the last 21 days, are performing like a much better club and a club with a future.
According to the Elias Sports Bureau, the Yankees have never lost a division lead of more than six games.
“Look at our team,” Damon said. “We do have a huge payroll, but we have players who can do the job. I think that’s why. I think we have too many good players.”
One of those players is Andy Pettitte, who basically matched what A.J. Burnett and C.C. Sabathia had done by pitching seven scoreless innings. Jon Lester allowed one run in seven innings.
After Pettitte and Lester combined to plant 13 zeroes on the scoreboard, Alex Rodriguez changed that. Rodriguez reached out and swatted a 95mph fastball over the center-field fence in the seventh. It was a huge run because the Red Sox had gone about 71 hours without scoring.
That finally changed in the eighth when Martinez blasted a two-run homer against Phil Coke. Phil Hughes was unavailable, so Girardi used Coke.
The homer gave the Red Sox a lead, but it did not last. The Yankees erupted for four runs to blitz Boston.
“We just have to go home now and regroup,” manager Terry Francona said.
With the fans standing and chanting, “Sweep, sweep, sweep,” in the ninth, the Yankees prevailed again at home. For all of the scrutiny that the new stadium has received for the proliferation of homers and empty, high-priced seats, the Yankees are comfortable and successful here. The Yankees hope it stays this way through late October.
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