"We want to get this over with, but I don't think anybody had their hearts set on getting it done tonight," manager Joe Torre said. "We wanted to obviously, but when you leave yourself to have to win the last three games of a series to do that, that's asking a lot, especially when you're not going to play your regular players every game."
The game turned in the seventh, when Yankees reliever Ron Villone had pinch-runner Crisp picked off first with two outs. Crisp was well off the bag as Craig Wilson charged at him, but the elusive Boston center fielder did a crouching juke move around Wilson to get back safely.
Torre came out to argue first-base umpire Mike Estabrook's call and was told that Crisp was indeed out of the base paths but that Wilson didn't attempt to make a tag, meaning Crisp was legally allowed to maneuver around him. Wilson said the umpire first told him that Crisp was still in the base path.
"I went back and looked at it on video. Considering that I went right at him, then he stopped and was about six feet outside the line, I wouldn't consider that being inside the baseline," Wilson said. "I was attempting to tag him when I went after him."
Villone next faced Mark Loretta and ended up walking him on the 10th pitch of the at-bat, on what Villone thought was another questionable call.
Pinch-hitter Dustin Pedroia made him pay, smacking an RBI double to give the Red Sox a 3-2 lead. Villone intentionally walked David Ortiz, who had clubbed the game-tying homer the inning before, but Kevin Youkilis followed with a bases-loaded double to score three more runs.
"I know that when everybody looks in here it's my fault today," Villone said. "And I'm man enough to stand up for that. I just wish sometimes you can go out there and speak your mind and not get thrown out of the game. I want to do that every time somebody makes a mistake. But I've got to go get the next hitter out. I can't worry about that, you know?"
After becoming one of Torre's most steady options out of the bullpen, Villone has allowed 23 earned runs in his past 13 1/3 innings (15.56 ERA). He has only one scoreless outing in those 12 appearances.
Villone said he's physically feeling as well as he has in the past six weeks. Torre said Villone has looked better lately and that he isn't worried about him leading into the playoffs, where Villone will certainly be an integral figure.
"We'll get him back," Torre said. "We have time to get him back."
The Yankees got a reassuring outing from another pitcher with a few things to prove before the playoffs. Jaret Wright, who is competing for the fourth and final spot in the Yankees' playoff rotation, gave up just two runs and four hits in six innings.
Both runs were solo homers, the first by David Murphy to lead off the game and the second by Ortiz to start the sixth. Wright had allowed just seven homers in 24 starts this season entering the game, the fewest of any Major League pitcher with at least 20 starts.
"You never want to give up home runs, but they were solo shots," Wright said. "Ortiz's wasn't that bad a pitch, he just stayed on it. If you're around the plate, it's a Catch-22, because you might give up some home runs."
Wright previously had problems attacking hitters, but he has thrown many more strikes in his past three starts. In those three he is 1-0 with a 2.42 ERA. He said he's still not thinking about where he fits into the playoff scenario.
After Boston jumped out to the 1-0 lead, New York responded in the third. Johnny Damon hit a two-out double and came home on a Melky Cabrera double. Robinson Cano followed with a RBI single to left field to give the Yankees a 2-1 lead.
But the Yankees wasted golden opportunities to expand their lead in the next two innings. They loaded the bases with no outs in the fourth, but Boston starter Kyle Snyder wiggled out by striking out Sal Fasano and Johnny Damon.
The Yankees had men on first and second with one out in the fifth, but didn't cash in. They got the first two men on in the seventh, but managed just an Alex Rodriguez RBI sacrifice fly.
"We had our chances," Damon said. "We wished we could have had [the division clincher] over with weeks ago, but unfortunately we have to play it out."
Despite the controversy and frustrations, all that matters at the end of the afternoon is that the Yankees will likely clinch somewhere other than Yankee Stadium and definitely not against the Red Sox.
"When it happens, it happens," Wright said. "We'll enjoy it and look to the postseason. With the guys we have, I don't think we care where we clinch."