The spotlight of a pennant race never gets much brighter than when the Yankees and the Red Sox share a ballfield, and on Friday, it couldn't have been much better. Alex Rodriguez's two-run homer ended an epic 15-inning contest as the Yankees defeated the Red Sox, 2-0.
"It was a big game at the beginning, and it just kept getting bigger and bigger," Rodriguez said. "You don't want to play 15 innings and use up great pitching performances from both sides. We knew the game was very important, and it was good that we won."
Five hours and 33 minutes after A.J. Burnett threw the game's first pitch, Rodriguez launched the final one into the left-center-field bullpen off Boston's Junichi Tazawa, driving in the only runs of the night and lifting New York to its 10th walk-off win of the season.
The good-night rocket allowed the Yankees to expand their lead in the American League East to 4 1/2 games over their blood rivals. For Rodriguez, it snapped a career-high 72-at-bat homerless streak with career shot No. 573, tying Harmon Killebrew for ninth place on baseball's all-time list.
According to research by ESPN and MLB Network, it was also just the fifth game-ending home run in a scoreless game in the 15th inning or later. A-Rod joined Adrian Garrett (Angels, Sept. 22, 1975), Willie Mays (Giants, July 2, 1963), Earl Averill (Indians, Aug. 24, 1935) and Old Hoss Radbourn (Grays, Aug. 17, 1882) in the select quintet.
|Walk-off homers in the 15th inning or later in a scoreless game|
|Old Hoss Radbourn||Grays||8/17/1882||18th|
|Courtesy of ESPN and MLB Network|
It also authored a final chapter to a contest that -- through seven innings -- featured an epic duel between A.J. Burnett and Josh Beckett. The former Florida Marlins teammates were outstanding, successfully making a pleasant August evening feel an awful lot like October.
"Unbelievable win," Yankees manager Joe Girardi said. "This was really amazing. There were opportunities, but there weren't a whole lot of hits. Beckett and A.J. pitched great, and everyone in the bullpen pitched well for both teams. We were fortunate to come out on top."
Derek Jeter was on the bases for Rodriguez's blast and could not believe so much of the sellout crowd of 48,262 had remained for the final act, roaring and trying to will a victory in the first Yankees-Red Sox game to progress scorelessly through 14 innings.
"They were outstanding," Jeter said. "I was surprised there were so many fans left there at the end. When I was on first, somebody was yelling at me to steal the base. I was still lucky I was still standing up."
The Yankees' early-morning push brought bleary-eyed relief only after they had their hearts twisted once again in the 14th inning.
Eric Hinske had entered the game in the eighth and was already enjoying his third at-bat when, with two men aboard, he blasted a deep drive to right field, drawing great cries of anticipation.
Red Sox right fielder J.D. Drew used every ounce of his remaining energy to flag the ball with a sensational running grab. Pinch-runner Ramiro Pena ran back to second base, and Hinske was left in disbelief.
|In the storied history of the Red Sox-Yankees rivalry, the franchises have played 15 or more innings 13 times. Friday night's nail-biter was the longest game between the two teams since New York's 11-6 victory in 1997.|
|8/29/1967 (Game 2)||20||NYY 4, BOS 3|
|9/5/1927 (Game 2)||18||BOS 12, NYY 11|
|4/16/1967||18||NYY 7, BOS 6|
|8/2/1978||17||BOS 7, NYY 5|
|9/29/1923 (Game 2)||16||BOS 3, NYY2|
|9/9/1962||16||BOS 5, NYY 4|
|6/4/1966 (Game 2)||16||BOS 6, NYY 3|
|4/19/1930 (Game 1)||15||BOS 4, NYY 3|
|4/18/1931||15||BOS 5, NYY 4|
|7/23/1932 (Game 1)||15||NYY 4, BOS 3|
|5/30/1951||15||BOS 1, NYY 10|
|6/1/1997||15||NYY 11, BOS 6|
|8/7/2009||15||NYY 2, BOS 0|
|* Home team in bold|
"I was hoping it was going to fall in, for sure," Hinske said. "I took my helmet off and I was like, 'No way, this is unbelievable.' It's just one of those crazy games that's going to go down in Yankees-Red Sox history."
The most clutch Yankee, Melky Cabrera, then spiked emotions with a bid for what would have been his fourth walk-off hit of the year, drilling a Tawaza offering into right field and galloping down the baseline. It, too, was premature.
The sinking liner smacked turf just a few inches outside the chalk, and first-base umpire Jim Joyce emphatically waved it foul. Cabrera was sent back to strike out swinging, the game went to the 15th inning, and some Yankees looked to the skies in frustration.
"At that point, you figure this game's never going to end," Jeter said. "That's pretty much it. That's one of those long ones. Our pitching staff deserves a lot of credit; theirs as well. We were just fortunate to come up with that home run."
Jeter had been hitless in six trips before singling off Tawaza in the 15th, a run of frustration that included stranding runners in scoring position in the third, fifth and 10th innings. He wasn't alone. The clubs combined to go a staggering 0-for-19 with runners in scoring position.
"It seems like it was a game of missed opportunities on both sides," Jeter said. "I'm sure we feel a lot better over here because we were able to win it."
Rodriguez spent most of his postgame media session deflecting attention to the starting pitchers, and with good reason -- it was the only time, A-Rod said, he had seen that many swings and misses in a single contest.
"It was a great game on both sides," Rodriguez said. "For me, the story of the day is Beckett and Burnett just throwing darts, and both bullpens were pretty much incredible."
Seeking his elusive first victory over the Red Sox since signing a five-year deal with the Yankees, Burnett allowed a single to the first batter he faced, then ensured that was it for Boston.
Snarling behind a bursting fastball and a biting slider, Burnett clamped the Red Sox quiet with 7 2/3 innings of scoreless ball, turning in what arguably plays as his signature performance thus far in pinstripes. After his 118th and final pitch, Burnett walked off the field to a lusty standing ovation.
"It was big for us," Burnett said. "I think I battled early but never got too upset with myself. I had quite a few walks there, four-pitch walks, but we were able to make pitches when I needed to, and luckily I got hold of that curveball late in the game."
Beckett also refused to give. The steely-eyed right-hander showcased his sharpest stuff, limiting the Yankees to four hits in a 115-pitch performance that surprised no one.
"He seems like he's always pitching good against us," Jeter said. "When you get guys on base, that's when he's at his toughest. You figure runs are going to be hard to come by."
Burnett's exit sequenced into the bullpen's hour to shine. Phil Hughes got a big out, Mariano Rivera worked the ninth inning against the heart of the Red Sox's lineup, and Alfredo Aceves was summoned to hurl three scoreless innings that would go rather unheralded in the grander picture.
Red Sox manager Terry Francona got just as much production out of the blacked-out names on his lineup card. All the while, Beckett and Burnett retained their seats, staring across the diamond at the drama playing out.
"We were running out of pitching, so we had to do it pretty quick," Girardi said. "[We had] nobody left. It just shows you the importance of the game and what the game means to everyone involved here."
Brian Bruney recorded six outs, some of them loud, and Phil Coke hurled a hitless 15th to set up Rodriguez's heroics. That sent Burnett dashing back on to the field, carrying with him a whipped cream pie destined for the left side of Rodriguez's face.
Rodriguez briefly allowed himself to taste the mess before toweling it off, and the exhilarating victory must have been indeed as sweet as he'd hoped. It certainly beat the alternative.
"Most of all, it's exhausting," Rodriguez said. "I think we were so excited that the ball went over the fence, not just because we won, but because we had a chance to go home and get some sleep."
Bryan Hoch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.