By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — Top of the first. Two runners on base — one via hit, one via error on the first at-bat of the game. Didi Gregorius launches a three-run homer to right field, giving the Yankees a 3-0 lead before an out has even been recorded.
Better luck tomorrow, Red Sox. This just won’t be your night.
If you’re honest with yourself, you had to have had those thoughts, as Brian Johnson traversed through a muddy first inning, only to give up a solo homer in the second to put the Red Sox in a 4-0 hole. In a game when ace Chris Sale was supposed to pitch before being put on the DL, this looked to just be one of those nights for Boston. Chalk it up to a bad few hours and move on to the next one.
What happened after that, of course, was not the work of a team that was willing to roll over. Mookie Betts worked a bases-loaded walk in the bottom of the second. Steve Pearce hit a solo dinger to lead off the third. Johnson kept the Yankees at bay.
And then came the bottom of the fourth. Whoa, Nelly. Did the bottom of the fourth ever come.
Jackie Bradley walked. Betts doubled. Bradley scored on a base-running mistake which was matched by pitcher Jonathan Holder panicking and throwing to third base. Pearce hit another bomb. J.D Martinez doubled. Ian Kinsler singled, then stole second — Boston’s second steal of the inning. Eduardo Nunez doubled, plating Kinsler.
In what felt like the longest inning of the season, the Red Sox flipped a 4-2 deficit into an 8-4 lead.
Aaron Boone mercifully took Holder out of the game after he had allowed five hits and a walk without recording a single out. He was ultimately tagged for seven runs — all earned — when Bradley doubled home Nunez against Chad Green.
The lead was stretched to 10-4 when Betts singled home Bradley, and from then on, it was cruise control for both teams. Gregorius homered again to lead off the fifth, but the game was never again close.
As a result, the AL East race may be over. It would of course be premature to make any grand statements about such matters, particularly with 52 games remaining on the schedule and especially with three more head-to-head matchups with the Yankees coming in the next three days.
But consider this:
–The Red Sox at 76-34 currently have a .691 winning percentage. If they maintain that through season’s end, they’ll go 112-50.
–For the Yankees to match that 112-50 record, they’ll have to go 44-11. That’s a winning percentage of .800. The Yankees’ current winning percentage on the season is .636.
–If the Red Sox drop off a bit and win at a .600 clip in their final 52 games, they’ll finish with a 107-55 record.
–For the Yankees to match that record, they’d have to go 39-16 in their final 55 games. That’s a winning percentage of .709.
–If the Red Sox uncharacteristically crash into a wall and fall off a cliff at the same time and end up going .500 from this point forward, they’ll finish the season with a 102-60 record.
–For the Yankees to match that record, they’d have to go 34-21. That’s a much more doable .618 winning percentage.
You also must consider one last thing:
–The Yankees might have had their soul ripped out and trampled upon on live television on Thursday night.
That last one requires a bit of speculation, but it cannot be ruled out. That was so ugly.
Anyway, as you can see, with a 6.5-game cushion in the AL East, the only thing the Red Sox have to do in order to sew up the division is to just keep on being the Red Sox. Winning at a near .700 clip for 162 games might be unrealistic (maybe), but the current lead allows for a slip or two along the way for the Red Sox. Outside of losing nine out of 10 games, the Red Sox would have a difficult time losing the division in 2018.
Logically, one might think that this story will change significantly if the Yankees can manage to win the next three games and render Thursday night’s blowout mostly meaningless. That seems a particularly plausible event, considering the last Red Sox-Yankees series featured alternating blowouts, with each not affecting the next day’s result.
And, actually, that’s pretty accurate. Let’s see how the Yankees respond to that soul-crushing, embarrassing defeat at Fenway. If Luis Severino can shine on Friday night, if Saturday’s mystery starter can pull a rabbit out of a hat, and if David Price melts down on Sunday Night Baseball, we won’t be talking about a wrapped-up division come Monday morning.
But after that 15-7 thumping, the Yankees have to feel like their whole season is resting on a thread. There’s zero room for error going forward this weekend at Fenway Park.