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Spector | Change of fortune lets Yankees steal one from Red Sox

New York Yankees' Aaron Hicks (31) celebrates next to teammate Brett Gardner after hitting a two-run home run during the eighth inning of the team's baseball game against the Boston Red Sox on Friday, Aug. 11, 2017, in New York. (AP Photo/Frank Franklin II)
(AP Photo/Frank Franklin II)

NEW YORK – When Todd Frazier drew a leadoff walk against Boston Red Sox reliever Matt Barnes in the seventh inning on Friday night, it seemed that the New York Yankees, finally out from under the spell cast on them for six frames by Eduardo Rodriguez, were in business. It was a notion that lasted all of 14 pitches before Barnes had retired the next three hitters to get out of the inning, Frazier never advancing from first base.

Down by three runs, this was clearly a suboptimal outcome for New York, but it came with a silver lining for manager Joe Girardi, because it meant he could use Brett Gardner to lead off the eighth as a pinch-hitter for catcher Austin Romine.

“I always think he’s used to doing that, and it just kind of worked out that way,” Girardi said. “It was the eighth inning, and I’m not sure I would’ve used him in the seventh inning, because Romine had hit Barnes pretty well in his career. It just worked out well.”

That’s all it takes to explain baseball sometimes: it just worked out well. It’s hardly that the Yankees didn’t deserve their 5-4 comeback win over the Red Sox, but there was something about the way they did it that just seemed inexplicable. There was no chicanery about it, just a series of events that allowed the Yanks to yoink away the win, end Boston’s winning streak at eight, and turn what was about to be a five-and-a-half-game margin in the American League East into three-and-a-half.

It started in the third inning, when Mookie Betts smacked a one-out single to left field and Andrew Benintendi followed with a single of his own to center. Jacoby Ellsbury made a brutal decision to try to throw out Betts at third, which allowed Benintendi to scoot up to second, leaving first base open. The Yankees decided to intentionally walk Hanley Ramirez, whose home run in the first inning was somewhere over Saskatchewan at that point – a move that surely would not have been made with runners at the corners rather than second and third. Jaime Garcia escaped the bases loaded jam by striking out Chris Young and getting Xander Bogaerts to bounce back to the box.

New York Yankees starting pitcher Jaime Garcia stands on the mound after Boston Red Sox's Hanley Ramirez hit a home run during the fifth inning of a baseball game Friday, Aug. 11, 2017, in New York. (AP Photo/Frank Franklin II)

(AP Photo/Frank Franklin II)

In the eighth, because the Yankees had gone down so feebly in the seventh, Girardi was able to tap Gardner to pinch-hit for Romine, and Gardner got hit in the foot by Addison Reed’s 0-1 pitch. Aaron Hicks followed with a two-run homer to the short porch in right field, and the Yankees, scoreless in their previous 16 innings, were off to the races. Gardner would bat again before the end of the inning, drawing a walk to complete one of the greatest 0-for-0 performances you’ll ever see by a player who appeared for only half an inning.

Finally, in the ninth, Aroldis Chapman walked the first three batters he faced before he finally found the strike zone against Benintendi, who had already homered against a lefty earlier in the game when he took Garcia deep to make it 3-0. Benintendi made a bid for another dinger, but Hicks made the catch at the warning track. On the sacrifice fly, Eduardo Nunez tried to advance, but an excellent throw from Hicks and a grazing tag by Frazier completed the rare 7-5 double play. Mitch Moreland, earlier a defensive replacement for Ramirez for some reason, then flied out to end the game.

The Yankees had a night full of lemons, including going 0-for-6 with runners in scoring position in the first seven innings, but made them into lemonade. They even managed to dispel the notion, thanks to Hicks, that home runs are rally killers, because in this case, it was a kickstarter.

“We really weren’t putting anything together, and that’s why you play all nine innings,” said Frazier, whose single in the eighth put the Yankees in the lead. “We grind. Everybody came through at the end. That home run was big. I looked at it on the replay, and that ball was way inside. I don’t know how he kept it fair. It kickstarted us. Then another single by (Gary) Sanchez, and a walk (to Aaron Judge), and the wheels just keep on turning. Exceptional win for us.”

For three hours, the Yankees had little reason to believe that’s what it would be, but Yankees-Red Sox games hardly ever are that short – just another part of the night that wasn’t really how anyone would draw it up. But things worked out for New York in the end, because that’s just how baseball is sometimes.

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