Yankees 11, Red Sox 1
Terry Francona had not even reached the top step of the dugout when the roar began. The Boston Red Sox manager was heading to the mound to remove his ace, essentially conceding defeat in the sixth inning of Sunday's series finale against the New York Yankees, and 55,142 fans at Yankee Stadium were rising to their feet, screaming derisively at Pedro Martinez as he handed over the ball and made the long, solitary walk back to the Red Sox dugout.
The roar was like the sound of a great shifting of continents, tectonic plates grinding, the chasm between the first-place Yankees and the second-place Red Sox widening to the point where it might now be impassable.
At the end of a weekend in which the Red Sox had a chance to change the dynamics of this rivalry in a very significant way, it was the Yankees instead who reasserted their dominance, capping an impressive series by knocking Martinez out in the sixth inning and racing to a thorough 11-1 win.
After outscoring the Red Sox 27-8 this weekend, and coming within a Mariano Rivera blown save Friday night of a sweep, the Yankees find themselves holding a 41/2 -- game lead over Boston in the once-riveting AL East race with two weeks left in the season -- the biggest gap in the division race in nearly three weeks.
"I like being in front," said Yankees Manager Joe Torre. "The more the better. But we're playing good baseball now and that's what's reassuring."
Another series between these teams awaits next weekend at Boston's Fenway Park, but it seems almost a moot point. The Red Sox came very close to conceding the division after Sunday's loss and began focusing on the wild-card race, which they lead by 51/2 games -- six in the loss column -- over the Anaheim Angels.
"If we make the wild card," Martinez said, "it means the same thing."
In a matchup of star pitchers, only New York's Mike Mussina (12-9) brought his best stuff. He went seven strong innings, limiting the Red Sox to seven hits and a single earned run for his third straight win. Martinez (16-7), meantime, gave up one more run (eight) than teammate Derek Lowe had the day before, albeit spread out over a larger time frame (five-plus innings).
He was down 2-0 after only four pitches -- thanks to Gary Sheffield's towering homer to left -- and by the time Martinez was removed, Derek Jeter and Jorge Posada had also homered off him. Sheffield's and Jeter's came on first-pitch fastballs, as the Yankees abandoned their usual strategy of trying to drive up Martinez's pitch count and attacked him from the first pitch.
"They came out aggressive and swinging," said Martinez, who has given up 25 homers this season.
By the time Yankees second baseman Miguel Cairo drove in two runs with a flared single five batters into the sixth inning -- with Martinez having not recorded an out, and the score 7-1 -- Francona had seen enough. As he hit the top step, the roar went up, growing louder the closer he got to the mound.
The last time a Red Sox manager came to get Martinez in this stadium, on this mound, it was Oct. 16, 2003, in the eighth inning of Game 7 of the American League Championship Series, and -- like this one -- Grady Little's hook came a couple of batters too late. Ultimately, the Yankees would win the pennant three innings later on Aaron Boone's homer, Little would be fired within weeks and the baseball universe would revolve in an even tighter arc around this singular rivalry.
Refusing to acknowledge his role as chief provocateur, Martinez had played down both the rivalry and his own influence on the Red Sox' hopes, saying the day before: "I'm not the stopper. I'm not anything. I'm just a player trying to earn his living and do his job."
As things began to slip away from him Sunday, the only question remaining was which Yankees batter was going to get a fastball in his ear. Martinez, with a baseball in his hand, exudes danger like that.
Ultimately, however, the only bad blood Sunday came when the Red Sox, especially reliever Mike Timlin, took offense to Jeter's bunting for a single with a six-run lead in the sixth inning, after Martinez had left the game. After being removed with Jeter on third base, Timlin stood on the top step of the Red Sox' dugout and screamed at the Yankee captain.
"I said, 'You can't bunt like that. You gotta swing the bat,' " Timlin said. "But it was good-natured. That's all it was, no more, no less."
"It was the sixth inning," Jeter said. "No lead is safe -- they have some guys who can swing the bats."
When this series began, and especially after the Red Sox won the first game with a pair of runs off Rivera in the ninth inning, conventional wisdom held that the Red Sox were the superior team -- or at the very least the more dangerous postseason opponent -- because of their pitching depth, their relentless offense and all the major questions facing the Yankees.
But suddenly, the Yankees have Mussina, Orlando Hernandez, Jon Lieber and Javier Vazquez pitching at the height of their powers, and they have destroyed two of the Red Sox' three top starters (Lowe and Martinez), while it is the Red Sox who are full of questions.
Such as, What's wrong with Jason Varitek? The Red Sox catcher struck out each of the first three times he faced Mussina, on 10 pitches. For the series, he went 0 for 10 with eight strikeouts, failing to hit a ball out of the infield.
"I stunk," Varitek said. "That's all I can say. I stunk, period."
So did the Red Sox. And where they once imagined an historic comeback -- having trailed by 101/2 games in mid-August, they drew as close as two games back on Sept. 8 -- now they must be content to put the division title out of their mind, accept their consolation prize and rationalize more reasons why the difference between the two doesn't matter.