Master-ful opening for Sox in the Bronx

Master-ful opening for Sox in Bronx

NEW YORK -- All of 23 years old, perhaps Justin Masterson didn't know that facing Alex Rodriguez with the bases loaded and one out in the bottom of the seventh inning during a pennant race was supposed to be a nerve-wracking experience.

Amid this potentially daunting circumstance, Masterson looked every bit as poised as he's been throughout his rookie year, getting the great A-Rod on a 6-3 double play to snuff out that rally, helping the Red Sox hold on for a 7-3 victory in the first of a three-game series at Yankee Stadium on Tuesday night.

"Honestly, I love that stuff," Masterson said. "That's why you play the game."

With the Red Sox holding a commanding 7-3 lead to start the bottom of the seventh, Manny Delcarmen issued a one-out walk to Johnny Damon, a single to right to Derek Jeter and a walk to Bobby Abreu. Manager Terry Francona then went to Masterson, who has been a key member of the bullpen since being converted to that role after the All-Star break.

The righty poured an 0-1 sinker in on A-Rod's hands and got just the result he was looking for.

"I pretty much just said, 'Hey, throw my sinker, let it work, get a ground ball.' That's exactly what happened," Masterson said.

And that's exactly why Francona called on Masterson, who has a 1.89 ERA in 14 appearances as a reliever.

"That's about as big a situation as you're going to find," Francona said. "Poise is not a problem. He deserves to be used in those situations."

Then again, Masterson wasn't the only Boston pitcher to do a number on Rodriguez. Starter Tim Wakefield, who earned the win in his return from the disabled list, induced the three-time American League Most Valuable Player into an inning-ending double play in the third and a shallow flyout to center with two on and one out in the fifth.

"It was an awful night," Rodriguez said. "Personally, it was a long night. I pretty much screwed it up any way you can screw it up. This time of year, you can't sit around and start judging yourself and start worrying about what happened."

With the win, the Red Sox sliced the Rays' lead in the AL East to 3 1/2 games. With two games left in the Bronx in the latest showdown between the rivals -- and probably the last at Yankee Stadium -- New York trails Boston by six games in the AL Wild Card standings. The Twins trail the Red Sox by 2 1/2 games after falling to the Mariners, 3-2, on Tuesday night.

Considering their barrage of injuries of late, the Red Sox take pride in taking five of the first seven games of this nine-game road trip.

"That's how we roll here," said Red Sox slugger David Ortiz. "You know that, we don't panic. If you hit the panic button, it just gets worse, right?"

This was one of those games where the Red Sox got clutch performances on both sides of the ball. The offense smacked Andy Pettitte around for 10 hits and six runs over 4 2/3 innings.

"I thought we did a good job," Francona said. "I thought Pettitte was around the plate, and if you leave the strike zone, he was going to chew us right up. We were patient enough where we ended up doing some damage. I thought he ended up throwing the ball really well."

"That's about as big a situation as you're going to find. Poise is not a problem. He deserves to be used in those situations."
-- Manager Terry Francona, on Justin Masterson's seventh inning

While Wakefield was by no means vintage, he did what he had to do, giving up eight hits and three runs over five innings to earn the win in his first start since Aug. 6.

"I thought he did well, especially for a guy who hasn't pitched in a while," Francona said. "I thought, maybe it wasn't the best knuckleball I've ever seen, but it was good. He was good. He did a real good job."

The Yankees had reason to be optimistic in the early going when Johnny Damon led off the bottom of the first by culminating an eight-pitch at-bat with a homer to right.

But this wasn't Pettitte's night. That much was clear early. Jeff Bailey and Kevin Cash innocently started a second-inning rally with consecutive infield singles, and Jacoby Ellsbury produced an RBI single to left to tie the game. The Yankees swiftly untied it in the bottom of the second on an RBI single to center by Jose Molina.

From there, however, the Red Sox took complete control of the game. Ortiz led off the third with a double to center, and Kevin Youkilis ripped an RBI double to left to knot it at 2. Jason Bay, playing in his first Red Sox-Yankees game, followed Youkilis with an RBI single up the middle to put Boston in front for good.

It was in the fifth that the Red Sox landed their knockout punch of Pettitte. It all started with two outs. Bay and Jed Lowrie ignited the rally against Pettitte with singles. Coco Crisp stroked an RBI single and later stole second. Bailey then came through with the most fortuitous of hits, a single that bounced off the third-base bag. The hit allowed not just Lowrie to score, but also Crisp, who never stopped running, as Bailey -- playing for the first time at Yankee Stadium -- beat out Rodriguez's throw to first.

"When I first hit it, I thought, 'You know what, this is going to go right over the bag and I'm going to get a double,'" said Bailey. "I saw it hit the bag as I was running out of the box. It kicked up to A-Rod, and he played it like he was expecting it to kick up to him. All I can do is just run as fast as I can to get down there. I turn around and I see [Jason] Giambi not looking in and Coco scoring. That's great baserunning right there. You can't teach that."

Just like you can't teach Masterson to do what he's done with precious little experience.

"That guy is tough," Ortiz said. "He's got a lot of movement on his pitches and he's been doing it for us."

Ian Browne is a reporter for This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.