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Classic duel ends in gut-wrenching loss

Classic duel ends in gut-wrenching loss

NEW YORK -- It was a classic game, full of tension, prolific pitching and defensive gems. But for the Red Sox, it was also a gut-wrenching 2-0 defeat in 15 innings in their latest epic against the Yankees.

Alex Rodriguez spoiled the Major League debut of Junichi Tazawa, pummeling a two-out, two-run blast on a 2-1 pitch at 12:42 a.m. ET on Saturday. It was the first game in the history of the rivalry that stayed scoreless into the 15th inning.

If the Red Sox had won the game -- particularly when you consider their recently-reeling state -- it would have been one to cherish.

"We didn't win," said Red Sox second baseman Dustin Pedroia. "If we would have won, I would have been pretty excited about it. We played hard. Obviously, it didn't come out the way we liked. It was a big win for them."

So now manager Terry Francona's team will put selective amnesia to the test and try to forget about a contest that dropped it a season-high 4 1/2 games behind the Yankees in the American League East. The Red Sox have lost four in a row, two to the team they are ahead of in the standings -- the Rays -- and the other to the team they are trying to catch. The Red Sox now lead the Rangers by one game in the AL Wild Card standings and the Rays by 2 1/2 games.

"We're playing hard," Pedroia said. "It's not like we're not trying. We're on a long road trip playing some good teams and haven't had any breaks. That stuff happens. It's baseball. You play 162 games, and hopefully, at the end, we'll look up and be right there."

There are still two games left in this four-game showdown between the rivals, and Boston's focus will be on trying to salvage a split.

"Our season is not over," said Red Sox catcher Jason Varitek. "We've got two months and, obviously, we haven't played our best baseball recently, and the good thing was what I saw pitching-wise today. That's what's going to help us get over the hump."

The game started as a riveting duel between Josh Beckett (seven innings, four hits, two walks, seven K's) and A.J. Burnett, who were once the bright lights of a young Florida Marlins staff. Now they are established veterans thrust into the middle of baseball's most storied rivalry.

Neither pitcher blinked, and it came down to the bullpens on both sides.

Tazawa, the 23-year-old from Japan who was promoted from Triple-A Pawtucket earlier in the day, was all the Red Sox had left in the bullpen.

Bonus baseball
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.
Date
Innings
Score *
8/29/1967 (Game 2)20NYY 4, BOS 3
9/5/1927 (Game 2)18BOS 12, NYY 11
4/16/196718NYY 7, BOS 6
8/2/197817BOS 7, NYY 5
9/29/1923 (Game 2)16BOS 3, NYY2
9/9/196216BOS 5, NYY 4
6/4/1966 (Game 2)16BOS 6, NYY 3
4/19/1930 (Game 1)15BOS 4, NYY 3
4/18/193115BOS 5, NYY 4
7/23/1932 (Game 1)15NYY 4, BOS 3
5/30/195115BOS 1, NYY 10
6/1/199715NYY 11, BOS 6
8/7/200915NYY 2, BOS 0
* Home team in bold

Derek Jeter started the 15th inning with a bloop single, but Tazawa retired the next two batters and came close to pushing the epic game to the 16th. But A-Rod picked a crushing time -- from the perspective of the Red Sox -- to end a 72-at-bat homereless streak.

"That was my regret," said Tazawa through an interpreter. "I left the ball a little too high."

The Yankees just missed winning it in the bottom of the 14th. With two on and one out, Eric Hinske scorched a line drive to right. J.D. Drew raced back and made a brilliant lunging catch, saving what surely would have been a walk-off hit.

"I made a beeline across the field tried to cut it off at the best angle possible to get to it," said Drew. "It felt pretty cool when I stuck the glove up in there and snowconed it. [It's] just one of those do-or-die plays. I just extended as far as I could possibly reach behind me and found the ball right there."

Melky Cabrera came up next and he almost ended the game as well, smashing a liner down the right-field line that was foul by inches.

For all the drama, the Red Sox know they could have avoided a lot of it if they had just been able to get their offense going. But they produced just four hits on the night, all singles.

"We didn't really get anything going," said Pedroia. "There were some walks early on in the game. We just didn't get that big hit. That stuff happens, but it usually doesn't happen for 15 innings."

In a brilliant performance that came at a time the Red Sox needed it most, Beckett tried to put his team on his back.

"He seems like he's always pitching good against us," said Jeter. "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. You anticipate a lot of times great pitching performances when you have guys like that, but it's not too often that it lives up to it."

Burnett matched him pitch for pitch, giving up just one hit over 7 2/3 innings, walking six and striking out six.

"He did a great job," Beckett said of his former teammate. "Like I said, I try not to watch too much of it. I'm just sitting down doing my own thing in between innings, getting my rest. He did a good job though."

The only hit the Sox produced off Burnett was Jacoby Ellsbury's single to start the game.

Meanwhile, Beckett was in top form before running into a jam in the fifth. The Yankees had first and second and nobody out, and then the bases loaded and two outs, but Beckett ended the threat by getting Jeter on a soft tapper to third. When Kevin Youkilis fielded the ball on the run and fired to first for the out, Beckett pumped his first emphatically, caught up in the emotion of the moment.

"Strong," Francona said of his ace. "That seemed like a long time ago. Real strong, and against that lineup, the way they came in swinging the bat, to put up zeroes was very impressive."

But the one zero that haunted the Red Sox was the one they put up in the runs column. Now they will try to get off the mat.

"I think the big key for us is to kind of regroup and have everybody get their swing going again," said Drew. "That's been typical with our team. It seems like when somebody's in a funk, everybody is. And when everybody's hot, swinging the bat well, everybody is. So we'll just have to get back to it."

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

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