EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

August 31, 2007

Ten things we learned from Bronx sweep

Bill Burt

The New York Yankees are back in the race.

As crazy as that sounds, after what happened the last three days, it is true.

Does anything change? Not really.

The Red Sox are still in good position, ahead by five games in the American League East with 13 consecutive games against the Orioles, Blue Jays and Devil Rays immediately ahead of them.

But you should have been taking notes, because it says here we learned a few things about these two clubs the last three days:

1. Chicago sweep never happened.

Remember that four-game sweep a few days ago against the White Sox? It never happened.

Well, it happened; it just was negated by the last three days. As good as the Red Sox bats looked against second-rate pitching, the Sox looked as bad against good, not great, pitching.

Manny Ramirez's absence is not an excuse. So many average teams have whacked around the Yankees that the Sox still have enough firepower to score more than five runs per game never mind the series.

It's too bad because it appeared the Sox had finally that momentum, after going 24-12, but that momentum is gone.

Nothing really changes in terms of their playoff position. It's just that they wasted what could have been a big three games.

2. J.D. Drew is lost.

Lost in the controversial play (Kevin Youkilis running out of the baseline) was the guy who hit the soft, routine, double-play grounder with men on first and second with no outs in the crucial seventh inning | J.D. Drew.

Drew continues to look overmatched against decent to very good pitching. He was 1 for 11 this series and, frankly, I don't remember his hit.

The Red Sox really needed Drew this series, especially with Ramirez being out, but he wasn't there.

3. Coco Crisp is lost, too

Another major, major disappointment the last three days and, really, this entire season is Coco Crisp. Like Drew, his batting average has crept up to respectability the last two months, but Crisp's offensive contributions have been minimal. I don't know what manager Terry Francona was thinking having Crisp batting second ahead of David Ortiz.

Crisp is supposed to be a spark. He was a dud the entire three days. He was 0-for-the-Yankees series (12 at-bats!).

This was a great opportunity with Ramirez hurt and the chance to play some "small ball." But it never happened.

4. Yanks might be better head to head.

This is important because the teams could meet again in mid-October.

While the Sox have the edge in starting pitching depth, Josh Beckett is not an automatic win as we first thought.

The Yankees have now won seven of the last nine games these teams have played and all three series the Yankees came in after mini-losing streaks.

The Yankees have had a penchant for clutch hitting, which has been nonexistent here in Boston for nearly the entire season.

5. Sox pitching still is good.

Other than Dice-K's meltdown, the Red Sox pitchers were pretty good, especially the starters, in the Bronx the last three days.

Beckett gutted out almost seven innings, despite having his "C" game. The homer he gave up to Alex Rodriguez in the seventh inning was disappointing, but he gets a pass. The same with Curt Schilling, who didn't have his best stuff but still allowed only two runs through seven innings.

Overall, the Sox never got to showcase their key bullpen members, Jonathan Papelbon, Eric Gagne and Hideki Okajima with the game on the line.

6. Roger Clemens has guts ... still.

Be serious. Clemens had his "C" game with him on Wednesday night, but he showed everyone he can turn it on at least once in a while.

Of course, he caught the Sox when they had several players in mini-slumps, but he fought through what appeared to be a shaky outing. His fastball topped out at 91 mph and his best pitch, the split-finger, was hit or miss. But he fought through it and had a no-hitter through five innings.

Even if you'd like to see him get pounded, which is the case with about 95 percent of New Englanders, you have to admit this guy, now 45 years old, is special.

7. Derek Jeter is big-game player.

I realize this isn't a surprise, but notice what happens when the Yankees really, really, really need to win. He seems to come through every time.

He woke the Yankees up on Wednesday against Beckett with an opposite-field double. Yesterday in the sweeper, he and his broom had four hits. For the series, he was 7 for 11.

Is there anything else to be said about this guy? In this great lineup, he is the spark. The Red Sox do have some power guys, but no one like this.

8. Sox bench needs benching.

Alex Cora (0 for 3) and Eric Hinske (0 for 7) appeared to be great bench players in the first few months of the season, but lately, they've been anything but.

These two had ample opportunities the last three days, especially Hinske, who was playing in Ramirez's absence. But neither were a factor.

Francona went out of his way last week to stick up for Cora, but he has struggled even more than Julio Lugo has.

Hinske is not a defensive replacement kind of guy, which makes his role here a difficult one if he can't hit. His average is .186 and .190 the last two months.

9. David Ortiz needs support.

While he is a perennial MVP candidate, David Ortiz seemed naked this series without Ramirez hitting behind him the last two games.

The Yankees had their way with Ortiz, throwing him junk all over the plate | inside and outside. While he had a few decent at-bats against Clemens, he came up too many times in this series with nobody on base.

With Dustin Pedroia, Crisp and Lugo sleepwalking for much of the last three days | though Pedroia had a nice double off Joba Chamberlain in the eighth inning | Ortiz never got comfortable. He needs men on base.

Ramirez had better get better. And soon.

10. Chamberlain deserves a 'thank you.'

The Yankees were two outs away from sending the Sox home quietly, with their collective tails between their legs, but then Chamberlain threw two pitches over Youkilis' head for a reason only he knows.

The bad blood between these rivals hasn't been there this season, probably because of the way the Yankees. But this might spark it.

Chamberlain is not only very good, but he's cocky and pretty demonstrative for a guy who has spent less than a month in the major leagues.

Beckett was on the top step after Chamberlain was tossed, tossing many expletives of his own.

No matter what happens the next two weeks, before these teams play again at Fenway Park (Sept. 14-16), there will be tension in the air.

Bill Burt is executive sports editor of Eagle-Tribune Publishing. E-mail him at bburt@eagletribune.com.