The sun makes right field no easy place to work at Fenway Park in the late afternoon hours, but seeking more offense with left-hander J.A. Happ on the mound for the Yankees, Red Sox manager Alex Cora charged designated hitter J.D. Martinez with the tough challenge. It backfired.
The Yankees hit back-to-back doubles on plays Mookie Betts likely would have made in a four-run fourth inning and that was the difference in the Red Sox 5-1 loss Saturday. The sun was a factor in the first, lack of communication on the second.
“Terrible,” Martinez said of the sun. “I would say this place, 4 o’clock games is the worst, one of the worst I’ve seen, with the shadows and the outfield and hitting and right field, that whole thing. You pray for clouds pretty much.”
Seeking more punch against an offense that has been listless of late vs. left-handers, Cora has been playing center fielder Jackie Bradley, hitting a punchless .198 vs. lefties, almost exclusively against right-handers. In those lineups, Betts shifts to center, where he made nice plays in multiple directions Saturday.
Putting Martinez in left when the sun’s a factor in right might be the way to go, even with all the quirks that come with playing the wall, although Martinez didn’t see it that way.
“I don’t care if you’re a DH or an outfielder, unless you’re Superman and you have X-ray vision looking at the sun,” Martinez said. “I don’t know. If someone can see through the sun, I guess they can catch it.”
The Yankees produced back-to-back, one-out doubles on the misplays and started circling the bases faster than Antonio Brown sprinted all the way from Oakland to Foxboro on blistered feet.
After opener Travis Lakins (two innings) and reliever Bobby Poyner combined for three perfect innings to extend the bullpen’s two-day dominance to 12 innings with one run allowed with three hits and three walks allowed and 16 strikeouts, J.D. LeMahieu opened the inning with a line single to left off Weber, who then struck out Aaron Judge.
Didi Gregorius lined a rocket right at Martinez, who tried to use his left hand to block the sun, stuck up his glove and tried to catch what he couldn’t see. It glanced off his glove, he fell down and got back up quickly enough to chase down the ball and return it to the infield before anyone could score.
Had Betts or Benintendi been in right field, chances are good that the Sox could have escaped the inning without giving up a run, although it’s no guarantee the sun would not have blinded them as well, as it did Yankees right fielder Lou Piniella in the ninth inning of the Bucky Dent game in 1978 to determine the AL East champion. The Yankees survived that one. Forty-one years later, the Red Sox did not.
Instead, on an otherwise quiet offensive day, the Yankees for that one inning circled the bases faster than Antonio Brown sprinted all the way from Oakland to Foxboro on blistered feet.
After opener Travis Lakins (two innings) and reliever Bobby Poyner combined for three perfect innings, defense betrayed the Red Sox.
Ryan Weber started the fourth but left the game after Gregorius’ sun-aided, one-out double. Enter Colten Brewer, who induced from Gary Sanchez a high popup near foul territory in very shallow right. Second baseman Brock Holt tore after it and Martinez came in from right. Had Betts been in right, he likely would have called off Holt and made the catch. Instead, the ball dropped on the just-fair dirt between the two fielders and bounced into the seats for a ground-rule double that plated two runs.
Encarnacion then took Brewer onto Lansdowne Street for a two-run homer that put the Yankees up, 4-0.
Cora’s decision to go with back-to-back bullpen games, fueled by Chris Sale (elbow) being lost for the season and David Price being sidelined by a wrist cyst, worked well. All but three of the 18 innings handled by the bullpen in the two days were scoreless.
The defense and bats let down the pitchers in this one.
The Sox couldn’t figure out Happ (12-8, 5.10), who tamed them with 6-⅓ innings of two-hit, shutout ball with one walk and seven strikeouts. Facing five pitchers, the Red Sox managed five hits, including the 1,000th of Xander Bogaerts’ career, one-out single in the fourth inning on his mother’s birthday.
The Red Sox didn’t get on the board until Martinez hammered his 35th home run on an 0-1, 99 mph fastball from Aroldis Chapman in the ninth. It landed in the Red Sox crowded bullpen and didn’t injure anyone.
After showering and dressing, Martinez stood up and answered all the questions sent his way about the two fourth-inning plays.
“I’m shifted over on Didi to the left. He hits it and he like hooks it,” Martinez said. “I’m seeing it the whole way, the whole way, and as soon as I went up to grab it, it starts to hook and it goes right into the sun, lines up perfectly with the sun, and at that point I was just trying to pull something up. I was trying to get under it, try to do something because there was nothing really I could do there. The ball’s hit so hard it’s not one of those where you have time to get around the sun. It’s tough. It’s unfortunate. What are you going to do?”
Martinez explained what happened on the Sanchez popup that dropped between him and Holt with nobody calling for it.
“It was one of those where like we’re shifted over on Gary toward that gap and it’s a long run for me and I look down I feel like Brock’s got the best read on it,” Martinez said. “It’s going to be a tough play for me. It’s one of those plays you can’t call right away. It’s like a late call. I look down and I feel like Brock had the bead on it. So I like I’m just going to give it to him. I don’t want to scare him by stepping loud and causing that stuff where he kind of gets tense. I think he felt like I was going to be there, like it was my ball in between. It sucks. That ball has to be caught. It changed the game.”
Martinez said if he had to do it over again he would have kept charging while calling, ‘I got it, I got it, I got it!”
It’s been that kind of year for the Red Sox. A year ago, Gregorius’ ball would have hooked away from the sun and the Sanchez popup would have landed in leather, not on dirt in fair territory before it bounced into the stands for a ground-rule double.