The record-tying flurry of four straight home runs struck by the Red Sox in their stunning bottom of the third inning were all no-doubters. But quite a ways after, the outcome of Sunday night's latest Red Sox-Yankees madness was still very much in doubt.
All the Red Sox had on their side were a few isolated moments that went their way. And they needed every one of them to separate themselves from the Yankees in what wound up a seat-squirming 7-6 victory that seemed to encapsulate so much of the tension that has taken place in this rivalry over the years.
"The games are always exciting," said Red Sox manager Terry Francona. "Obviously, it's more exciting when you win, but they're never easy."
Daisuke Matsuzaka, making his first foray into the rivalry, can now attest to that. He had to endure the indignity of allowing six runs to claim his first home victory in a Boston uniform.
Make no mistake about it, this one climbed high on the degree-of-difficulty scale. So much so that Yankees manager Joe Torre seemed to be at a bit of a loss for how his team didn't escape Boston with at least one win.
"Three games, we battled," Torre said. "That's all you can do. We came out on the short end. They made some great plays. It was a great ballgame. You hate to think it's a great ballgame when you lose."
When it was over, the Red Sox had completed their first Fenway Park sweep of the Yankees since 1990, three moments that were all decided by a matter of inches.
The first was Mike Lowell's second homer of the night, a literal wall-scraper that sort of nestled into home run territory. If the seventh-inning liner had caromed off the Monster instead of barely getting over it, the teams might still be playing. Instead, Lowell's three-run long ball put the Sox ahead for good and made a 5-4 deficit disappear.
"I think I got it by about eight inches," said Lowell.
Then came the top of the eighth, when the Yankees nearly stormed right back. Runners were at the corners with one out, the Boston lead back down to one. Brendan Donnelly's pitch was smoked up the middle by Josh Phelps. It seemed like a sure hit to tie the game, but then Dustin Pedroia snared the sinking liner with a diving backhand. Inning over, crisis averted.
"The play he made, he willed himself to catch that ball," said Francona of Pedroia.
Then just one more moment to create a ballpark full of tension. There were two outs in the top of the ninth and Bobby Abreu on first base after a walk. The hitter was Alex Rodriguez, the hottest hitter on the planet.
The closer was Jonathan Papelbon, Boston's red-hot closer. A-Rod hit a crisp grounder, but right at Lowell, who fired to second, ending the wildly entertaining contest.
A-Rod vs. Papelbon was definitely a fitting grand finale.
"Yeah, but it's still easier to enjoy when it was over," said Francona. "That's one of those things where you say, 'Boy, that was cool.' We obviously love our guy, but you respect what the other guy's doing. So it's a neat atmosphere, for sure."
All the pregame hype was about Matsuzaka's first encounter with the Yankees. Still, his performance (seven-plus innings plus, eight hits, six runs, seven strikeouts) became a bit of a blur by the end of an eventful night.
• Yanks overwhelmed by homers
• Wright's fortunes changed quickly
• Notes: Posada's thumb no better
April 21 coverage: Karstens burned by Sox in debut Yankees get first look at Dice-K Notes: Damon joins wounded April 20 coverage: Rivera's blown save dooms Yanks Singer: A-Rod's tear a wonder Posada leaves with bruised thumb Notes: Bean adds depth to bullpen
Red Sox Coverage
• Five long balls sink Yankees
• Sox tie mark with four homers
• Singer: Welcome to Sox-Yanks, Dice-K
• Sox celebrate Robinson's legacy
• Notes: Lester nears return
April 21 coverage: Game photos Papelbon answers call to duty Singer: Sox aim for historic sweep Ortiz authors another victory Sox go for sweep behind Dice-K Notes: Struggling Pedroia sits April 20 coverage: Game photos Red Sox conquer Mo to top Yanks Okajima fills in flawlessly for Papelbon Red Sox honor Auerbach with green Notes: Power arms meet power bats
• 4/22: Red Sox 7, Yankees 6
• 4/21: Red Sox 7, Yankees 5
• 4/20: Red Sox 7, Yankees 6
Previous season series
• 2006: Yankees 11, Red Sox 8
• 2005: Yankees 10, Red Sox 9
• 2004: Red Sox 11, Yankees 8
"I wanted very badly to record my first win at Fenway Park," said Matsuzaka. "The opponent being the Yankees and the fact that my teammates had already defeated them twice made me want to win even more. All I can say is that I wanted to win."
Matsuzaka had his heavy hitters to thank.
The Yankees led this game, 3-0, going into the bottom of the third. Who could have predicted how dramatically things were about to turn?
In an electrifying sequence, the Red Sox briefly turned the game into batting practice, tying a Major League record with four consecutive home runs against Yankees lefty Chase Wright, who was making his second Major League start.
Manny Ramirez put the dramatic power show in motion, hitting a towering drive over everything in left-center field and onto Lansdowne Street. Then it was J.D. Drew's turn, and he belted a blast over the Boston bullpen in right-center field and into the bleachers. Lowell put one over the wall in left to tie the game, and Jason Varitek was the fourth member of the unlikely quartet, hitting a liner into the Monster Seats to put the Sox in front in the most dramatic fashion imaginable.
"I'll tell you that I haven't been a part of anything like that," said Lowell. "Not even in Little League. I was happy that Manny got one. It looked like he was taking better swings. All right, now we're on the board, then J.D. crushes one. I just wanted to hit the ball hard and keep the momentum going. I got a hold of one, and the dugout was going crazy. It was a really cool, really unique feeling that four guys tied us up and then put us ahead. That was big."
It was the fifth time in Major League history a team hit four home runs in succession. The Dodgers, with Drew also teaming in that effort, did it last September in a pennant-race victory over the Padres.
"It brought some life back to the ballpark in a hurry," Francona said.
But give the Yankees credit for this: The 1-2-3-4 punch didn't demoralize them.
Derek Jeter tied the game at 4 by taking Matsuzaka deep to left in the fifth inning. In the sixth, the Yankees reclaimed the lead when Melky Cabrera's 6-4-3 double-play grounder scored Robinson Cano from third base.
That wasn't going to be enough to hold down the Red Sox on a night history and fortune were both on their side.