NEW YORK -- In the opener of the big showdown in the Bronx, the atmosphere was electric and the game was tense and deadlocked in the seventh inning when Red Sox reliever Richard Hembree flinched for just an instant.A balk was called, and it helped the smoking-hot Yankees pull out
NEW YORK -- In the opener of the big showdown in the Bronx, the atmosphere was electric and the game was tense and deadlocked in the seventh inning when Red Sox reliever Richard Hembree flinched for just an instant.
A balk was called, and it helped the smoking-hot Yankees pull out a 3-2 victory over Boston on Tuesday night that put the rivals in a tie for first place in the American League East.
With runners at second and third instead of first and second with one out after Hembree's balk, Brett Gardner then drew a walk off Hembree to load the bases. Aaron Judge greeted Joe Kelly by belting an RBI single to left that put the Yankees back on top.
"That balk was a game-changer right there," said Red Sox manager Alex Cora. "To go from first and second, one pitch away to getting out of the inning to second and third, infield in, you don't want to give in in that spot with Gardner. I think it goes back to the balk."
So what caused the balk?
"It was just mixing up signs," said Hembree. "It was dark out there, a little bit of trouble [seeing] and I just flinched. It was my back leg, it was just kind of stuck in the middle of seeing the pitches and stepping off. I knew I did it. It is what it is. It's on me. A mental lapse."
The lapse put Kelly in a tough spot in his first appearance against the Yankees since drilling Christopher Austin at Fenway Park on April 11 just before the teams engaged in a benches-clearing melee. Kelly was booed heartily by the fans when he came out of the bullpen.
"It was a slider down," Kelly said. "One that should have been a little bit more off and he was able to get a bat on it. Yeah, those situations are always tough, guys on base, a home run threat. I was trying to get a double play, strikeout or popup. He got a good swing on a slider down and he put a basehit into left field."
Andrew Benintendi at least minimized the damage on that hit when he came up firing and nailed Gleyber Torres at the plate to keep it a one-run game. An inning later, Hanley Ramirez threw a strike home to get Giancarlo Stanton, who made his presence felt in this one with two solo shots to give the Yankees a 2-0 lead.
The drama continued until the end.
Albertin Chapman hit Jackie Bradley Jr. with the fastest pitch in the Majors this season (103.3 mph) with two outs in the ninth, but the lefty got Christian Vazquez on a groundout to end the thriller.
"It was a good baseball game," said Cora. "Like I've been telling you guys, this place is alive. I lived it last year during the playoffs. They're showing up early, and they're loud. It was a good environment. They made some plays. They put good at-bats. We did the same thing, and they just were one run better than us."
The win was the 16th for the Yankees in their last 17 games, and that forced the Red Sox out of sole possession of first place for the first time since the third game of the season.
Red Sox starter Thomas Pomeranz battled through an early issue with his left index finger and went on to have his best performance (six innings, four hits, two earned runs and six strikeouts) since his return from the disabled list.
"My fingernail, the way I throw the curveball, I kind of use the top part of my finger and my fingernail split down the middle and it was like a little sliver that was pulling on the skin. So when I threw my curveball, it kept bleeding," said Pomeranz. "I had to cut it off, but I couldn't pull all of it off because it was still pulling on the skin."
The only problem for Boston's lefty was Stanton, who smashed his homers in the second and fourth.
Luis Severino was powerful (six-plus innings, two runs, 11 K's) for the Yankees, but Boston rallied in the fifth, thanks to Eduardo Nunez reaching on a strikeout/wild pitch. With the inning extended, Mookie Betts belted a two-out single and Benintendi worked a seven-pitch at-bat before coming through with an RBI single.
Betts came through again in the seventh, lacing a game-tying triple that fell out of the reach of a diving Gardner in left.
Strikeouts continue to be a problem for the Red Sox at the plate. In Tuesday's game, Boston struck out 14 times to tie a season high.
HE SAID IT
"I think the first at-bat, I got a little predictable. He just sat on a pitch up in the zone, a fastball. And then the next time I missed I missed up and away and he went the other way with it. I made a couple of bad pitches." -- Pomeranz, on the misfires to Stanton
Rick Porcello, who has been Boston's most consistent starter this season, puts his 5-0 record and 2.14 ERA to the test when he faces the Yankees on Wednesday. Porcello is starting one day earlier than planned due to David Price having tests on his left hand. With the team off-day on Monday, Porcello will still have the standard four days of rest. The Yankees counter with Masahiro Tanaka. First pitch is scheduled for 7:05 p.m. ET.
Ian Browne has covered the Red Sox for MLB.com since 2002. Follow him on Twitter @IanMBrowne and Facebook.