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Magic number stays at 2 as 'pen struggles

September 18, 2018

NEW YORK -- The champagne will have to stay in storage for at least another night. The Red Sox were nine outs away from a party, but instead the bullpen became an issue again and the Yankees came storming back for a 3-2 victory on Tuesday night.Boston's magic number for

NEW YORK -- The champagne will have to stay in storage for at least another night. The Red Sox were nine outs away from a party, but instead the bullpen became an issue again and the Yankees came storming back for a 3-2 victory on Tuesday night.
Boston's magic number for clinching the American League East remains at two games, meaning a win in either of the final two games of this road series against their rivals will finish the job.
"It was a weird game actually," said Red Sox manager Alex Cora. "I was here last year for the three games of the ALCS [with the Astros] and obviously the first two series [this season], and it was pretty quiet for five innings. What we had last year was very different, then that happened and it got loud again. We'll try it again tomorrow and see what happens."
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Once again, Cora's relief crew was unable to finish a job. The bullpen remains the only obvious blemish for a regular-season wagon that is 103-48.

Starter Nathan Eovaldi turned in a brilliant start for the Red Sox, his best performance in weeks. The righty stifled the Yankees over six scoreless innings, walking two and striking out five. He handed it over to the bullpen with a 1-0 lead.
The bullpen took over in the seventh, and the game swiftly unraveled. Brandon Workman created a jam when he walked Aaron Hicks and Gary Sanchez. Cora then turned to one of his most reliable relievers in righty Ryan Brasier. But that didn't go well this time, as Neil Walker unloaded for a go-ahead three-run homer into the second deck in right to make it 3-1, Yankees.

"When we get everybody healthy, we should be fine," said Cora. "As you guys know, [Matt] Barnes is a big part of what we're trying to do in the bullpen. That's a guy we've relied on the whole season, and when we comes back, we know we've got Craig [Kimbrel], we've got Barnesy, we've got Ryan."
Brasier came into the night with a 1.53 ERA in 29 appearances. His 3-2 slider was a hanger, and Walker made him pay.
"I didn't expect it when I let it go," said Brasier. "But I fell behind and I made a pitch that was hittable instead of under the zone like I was trying to do and he made me pay for it. My slider is my best strikeout pitch, and unfortunately it was a little flat and he did what he was supposed to do with it. There's nothing else to say about it."
Even after they stormed back, the Yankees nearly imploded in the ninth, giving the Red Sox hope they might have that clinch party.

Down, 3-1, Brock Holt worked a one-out walk against Yankees closer Zach Britton to bring the tying run to the plate. It looked like Britton made the pitch to end the game when he got a grounder to third by Christian Vazquez that should have been a 5-4-3 double play. But third baseman Adeiny Hechavarria's throw to second was dropped by Gleyber Torres, and runners were at the corners. Torres was charged with the error.
Almost inconceivably, the Yankees threw it away again on the next play. This time, pinch-hitter Sam Travis hit a tapper back to the mound, and Britton tried to get the force at second and instead threw the ball into center, with Holt scoring to make it 3-2.
Just when the Red Sox thought they might be able to pop those champagne corks after all, Britton finally did get the double-play ball he needed. Ian Kinsler hit one back to the box, and it was Britton who this time successfully fired to second, and Torres redeemed himself by fielding it cleanly and firing to first.

Given Boston's penchant for zany, late-inning comebacks, it would have been fitting if there was another one to clinch the division.
"We've seen it before," said Cora. "Sam put a great at-bat and all of the sudden we put pressure on them, and try the same play again and it didn't happen."
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
Eovaldi punches out Stanton: Though the Red Sox didn't win the game, Eovaldi was nails all night. And never more than in the sixth, when he worked out of a two-on, two-out jam by striking out the dangerous Giancarlo Stanton on a 3-2 fastball that purred in at 97.2 mph. That was the 83rd and final pitch of the night for Eovaldi.

"Yeah, getting out of that jam right there was a big situation in the game, same in the third when I walked the two guys and worked my way out of that jam as well," said Eovaldi. "I felt good coming out of that inning. I was hoping I'd be able to go back out for another."
Ultimately, Cora decided not to push it with the righty.
"We've got to take care of him," said Cora. "He hadn't pitched in a while. It was something coming in, I had an idea, we wanted six. That was a stressful inning, that sixth inning."
SOUND SMART
Though the bullpen has hardly been lights-out, the Red Sox still have an 81-6 record when they lead after six and are 69-14 when they score first.
HE SAID IT
"I do feel like I match up well against these guys, because they're so aggressive. It helps when I elevate the fastball against these guys. I got a lot of quick outs with the elevated fastball and then the sliders down and away." -- Eovaldi, who hasn't allowed a run in 14 innings against the Yankees since being acquired by the Red Sox
UP NEXT
Lefty David Price (15-6, 3.42 ERA) has the ultimate chance for redemption in the venue that has been a house of horrors for him since joining the Red Sox. With a strong effort, Price can lead Boston to the win that clinches the division. Since joining the Red Sox, Price is 0-5 with a 10.44 ERA in five starts in the Bronx. Price is in the midst of a brilliant stretch in which he is 5-0 with a 1.56 ERA since the All-Star break. The Yankees counter with ace Luis Severino (17-8, 3.46 ERA). 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.