By Erik Boland
BOSTON — The Yankees quickly fell behind by five runs. By the third inning, J.A. Happ, their best pitcher of the second half, was out. By the fourth inning, so was Aaron Hicks, one of their season MVPs.
And still, the Yankees came away from a 5-4 loss to the Red Sox in Game 1 of the American League Division Series at Fenway Park feeling as if they’d let one get away.
Which in many ways they did.
“We almost caught them,” Aaron Boone said afterward.
And the Yankees might have if Giancarlo Stanton had not delivered the club’s second Fenway Flop of the night — with Happ, of course, producing the first.
Red Sox lefthander Chris Sale alleviated many of the fears the hometown crowd had about him, but he was gone in the sixth inning, leaving things in the hands of a dreadful Boston bullpen that lived up to that billing as the Yankees got back in the game.
But after the Yankees loaded the bases with none out in the seventh, Stanton struck out — one of four times he fanned in the game — and it was a killer K, as the Yankees managed only one run in that inning to draw within 5-3. Aaron Judge’s leadoff home run off Craig Kimbrel in the ninth left them a run short.
“I wasn’t able to get it done. I should have put the ball in play, that’s about it,” said Stanton, who struck out on three pitches in the ninth against Kimbrel, who struck out the side. “I had pitches to hit in the zone that I fouled off and I didn’t get to them. You can’t give them too many strikes in the zone like that or you’ll have the game like I did.”
With two runs already home in the sixth on Luke Voit’s RBI single and Didi Gregorius’ run-scoring forceout against Ryan Brasier — both runs were charged to Sale — the Yankees loaded the bases with two outs, but Brandon Workman struck out Gleyber Torres. Torres got ahead 3-and-1 but took a strike, then swung at a curveball that would have been ball four.
“He got me,” Torres said. “But tomorrow’s another day.”
That blown opportunity hurt, but nothing like what followed in the seventh.
The Yankees loaded the bases with none out on singles by Andrew McCutchen and Judge (three hits) and a walk to Brett Gardner, who had replaced Hicks in the fourth when the centerfielder left the game with tightness in his right hamstring. Matt Barnes struck out Stanton, got Voit on a run-scoring forceout and retired Gregorius on a grounder to second.
“It does [stink], especially since a couple of us guys [middle of the order] had a chance to do something,” Voit said. “But we didn’t get the job done.”
The Yankees outhit the Red Sox 10-8 but wound up going 1-for-7 with runners in scoring position and stranding 10. “We just couldn’t get that back-breaking hit,” Boone said.
The Yankees will send Masahiro Tanaka to the mound Saturday night against Red Sox lefthander David Price in Game 2 of the best-of-five series.
“Tomorrow’s pretty much a must-win for us,” Gardner said.
Maybe not, given the state of the Red Sox bullpen. Manager Alex Cora has lost so much faith in his relievers that he called on righthander Rick Porcello, his scheduled Game 3 starter, to start the eighth.
After Porcello allowed a two-out infield single by Torres, Cora brought on Kimbrel to attempt a four-out save, and he got McCutchen to fly to right to end the inning. After allowing Judge’s homer in the ninth, he struck out Gardner, Stanton and Voit to end it.
Happ, who had been 8-4 with a 2.98 ERA in his career vs. Boston, including 1-1 with a 1.99 ERA in four starts this season, lasted two innings-plus and was charged with five runs. He allowed a three-run homer by MVP candidate J.D. Martinez in the first inning and Chad Green allowed two inherited runners to score in the third to make it 5-0.
“We just weren’t able to capitalize on certain situations with runners on base,” Judge said. “But they were executing pitches all night, really working the edges. It’s frustrating, but we just have to build off of that and be ready for tomorrow.”