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SportsColumnistsDavid Lennon

Was painful punch by Red Sox a knockout blow for Yankees?

David Ortiz of the Boston Red Sox celebrates

David Ortiz of the Boston Red Sox celebrates after hitting his 537th home run, a solo shot against the New York Yankees during the eighth inning at Fenway Park on September 15, 2016 in Boston, Massachusetts. Photo Credit: Getty Images / Maddie Meyer

BOSTON

Fenway Park’s ancient walls shook. The delirious citizens of Red Sox Nation barreled through its narrow ramps like New Year’s Eve partygoers, but their chants had a familiar, mocking edge. Spilling out onto Yawkey Way, they stomped on the Yankees’ faint, long-shot hopes of an AL East title. That part is over.

Any chance that the Yankees would replicate Boston’s 1967 Impossible Dream season ended in shocking fashion Thursday night, the death knell supplied by the loud whack of Hanley Ramirez’s bat meeting Dellin Betances’ 98-mph fastball. Ramirez capped a five-run ninth inning with a walk-off three-run homer that gave Boston a 7-5 win.

Before that collision, the Yankees watched their 5-2 lead unravel in the ninth like a coiled rope slipping rapidly through their hands. The tighter they tried to squeeze it, the looser their grip became.

Nothing the Yankees did could stop the Sox in the ninth, not even Joe Girardi doing what he didn’t want to do: Use Betances. Then it became a break-glass, pull-handle emergency, and the fire was out of control.

It was an easy second-guess, that Girardi should have begun the inning with Betances if he intended to use him at all. But he entered with a three-run lead, one out and a man on first, so he had some breathing room.

But after Ramirez’s thunderous shot into the centerfield bleachers, the damage was done. For the second straight day, it was Betances standing over the smoldering mess of another loss, this one dropping the Yankees to five games behind the AL East-leading Red Sox. Now, with only 16 games left, their eyes must turn back to the wild card.

“It’s tough to lose a game like that,” Starlin Castro said. “We just have to continue fighting. Forget about today. Today is over.”

That all sounds great, but Thursday night’s loss was the kind that erodes a team’s faith and allows doubt to creep back in.

The Yankees have done a remarkable job rising from the ashes of the trade deadline, of transforming themselves into the contender no one (except for maybe their own manager) said they could be. But to let the Red Sox off the Fenway grass as they did Thursday night, when they had no right to climb back into the game, left the Yankees shaken and a bit angry as they dressed to leave the clubhouse.

“Obviously, this was a game we felt like we should have won,” Chase Headley said. “A lot of guys are [ticked] off. I know we’re going to bounce back.”

If so, the Yankees will have to do it without Betances for the next day or two, and maybe that’s not the worst thing after a rough 24-hour stretch in which he took two losses.

To see him flailing like that in the ninth was disturbing, first with David Ortiz ripping a two-out RBI single to centerfield and Mookie Betts grounding an RBI single to left to make it 5-4.

That put two on for Ramirez, who should have been on the ropes when it appeared he couldn’t check his swing on a 2-and-1 breaking pitch. Instead, first-base umpire D.J. Reyburn signaled that Ramirez didn’t offer — wrongly, we might add — and Betances instantly was put on the defensive. The next pitch, however, proved to be a disaster. Ramirez had to be thinking fastball with the 3-and-1 count, and that’s exactly what he got, straight down the middle.

“I tried to see if I could beat him with a heater,” Betances said, “and he was right on it.”

Ramirez’s homer was almost identical to the one Ortiz mashed in the eighth, a soaring blast that was No. 34 on the season and No. 537 for this career, moving him past Mickey Mantle and into 17th place on the all-time list. Earlier yesterday, the Yankees announced they will “recognize” Ortiz with a pregame ceremony Sept. 29 in the Bronx, but they did not disclose any further details. If team officials worried about it being an unpopular decision at the time, Ortiz’s role in this loss certainly didn’t help matters.

“I told you guys the rivalry hasn’t died,” Ortiz said. “Whoever brings the best to the table is going to win.”

For eight innings, the Yankees did. Then they somehow wound up underneath it.

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