This is a 2 Team AL East Race. The Yankees Aren’t One Of Them.

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BOSTON – Imagine all the baseball games we’ve seen this season have never been played. You might like this idea, especially if you’re supporting the Yankees after another humble weekend at Fenway Park: Erase everything and start fresh.

Of course, that really happened last year, when the pandemic forced the cancellation of the first 102 games before a fanless mini-season. Their absence was sharply felt here, where the history and sense of community are so important to the experience.

“Last year it wasn’t baseball,” said JD Martinez, last year’s Red Sox appointed batsman. “Sixty games, man. It was just weird. It wasn’t fun. You could hear cars passing by on the highway. I’d never heard that before; it’s this quiet.

“When you have fans, it’s different when everything is back to normal – that’s what you play for.”

Martinez took off on Sunday’s final inning, making him the fourth Red Sox batsman to attack in the seventh inning against the Yankees’ Domingo German. (One hit reached for the rusting ball.) The Red Sox had no hits or runs, and they trailed the Yankees by four points. Then an old Fenway rally—sudden and loud—buried the Yankees.

As the Red Sox moved in the eighth, the old temple roared to life. A double chased German. Another pair flattened Jonathan Loaisiga, two singles and the third pair of innings. Zack Britton retired three hitters in a row, but two of the outs brought the runners home.

Red Sox 5, Yankees 4. Point Dropkick Murphys.

“You find yourself on top of the world and suddenly you’re free falling – and you’re falling fast,” he said, through a German-Spanish translator. “It’s difficult. It’s very difficult to even process what happened.”

The Yankees (51-47) took a post-game flight to Florida to figure this out. They beat the Red Sox (61-39) by nine games in the American League East and the second-placed Tampa Bay Rays by eight games. For two wild points, the Rays are in fourth place in the race, behind the Oakland Athletics and Seattle Mariners.

In their biggest games, the Yankees looked the worst: 8-18 against the Rays and Red Sox, 43-29 against everyone else. They’ve lost three quarters this weekend, and while their single win was impressive – their three-point comeback on Saturday – the moral victory talk is getting old.

“Look, it’s been a tough season up until this point, there’s no doubt about it,” said manager Aaron Boone. “But at the discretion of these guys, they keep coming off the mat over and over and we’re going to do it again.”

Continuing to compete despite tough losses is the minimum expected of professionals; admirable, yes, but not quite an achievement. The real question is why these losses continue.

Slowly advancing, the Yankees did unusual things for them on Sunday: They stole two bases, took a sacrifice hunt, and even took a triple from catcher Gary Sanchez, who was second in over 2,000 career plate appearances.

But they also got into two doubles games (leading the majors with 94) and watched Giancarlo Stanton score twice with the runners. Stanton has scored 21 goals against Boston this season, 7 in 45 (.156).

Boone, who is unsigned this season, has had a shaky game of his own. Having just taken his place in the rotation, German hadn’t fired more than 72 shots in six weeks, and as soon as Alex Verdugo left the best-hitter on German’s 93rd course, Boone pulled him. That seemed logical enough, but German said he felt strong.

“There is no fatigue,” he said. “Not at all. I felt really good. When I started the game, the first hit felt good and as the strokes went on I actually felt better. I was able to get a really good rhythm and be more aggressive in attacking the area.”

Verdugo’s duo, who single-shot the wall in front of the bullring in right field, led the Yankees to bring in Loaisiga for his second appearance since the Covid casualty list. As a rule, Boone had to use him for at least three hits – but he kept him for a fourth straight hit, a ringing double from Enrique Hernandez.

In this case, Boone said he likes the right-right match. With no outs and runners in the second and third, Boone called left-handed Britton, a ground ball specialist, but only moved the corner infielders. A soft, routine ground kick tied the game.

“Looking back, this is what I question myself: should we have been sold without sales there?” said Boone. “This is definitely controversial.”

The Yankees expect outfielder Aaron Judge and catcher Kyle Higashioka from the Covid casualty roster this week to take action against the Rays, with third baseman Gio Urshela back on Sunday. But after nearly 100 games – a familiar and comforting benchmark, whoever you support – it’s definitely a two-team race for the divisional title.

Worse for the Yankees, both the Rays and the Red Sox are only getting better. Tampa Bay was traded with Minnesota for Nelson Cruz, a leading slugger, and the Red Sox will soon welcome back Chris Sale, who scored 64 pitches with his rebuilt left elbow on Sunday.

“There’s only one team that can add Chris Sale, and that’s us,” said Red Sox Manager Alex Cora. “And everybody knows what he means.”

The Yankees may oppose before Friday’s trade date, but it may be too late to make a difference.

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