Major League Baseball
'Unexpected' Willie Calhoun channels Aaron Judge to lift Yankees over Red Sox
Major League Baseball

'Unexpected' Willie Calhoun channels Aaron Judge to lift Yankees over Red Sox

Updated Jun. 11, 2023 10:05 a.m. ET

NEW YORK — Willie Calhoun announced his addition to the Yankees-Red Sox rivalry in a thundering way. 

The Yankees right fielder, who figures to get more consistent playing time while Aaron Judge recovers from his toe sprain, cranked a go-ahead home run off Tanner Houck in the sixth inning Saturday that put New York up for good. Calhoun’s clutch legend is only growing. Three of his five home runs this season have either tied the game or given the Yankees the lead. As Calhoun rounded the bases, no one in the dugout was smiling wider than Judge. 

"He’s been really good," Yankees manager Aaron Boone said of Calhoun. "He’s been one of those unexpected pieces that’s been a part of us winning games. I think he can really hit. He’s hit even better than his numbers would suggest. He’s been a nice unexpected piece and an important piece for us as we navigate a lot of injuries."

Calhoun’s shot helped the Yankees win 3-1 over the Red Sox, tying the series ahead of Sunday night’s rubber match in the Bronx. The Yankees improved to 7-1 over the Red Sox in the past eight meetings between the rivals, and 8-9 in games without Judge. 


"It’s going to take all of the guys in this clubhouse," Calhoun said of finding ways to win. "It’s a really good clubhouse and really good players, up and down. So really just relying on each other and leaning on each other and picking each other up every single day. We just gotta keep that going."

The Judge-less Yankees will have to turn it up a notch or two in the ensuing days without their star captain. Contributions from the supporting cast went a long way in their victory over Boston on Saturday, while keeping the longstanding rivalry interesting. Gleyber Torres’ solo home run in the fourth inning put the Yankees on the board, Isaiah Kiner-Falefa’s heads-up baserunning led to another New York run, and left fielder Jake Bauers’ run-saving catch in the third inning brought the crowd of 46,061 to its feet. 

For Boston newcomers Justin Turner and Masataka Yoshida, this weekend has been their first true taste of Red Sox-Yankees. Though this Boston-New York clash may not carry the same boiling emotions for the teams as it did a decade prior, there was still a certain buzz, a type of electricity at Yankee Stadium that doesn’t surface for other visiting opponents. Let’s face it, the Yankees and Red Sox will always create some drama, albeit to a lesser degree due to the standings. The AL East last-place Red Sox have struggled to find consistency, and the third-place Yankees can be especially bland without Judge.

Even so, it was evident the rivalry is alive and well by the weekend’s sold-out crowds in the Bronx, and their passionate boos reserved for Boston star Rafael Devers. The home crowd loudly heckled Devers every chance it got, from pregame lineup announcements to each of his at-bats. Those jeers turned into cheers when, with a runner on third and two outs in the third inning, Devers flew out to left field and Bauers made an incredible leaping catch against the wall to rob the Red Sox third baseman of an extra-base hit and RBI.

"Devers is a strong hitter," Yankees right-hander Domingo Germán said. "Immediately, the impact and the direction the ball was going, how high it was going, I thought it was going to be a homer. All of a sudden Bauers was right there and he made a great catch. Saved me a run."

Soon enough, though, Devers said his piece when he crushed a game-tying home run to center field off German in the sixth inning. The 417-foot solo shot was Devers’ 15th homer of the season, and his second in as many days against the Yankees. That powerful blast briefly drained the crowd’s loud hostility toward Boston. 

The Red Sox, too, seemed to be playing sharper on Saturday against the Yankees than they have for most of the season. Boston entered the night tied with the Nationals for the fewest defensive runs saved (-27) in MLB. But, when speedy shortstop Anthony Volpe knocked a ground ball to Devers in the fifth inning, the Sox's infield efficiently turned it into an inning-ending double play, impressively managing to beat the New York rookie's quick feet.

The drama returned in the seventh inning when Yoshida fouled pitch after pitch after pitch against Yankees reliever Wandy Peralta. Each dugout was living and dying with every Peralta offer and every Yoshida connection. Yoshida smiled at Yankees catcher Kyle Higashioka at one point, both players amused with the absurdly lengthy at-bat. That slight exchange provided a small glimpse into just how friendly these opponents are with each other these days. Eventually, with Devers in the hole, the exciting at-bat resulted in a 14-pitch walk for Yoshida. Moments later, Peralta got Devers to ground out to end the threat.

Perhaps, with the Yankees and Red Sox meeting fewer times than ever before, due to MLB’s new balanced schedule, each game they do play will feel that much bigger. Maybe every little moment, like Bauers’ leaping catch and Yoshida’s 14-pitch walk, will matter just a bit more. Time will tell how the rivalry evolves from here, but the series finale on Sunday in the Bronx will add another page to their storied history.

Deesha Thosar is an MLB writer for FOX Sports. She previously covered the Mets for three-and-a-half seasons as a beat reporter for the New York Daily News. The daughter of Indian immigrants, Deesha grew up on Long Island and now lives in Queens. She never misses a Rafael Nadal match, no matter what country or time zone he’s playing in. Follow her on Twitter at @DeeshaThosar. 


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