The Yankees dropped their second straight series last night, losing the rubber game in Boston by a score of 8-5. The game took a ridiculous three hours and 55 minutes to play and saw 336 pitches thrown. The majority of those pitches, 193 to be exact, came out of the hands of Red Sox hurlers, including 116 in five innings from Daisuke Matsuzaka, who walked six and allowed four runs in his five frames. Unfortunately, the Yankees were only able to scratch out one more run against the underside of the Boston bullpen (on Jason Giambi’s second solo homer off Mike Timlin of the series). That wasn’t enough to overcome the hole dug by Phil Hughes and Ross Ohlendorf.
Hughes, who had looked so sharp in his first start of the year, was even less effective, and less efficient, than he had been in Kansas City. It took Hughes 39 pitches to get out of the first inning. He started things off with a seven-pitch walk to Jacoby Ellsbury. On the 0-1 pitch to Dustin Pedroia, the Yankees pitched out. For the third time on the road trip, the Yankees correctly identified when an opposing baserunner was stealing, but for the third time they failed to get the runner as Jose Molina’s throw sailed into center field and Ellsbury went to third. Hughes rallied to strike out Pedroia, who was completely bewildered by a wicked curve up and in (Pedroia flinched twice as the pitch dropped into the strike zone), but that K took another seven pitches. Hughes then walked J.D. Drew on an ironically efficient four tosses before Manny Ramirez ended another seven-pitch at-bat with an RBI single that sent Drew to third. In that at-bat, Hughes got ahead 0-1 and 1-2 with his fastball, then threw a pair of heaters up and in, had yet another low and inside fouled off, then finally came with a curve, which Ramirez served to center. Kevin Youkilis was disposed of with just two pitches, but his sac fly placed Drew. Hughes then got ahead of Sean Casey 0-2 only to even the count and give up a 375-foot ground-rule double to right that pushed Ramirez to third. Hughes then again got ahead 0-2 on Jason Varitek, but with Casey on second, Hughes and Molina developed some communication issues. The second strike of that at-bat caught Molina off guard and was dropped at the plate. After a fastball that just missed the outside corner and a pair of fouls, Hughes crossed up Molina again, throwing a curve when Molina was expecting a fastball. Molina popped out of his crouch to catch what he though was a high fastball only to have the ball dive and get by him allowing Ramirez to score. After Molina’s third trip to the mound of the at-bat, Hughes got Varitek looking on a fierce curve on the outside corner to end the inning, but the Red Sox were already up 3-0 and Hughes was half-way in the bag.
Hughes appeared to settle down in the second, surviving a bunt single and stolen base by Coco Crisp (both calls that could have gone either way) by getting a groundout, a pop-up, and a strikeout (Pedroia again, this time swinging at a fastball just below the knees and slamming his bat down in frustration). Hughes needed just 11 pitches to get through those four batters, but it all went wrong again in the third.
Drew led off with another walk, this one on five pitches (though ball four looked like strike two). Manny Ramirez followed by working the count full and lining a fastball off Alex Rodriguez’s glove for another single. Youkilis and Casey then followed by singling hard on fastballs down and in to plate Drew and Ramirez, driving the score to 5-1 and Hughes from the game.
All totalled, Hughes threw 65 pitches in two-plus innings and just 54 percent of those offerings were strikes. Hughes struck out three men, but allowed nine others to reach and five to score on his watch. Ohlendorf then allowed both of the baserunners he inherited from Hughes to score, pushing Hughes’ tally to seven runs (one unearned due to the passed ball). From what I saw, Hughes only threw three pitches that weren’t fastballs or curveballs, all of which were taken for balls. The lack of an effective third pitch as well as a general lack of command seemed to be the problem. Hughes had a huge break on his curve, and he wasn’t wild, but he wasn’t hitting his spots, often just missing the strike zone or having a strike called a ball because Molina had to reach for it. Unable to put the ball where he wanted it, he was getting deep into counts and getting hit.
I’d shrug it off if it was just one start, but it’s been two straight now (aggregate line: 5 IP, 12 H, 10 R (9 ER), 7 BB, 5 K). Only 2 of those twelve hits went for extra bases (both doubles) and Hughes is getting his strikeouts, but giving up 19 baserunners in 5 innings almost exactly how Mike Mussina got himself yanked from the rotation last August. Suddenly Hughes’s next start becomes pivotal. If he struggles again, the Yankees may have a decision to make.
The upside to the game was that despite being down 7-1 after three, the Yankees got the tying run to the plate several times and on base once while Ohlendorf, LaTroy Hawkins, and Kyle Farnsworth ate up the remainder of the game while allowing just one run of their own. Also, Alberto Gonzalez went 1 for 2 with a single and a walk and made a nice over-the-shoulder catch in shallow left in the third, and Jose Molina went 2 for 4 with yet another double. The Yankees five runs were their third-best total of the season.
The immediate downside is that Molina strained a hamstring, forcing an odd late-game maneuver in which Joe Girardi pinch-ran for Molina with Wilson Betemit following the catcher’s eight-inning single while simultaneously pinch-hitting Melky Cabrera (who got the day off with Jorge Posada–1 for 4–again DHing) for Gonzalez. Melky singled, but the Yankees didn’t score, and Posada had to catch the ninth, pushing Farnsworth into the lineup (though his spot never came around and Morgan Ensberg was still around to pinch-hit). Posada clearly had instructions not to throw during his inning behind the plate as both Crisp and Pedroia stole off him uncontested, with Crisp scoring to set the final score.
Per Pete Abe, with Posada still unable to catch because of his shoulder and Molina unable to play because of his hammy, the Yanks will have to call up Chad Moeller. It remains to be seen if Molina’s bad enough to require a DL stay. The good news is that Derek Jeter is expected to return to the lineup tonight, which could mean the Yankees could farm out Gonzalez to make room for Moeller and have Molina take Jeter’s place as the unusable player with a short-term injury on the bench. Did I really just call that good news?