The first five innings of Friday night’s series-opening tilt between the Yankees and Red Sox were crisp and closely contested. Josh Beckett came out blazing, spotting 96 mile-per-hour heaters and dropping hammer curves. He struck out the side in the first, two of three batters in the second, and struck out Derek Jeter for a second time to strand a Francisco Cervelli single in the third. Phil Hughes kept pace, retiring the first seven men he faced, then following a walk to Beckett’s personal catcher Jason Varitek with two strikeouts to strand him.
The Yankees finally broke through in the fourth when, with one out, Mark Teixeira battled back from 0-2 to work a walk and Alex Rodriguez followed with a single that moved Teixeira to second. Beckett rallied to strike out Robinson Cano on four pitches, then made Nick Swisher look silly on a check swing on a cutter inside before spotting a 96 mph heater on the outside corner for strike two.
At that, Swisher spun on his heel and took a walk out of the batters box, seemingly to gather himself. Swisher has a deserved reputation as a flake because he’s a motormouth and a goofball, but that doesn’t mean he’s not a smart ballplayer. In the bottom of the inning, he made a great play in right, sliding in front of a would-be double to cut it off and hold J.D. Drew to a single. On this occasion it was obvious that Swisher was determined to win the mental battle with Beckett as well as the physical one.
After stepping back in, Swisher took a fastball well high, then took a curve in the dirt and stepped out again. Bat under his right arm, lips drawn tight, eyes peeking out toward Beckett, Swisher had a look on his face like he had figured something out, as if he thought he knew something Beckett didn’t. He then stepped back in the box and hit a curve up in the zone over the wall in straight-away center to give the Yankees a 3-0 lead. After the game, Swisher said he was lucky to run into one. He’s humble, too.
The Sox got one back in the bottom of the fourth on Drew’s single (the first Boston hit in the game), another by Kevin Youkilis, and sac fly by David Ortiz, but when Boston threatened again in the fifth with two out singles by Darnell McDonald and Marco Scutaro that put runners on the corners, Hughes got Dustin Pedroia to fly out to center to strand them.
Then came the top of the sixth. Alex Rodriguez led off with a low line-drive through the shortstop hole that was hit so hard it rolled all the way to the wall for a double. Beckett then threw a 1-0 cutter down and into Robinson Cano and hit the Yankee second baseman on the top of the right knee. The impact was loud and frightening as Cano let out an audible shout. After a visit from the trainer, Cano took his base, but two pitches later he took himself out of the game (he’s day-to-day and likely won’t play Saturday).
Beckett’s 1-1 pitch to Swisher was a fastball, but Varitek, expecting a curve, lowered his glove and the ball hit off his left arm and rolled toward the Yankee dugout, moving the runners (Rodriguez and pinch-runner Ramiro Peña) up. After the Red Sox’s trainer visited Varitek (who later came out with a bruised left forearm), Beckett struck out Swisher, but then curiously intentionally walked Brett Gardner to face Francisco Cervelli with the bases loaded and one out.
Here’s where things got weird. In his previous at-bat, Cervelli had called time while Beckett was taking a long set to freeze Gardner at first. Beckett responded by coming up and in to Cervelli and making him jump out of the way. In this at-bat, Cervelli battled the count full, then called time on Beckett again. Again Beckett’s next pitch was up and in, but this time it was ball four and forced in a run. The first time it was clearly intentional, but Beckett wouldn’t throw at a guy to force in a run in a two-run game . . . would he?
With Beckett flustered, Randy Winn jumped on the first pitch he saw and singled to left, scoring another run. Beckett then drilled Derek Jeter in the ribs with his very next pitch, forcing in yet another run and running the score to 6-1. Would Beckett intentionally force in two runs out of anger?
I wouldn’t think so, but Beckett also shouted at Nick Swisher during his at-bat, and his expression seemed to say “screw this” throughout the inning. Looking back at it now, it seems clear that Beckett had simply lost his feel and inside pitches (Beckett said after the game the pitch to Jeter was a sinker) were getting away from him, but in the heat of the moment, I wasn’t sure what I was seeing. Neither was the Yankee bench, as Alex Rodriguez and CC Sabathia were shouting at Beckett from the dugout while others, including Jorge Posada, Mariano Rivera, and Nick Swisher, and the Yankee coaching staff lined the top step. For our man Alex Belth, the whole scene conjured up this Doc Ellis classic.
Marcus Thames, who had entered the game for Nick Johnson earlier (more on that below) followed with a grounder to shortstop. Scutaro tried to get the out at third base, but with Adrian Beltre drawn off the bag by the ball, Randy Winn slipped in ahead of him. Winn didn’t expect a play at third and didn’t slide, so his momentum briefly forced his foot off the bag, but during that brief moment Beltre was showing the umpire that he had the ball and by the time he went to tag Winn again, Winn had his foot back on the base. Meanwhile, Cervelli scored, 7-1 Yankees.
A Mark Teixeira single plated another run and belatedly drove Beckett, who was at 106 pitches, from the game. Rodriguez then hit a sac fly off Hideki Okajima to cap the six-run inning.
Again, David Ortiz (single) drove in J.D. Drew (double) to get one back for the Sox in the bottom of the inning, but the rest of the game was just a formality, and by the eighth-inning it had turned into an in-game bullpen session for David Robertson, who gave up another run on two walks and a single amid much coaching from Francisco Cervelli and Dave Eiland. Boone Logan, another Yankee reliever in need of some fixing, stranded a lead-off single in the ninth to wrap up the 10-3 win.
Lost amid Beckett’s breakdown was yet another excellent start by Phil Hughes (7 IP, 7 H, 2 R, 1 BB, 7 K, 101 pitches, 70 strikes), who repeatedly hit 95 on the gun.
Also lost was Nick Johnson to a wrist injury, which is a sentence I was afraid I’d be typing at some point this season. Johnson’s is famous for his fragility, and nothing breaks on him more often than his wrists. He missed all of the 2000 season due to a left wrist injury that was never properly diagnosed. In 2002 he missed three months with a bone bruise on that wrist, and in 2008 torn ligaments and tendons in his right wrist ended his season in mid-May (which reminds me, what month is it?).
It’s that right wrist that has sidelined Johnson this time. After the game, he said he had some discomfort in the wrist earlier this season but that today he “felt something” in his first at-bat that “didn’t feel too good” and that he “didn’t have a lot of strength in it after that.” He took three swings in that first at-bat (two fouls, one swing and miss for strike three) and grounded out on the first pitch in his second at-bat after which he came out of the game.
Johnson will have an MRI on Saturday, but it seems as though the Yankees are expecting him to land on the disabled list. If so, I wouldn’t expect him back any time soon, if at all.
In the meantime, expect a reliever–likely Romulo Sanchez, who was called up before Friday’s game to reinforce the bullpen because Sergio Mitre is taking Andy Pettitte’s next turn in the rotation–to be optioned out for an infielder. That infielder, likely either Kevin Russo or Eduardo Nuñez, both of whom are off to strong starts for Scranton, could see some action until Cano is back to full strength in his knee, after which another move might be made for a superior bat (and before you ask, Jesus Montero hasn’t been hitting much, needs more work behind the plate, and left last night’s game with a possible leg injury of his own).
The way I see it, with Jorge Posada’s calf still tender (he sat again on Friday) and Francisco Cervelli hitting (he went 2-for-3 with a walk Friday night and has his average back up to .395), I don’t see why the Yankees don’t just make Posada the DH, and keep Thames, who Girardi said might start at DH on Saturday, in the left-field platoon with Winn, who is now 4-for-10 since Curtis Granderson hit the DL.
Given all of the aches and pains the Yankees have been dealing with, there are worse things than having the DH spot open up for a spell, and as with Granderson, the Yankees are losing a slumping player (six for his last 41, with three of those hits coming on Wednesday), so their offense is unlikely to take much of a hit if Johnson’s DL stay is miraculously short. Of course, it won’t be.