If there’s one thing that’s bothered me about the Yankees this year it’s that they don’t seem to play well in series openers. After tonight’s loss to the Red Sox, they’re only 9-12 in the first game of a series. (For the record, their record in those first 11 series that they started with a loss is 5-3-3.) I think the emphasis on winning three-game series during the regular season, a relatively recent idea, is a bit overblown, but I still find myself falling in to the trap and thinking, “Alright, now they have to win the last two” when they really don’t. Well, they have to win these next two against the Sox.
This game turned sour in the first inning and didn’t get much better later on. The Red Sox bats made it clear from the jump that Yankee starter Freddy García didn’t have anything. Jacoby Ellsbury opened with a long home run to right, Dustin Pedroia drew a walk, Adrian González rocketed a triple over Curtis Granderson’s head, and Kevin Youkilis his a sacrifice fly to the track in right, giving Boston a 3-0 lead. García’s troubles would continue in the second as he gave up a walk and a single before serving up some batting practice slop to Pedroia who thanked him for the charity by hitting a laser down the line in right to score both base runners. Joe Girardi smartly pulled García, but the damage was done.
The Yankees had a chance to answer Boston’s early outburst in their bottom half of the first against a less-than-sharp Jon Lester, but they squandered the opportunity. With Granderson already on first, Lester let a fastball run in to Mark Teixeira. As Teixeira began to stride into the pitch, putting all of his wait on his back right leg, the ball continued to dart inward and struck him on the right knee. By the time I watched the replay I already knew that the x-rays had come back negative, so I wasn’t nearly as worried as everyone who was watching live. Teixeira immediately crumpled into a heap at the plate, rolling around in obvious agony and cursing loud enough to be heard on the NESN field mike. I’m guessing that everyone — Teixeira included — thought he had shattered his knee cap. Thankfully it was only a bruise, but I wouldn’t expect to see him for at least a few days.
Anyway, that put runners on first and second for Alex Rodríguez, who beat a potential double-play grounder to create a first and third situation for Robinson Canó. Canó drove in the run with a single to center, and when Lester hit another batter (Russell Martin) with another fastball that ran in, Nick Swisher came up with a chance to tie the game. Swisher made Lester work, but eventually grounded out to third to end the threat.
The game settled down a bit after this, thanks partially to more strong work from the Yankee bullpen. Luís Ayala got four outs in relief of García, and then Girardi turned to the intriguing young Hector Noesi, who, for the most part, had another successful outing. He pitched the final six innings of the game, giving up just two runs on three hits and a walk while striking out one. The two runs he yielded were important at the time (stretching the Sox lead to 6-1) and could resonate through the final two games of the series. With González on first, David Ortíz came up and hit a no-doubter into the seats in right, then took a moment to soak it all in. He looked immediately across home plate into the Boston dugout on the third base side of the field, flipped the bat with disdain, and then executed a perfect pirouette as he finally left the batter’s box and began his circuit of the bases. I was surprised, because I don’t really remember Big Papi rubbing the salt like that, and Girardi didn’t like it either. “Yeah, I didn’t really care for it. I’ve never had a problem with David Ortíz… My reaction’s probably more protecting our young kid. And that’s what I’m going to do.” Papi’s response? “That’s Papi style.” I wouldn’t be surprised — or disappointed — to see Big Papi get a little A.J. Burnett style in the ribs tomorrow, maybe in the first inning.
One last note on Noesi. After the Ortíz homer Noesi retired the next thirteen batters before giving up a double to Ellsbury who was thrown at third trying to stretch. I think he’s done enough in the pen (15.1 IP, 1.76 ERA, 1.04 WHIP) to earn a start some time soon.
The rest of the game was rather uneventful. Swisher knocked in a couple runs in the fifth with a double, and, as he usually does in New York, Jonathan Papelbon made things interesting in the ninth, giving up a walk and a single to cut the lead to 6-4, and A-Rod even came to the plate with a chance to tie the game. But when he waved half-heartedly at a 97-MPH fastball that was riding up and away out of the strike zone, the game was over. Red Sox 6, Yankees 4.
A couple more things. Derek Jeter had two hits on the night, meaning he’s twelve hits away with nine games left in the home stand. Fingers crossed.
And if you think you’ve seen Alex Rodríguez strike out before to end a game, it’s because you have. The folks at ESPN, always happy to bring us good news, report that A-Rod has done that thirteen times as a Yankee, tied with Posada for most on the team during that time.
Tomorrow, though, is another day.
[Photo Credit: Al Bello/Getty Images]