Alive and kicking
Yankees look sharp in taking opener vs. Sox
NEW YORK -- This public-service announcement comes courtesy of the New York Yankees: The rest of the 2007 major league baseball season will be played, as scheduled, contrary to any chatter suggesting otherwise.
Roger Clemens may have a good reason to come out of retirement, after all. This only confirms the position taken by Red Sox manager Terry Francona even before last night's 6-2 loss to the Bombers before 55,078 in Yankee Stadium.
"On May 21," he said, "they're not going to give us a ring, and I certainly know they're not going to give us money."
With a single defeat, the Sox did not concede their commanding advantage in the American League East. They're 9 1/2 games ahead of the second-place Bombers, who slipped a half-game ahead of the Orioles, who played an exhibition in Cooperstown, N.Y.
With one win, the Yankees did not suddenly cure all that ailed them. Should they lose the next two, the Bombers may be angling again for space on the obit pages.
But for one night, at least, the Yankees reminded one and all that they still can look like world-beaters, even against the Sox, who had slapped them around last month in winning five times in six meetings.
"They're going through a tough time," said David Ortiz, who drove in both Boston runs with a double and a sacrifice fly. "But because they're having a tough time doesn't mean it's over. When they get things together, they can make some damage."
New York's marquee names all stepped up to make it a miserable night for the Sox and Tim Wakefield. Johnny Damon had three hits and stole two bases. Alex Rodriguez and Jason Giambi hit home runs. Derek Jeter drove in an early run. Chien-Ming Wang allowed 10 runners in 6 1/3 innings, but he choked off the big inning whenever the Sox entertained the notion of staging one.
"More urgency? I don't know if I sensed that," said Sox third baseman Mike Lowell, whose 11-game hitting streak came to an end. "This is a big series any time. They're playing to win, the same as we are. You could have them switch places with us in the standings and I don't think it would have affected the way either team played. Especially since it's May."
Damon started it all off with a base hit off Wakefield, the first of nine hits in five innings off the knuckleballer, who also walked five. Three batters later, Rodriguez homered, his third in three games and 18th of the season, to give the Bombers a 2-0 advantage.
An inning later, Giambi, who had been dropped to seventh in the order and had just one hit in 26 at-bats, put one in the upper deck in right to make it 3-0. A double by Robinson Cano and singles by Damon and Jeter made it 4-0 before the inning was over.
Wakefield issued three walks in the third but escaped when Cano rolled out. But Cano did not miss a chance to deliver with two more runners on in the fifth, driving a triple into the left-center-field gap after doubles by Kevin Youkilis and Ortiz had given the Sox a run in the top of the inning.
"I didn't have the same feel that I had in my first seven starts," Wakefield said. "I tried to grind it out the best I could. Five walks are a lot, and the triple I gave up in the fifth probably was the dagger in our side.
"I never got comfortable all night. The ball stayed up -- it wasn't diving at the end."
Wang, who got out of a bases-loaded jam in the second when he struck out Youkilis, departed in the seventh after Julio Lugo drew a one-out walk and Youkilis lined another double to left, sending Lugo to third. Ortiz drove a sacrifice fly to left off Mike Myers to make it 6-2, but Manny Ramírez looked at a third strike from Brian Bruney to end the inning. It was the 19th time this season Ramirez has taken a third strike.
Ramírez was something more than a passive observer in the seventh, when, with hair extensions flying, he made a nice diving catch of Cano's flare. But nowhere to be seen was the thunder in his bat that he exhibited against the Yanks last season, when he hit .556 (25 for 45) with 7 home runs and 21 RBIs against them. Ramirez, who had a single in five trips last night, has just 2 RBIs in his last nine games, and has gone without a home run in his last dozen.
J.D. Drew is a newcomer to the Yanks-Sox rivalry, but the sight of pinstripes did not put an extra charge in his bat. Drew, who told Francona that he's over last week's back-wrenching crash into the Fenway bullpen wall, was hitless in five trips and is batting just .160 (12 for 75) in his last 22 games, a period that began April 22, the last time he hit a home run.
The Sox, of course, have been thriving even with Ramírez and Drew contributing little offensively, but when the players who have been carrying the club have a quiet night -- RBI leader Lowell struck out twice and did not get the ball out of the infield in four trips -- their absence is more noticeable.
Wang, who missed three weeks with a strained hamstring, had a lot to do with that.
"He did a great job using different pitches," said Alex Cora. "He didn't live just on the two-seamer. To righthanded hitters, he used his slider, and to lefties, he threw his changeup and four-seamer. When he had to make pitches, he did."
The Sox stirred in the eighth when Coco Crisp drew a two-out walk and lead-footed Doug Mirabelli reached on a chopper in front of the plate when Bruney threw wildly, pulling first baseman Doug Mientkiewicz off the bag. Joe Torre went to his bullpen again, summoning Scott Proctor, who hit Cora in the elbow with his first pitch.
That brought up Lugo, who had homered here off Proctor in his first game as a member of the Sox April 27. This time, Proctor prevailed, Lugo grounding into a nicely turned force play by Cano.
"Missed opportunity? A missed opportunity is when you have a three-run lead and lose it in the eighth," Lowell said. "We had them on the ropes a couple of times, but it was always with two outs. They just beat us tonight. We'll get 'em tomorrow."
Gordon Edes can be reached at email@example.com.