Yankees Lite? Joe Torre wasn't in the visitors' dugout. The injured captain, Derek Jeter, was not on the field. The turncoat, Johnny Damon, had the night off. And the owner, George Steinbrenner, was no longer in charge, having left the day-to-day operations of the club in the hands of his sons, Red Sox closer Jonathan Papelbon still not sure whether it was Hank or Hal who called him a "mouse" (it was Hank).
None of that mattered to 23-year-old Clay Buchholz, the kid from Port Arthur, Texas, who called the chance to pitch against the pinstripers a "once in a lifetime" experience (one can imagine Theo Epstein raising his eyebrows at that one, figuring Buchholz and the Bombers should meet a time or two again), then went out and pitched like his life depended on it.
It wasn't enough. Chien-Ming Wang pitched even better in the Yankees' 4-1 win over the Sox, throwing a two-hitter in Joe Girardi's introduction to this rivalry as manager, the former catcher succeeding Torre after the Yankees went a sixth straight season without winning the World Series.
The Yankees may have some problems in the future with the Sox - the front page of yesterday's New York Post blared the news that a construction worker/Sox fan buried a Sox T-shirt in the poured concrete of the new Yankee Stadium, hoping it will work some Sox-centric magic when the joint opens next season. But in Fenway Park last night, no one in the crowd of 37,624 brought magic clothing, burnt offerings, or any other kind of hoodoo strong enough to protect Mike Timlin.
Timlin, who started pitching professionally when Buchholz was 3, began his 2008 season with a bang - the sound of Jason Giambi's home run landing in the camera well in center field, breaking a 1-all tie in the seventh, right after Buchholz had parted (6 IP, 4 H, 1 R).
"It was terrible, absolutely terrible," Timlin said. "I came back and pitched terribly. It wasn't how I was looking forward to starting 2008. I made bad pitches. You can't get major league hitters out with pitches right down the middle."
Timlin opened the season on the disabled list after sustaining a freakish injury in spring training, cutting the ring finger of his pitching hand while fielding a ground ball, and was just activated last night, Bryan Corey having been designated for assignment the night before.
The old man of the Sox staff - he turned 42 a month ago - made two rehab appearances in Triple A Pawtucket and breezed. But last night, after running the count full to Giambi, he missed badly with a fastball, the pitch thigh high and directly in Giambi's swing path. Timlin went as limp as the center-field flag when Giambi's ball carried over the fence to give the Yankees a 2-1 lead.
The home run was the first of the season for the man Yankee broadcaster John Sterling calls the Giambino (New York Post columnist Mike Vaccaro described the Yankees' ringless streak the "Hex of the Giambino"), and represented a rare conquest of Timlin for Giambi, who came into the game 2 for 17 with five whiffs against the Sox reliever.
"We tried to throw a four-seamer away," Timlin said. "It was a bad pitch. Numbers play out. Success on one side usually runs dry a little bit, and the guy is going to get you. Numbers pan out. That's how this game is. It was his turn to get me. I've gotten him a few times, and tonight the tables turned on me."
Jose Molina followed Giambi's home run with a double into the left-center-field gap, and Timlin's night was over when Alberto Gonzalez, the rookie shortstop who took Jeter's place, bunted Molina to third. Hideki Okajima replaced Timlin, and Melky Cabrera got the run home with a sacrifice fly to J.D. Drew in right.
Wang, indisputably the staff ace with Roger Clemens retired and Mike Mussina in the twilight of his career, was perfect through the first 10 batters until third baseman Alex Rodriguez made a high throw after making a terrific stop on Dustin Pedroia's smash down the line with one out in the fourth. The play was ruled an error.
Wang might have had a shutout if right fielder Bobby Abreu had not banged into the wall while tracking Drew's fifth-inning home run, the ball hitting his glove and falling into the Sox' bullpen. "He could have actually caught that ball," said Timlin, who was just a few feet away. "He jumped up and ran into the wall."
Just before Drew connected for his third home run of the season - he is batting .429 and has hit safely in all eight games he has played -Kevin Youkilis took Wang to the warning track in right. And Jason Varitek, the batter after Drew, took Wang to the warning track in center.
"You know what you're going to get with him," Youkilis said. "Sinker-slider guy. He got ahead, threw strikes. One of those nights balls weren't falling in, we didn't get any breaks."
The only other hit Wang allowed was Coco Crisp's two-out bunt single in the ninth.
Wang did not walk a batter. He threw a Maddux-like 93 pitches, a night after Sox batters forced 212 pitches out of four Detroit pitchers.
And he easily dispensed with David Ortiz, who came into the game batting .500 (15 for 30) against the Taiwanese sinkerballer but couldn't get the ball out of the infield in three trips - whiff, double play, roller to first - his nightmarish slump at 0 for 13, 1 for 25, and 3 for 39 (.077) overall.
"In a game that was tight," Sox manager Terry Francona said, "we never got anything going."
By the end of the eighth inning, the Yankees were feeling so good that center fielder Cabrera, after catching Varitek's fly to end the inning, faked a throw into the bleachers, spun around, and tossed the ball to the infield.
The Yankees added a run in the ninth off Boston's fifth pitcher, David Aardsma, who struck out Molina to end the eighth after Javier Lopez loaded the bases. Gonzalez doubled, took third on Cabrera's bunt, and scored on Abreu's broken-bat grounder to second.
Buchholz set down 12 of the first 13 until issuing successive walks to Hideki Matsui and Jorge Posada to start the fifth. He struck out Giambi on a changeup, but Molina leaned over and whacked a curveball on a line past Manny Ramírez for a run-scoring double. Gonzalez drew a walk, but the rally ended abruptly when Cabrera lined into a double play.
"It was something I wanted to do and they gave me a shot to do it tonight," Buchholz said of facing the Yankees. "I felt good overall, but I guess they had a little better night than we did."
Gordon Edes can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.