Had you asked the 35,011 fans at Fenway Park and the millions of viewers watching yesterday's game if the Red Sox were finished when the Yankees took a 7-1 lead in the third inning, you would have heard an emphatic "No." The same response would have come from grounds crew members, vendors, ball boys -- anyone versed in baseball's most storied rivalry.
Make that almost anyone.
"I saw the advantage we had, and I pretty much thought we had won the game already," said Yankees starter Jose Contreras, who was relieved by Paul Quantrill with two outs in the third after allowing two more Boston runs.
"By the time I realized [the game wasn't over] I was in a complicated situation . . . I wasn't able to do my part," added Contreras, who spoke through interpreter Leo Astacio following the Yankees' 7-3 triumph.
Contreras failed to earn what should have been an easy decision, pulled after allowing three runs on six hits and two walks. But the four relievers who followed stymied Red Sox batters on just three hits.
Such wishful thinking seemed unlikely for Contreras, who is expected to help fill the void in the rotation created by the departures of Andy Pettitte and Roger Clemens to Houston. It was Contreras's second dismal outing in as many starts, and the shortest start of his career, surpassing the three-inning effort he posted at Fenway Aug. 29, 2003.
"I have to keep working on the things we've been working on," said Contreras. "Physically I feel fine. I think sometimes I lack concentration. I think I need to concentrate the entire game and the results are going to be there.
"Once on the mound, I don't think about anything in the past. As I said I might have relaxed a little bit and lost my rhythm and the strike zone. I complicated things for myself."
Contreras was in trouble early. After beginning the game with a strikeout of Johnny Damon, he gave up a single to Bill Mueller, a two-out single to Manny Ramirez, and an RBI double to Kevin Millar. But he got out of the inning by getting Ellis Burks to fly to left.
In the second, Contreras gave up a leadoff single to Jason Varitek, but struck out Cesar Crespo swinging and got Pokey Reese to fly to left. The inning ended with Varitek being thrown out attempting to steal second.
"Everything was working fine for me," said Contreras. "The fastball, the slider, the split, everything was good. They scored a run in the first inning because I left a fastball up [to Millar], and I don't care if you throw the ball 100 miles per hour, if you leave it up, they're going to hit it."
Manager Joe Torre wasn't upset with Contreras's performance, but said the Cuban righthander must become more consistent with his rhythm. "It's something we're going to have to get right before this thing is over with, because his stuff is electric," Torre said. "It's a matter of having him feel what he's supposed to feel like."
Contreras agreed. "I'm learning something from every start," he said. "I'm going to work. I'm going to go in the bullpen and continue to work and I have to have better control so that these [starts] don't repeat themselves.
"I have a lot more confidence [this season] because I know I'm going to be in the rotation every five days. Last year we had more than five starters, so it seemed like every outing was a tryout, and there was more pressure. [This year], I know I am going to pitch and that helps me have more confidence."