Don't read too much into the results of the last three nights. Joe Torre won't.
The Yankees skipper didn't leave here feeling much different in terms of the Big Picture than if the Red Sox had swept.
``It's too early," he said after last night's 8-6 victory gave his team the 2-1 series triumph. ``It's just business as usual to me, more of a professional approach. We've got so much more left, and there's so much work to do. You can't allow yourself to say, `Hey, look at what we did.' It's not a healthy thing to do."
One thing the Yankees did was win despite another atrocious outing from Randy Johnson. It was his seventh decidedly non-quality start in his last eight outings, during which he has been reached for 55 hits and 41 runs (36 earned) in 42 2/3 innings. But thanks to the Yankee offense he has come through this dreadful stretch with a 4-3 record and one no-decision.
You've got to be a serious Yankee diehard to see any good in those numbers.
Either that, or you've got to be Joe Torre, who's not bailing on Johnson.
``We know Randy's going to get better," Torre declared.
And that would be based on what, exactly, Joe?
``Why?" he responded. ``I'm a firm believer in the press guide, and knowing who these people are and where they need to get. As long as he's physically healthy -- and we know he is -- it's just a matter of him getting that feel back, and I think I saw some signs of that tonight."
It's true that he fanned eight batters in his five innings. But he was also reached for nine hits and five earned runs, and he needed 105 pitches to qualify for his 269th career win. It's also true that this was the sixth time since April 13 that he has not gone more than five innings. He looks far more like an inconsistent fourth or fifth starter than an ace heading for the Hall of Fame. But Joe's Joe, and if he says he saw something to hang his hat on, then who are we to quarrel with him?
Anyway, the Red Sox have their own starting pitching problems.
The reason Randy got away with this tainted W was that Matt Clement was worse. My fine colleagues have documented his ongoing woes elsewhere in these pages, so all I can say is that you would almost rather see Curt Schilling take his place in the rotation by throwing lefthanded than sending Clement out to get pounded one more time. Throw in the fact that Someone Up There appears to have it in for him -- he was hit by a second-inning Bernie Williams line drive that brought back memories of the Carl Crawford smash that disrupted his `05 season -- and you are less than inspired by the idea of him taking the ball against that potent Toronto lineup Monday night.
Tim Wakefield had his problems the night before, too, but guess what? The Red Sox had real, live honest shots to win both games, leaving the tying runs on second and third with two outs in the eighth in each game. And how about Big Papi, whose four previous trips to the plate had resulted in two swinging strikeouts, a called strikeout, and a weak grounder to first, taking yet another called third strike on a Kyle Farnsworth strikeout to leave 'em loaded in the eighth?
So David Ortiz is mortal, after all. Manny Ramírez, meanwhile, looked somewhat extraterrestrial during his first four trips to the plate, with two majestic homers over the Sports Authority sign in left, a double, and a walk in those plate appearances. After going 1 for 11 in Philadelphia (and a particularly listless and uninterested 1 for 11, as only Manny can submit), he went 8 for 12 against the Yankees with four home runs that must have traveled a cumulative 1,700 feet. Speaking of things for a manager to hang his hat on, that's a pretty good place to start.
``You know what?" offered Terry Francona. ``Hitting can get real streaky. If you could remedy it or put it in a bottle, guys would be nice and even the whole season. It doesn't work that way. Sometimes they take a swing, or they get in a groove, and then they are getting pitches to hit. A lot of different variables. But it is nice to see him get into one of those streaks, because you know they're not going to be singles."
People around here have a wee bit of trouble putting any Yankee visit in proper perspective. We all know that. But fans have to learn how to pace themselves through the Big 162, just as the players and coaches do, and they've got to remember that there is a lot of significant activity taking place when these two clubs are far away from each other. Sweeping the Yankees would have been nice. Taking 2 of 3 would have been nice. But it is necessary to remind oneself that we haven't even reached Memorial Day. There's no need to crawl out on the ledge, just yet.
But it really was a lost opportunity to get Johnson, who beat them five times last season when he was still something approaching his usual self. Of course, you won't get Francona to admit that; no manager would. ``Do we want to win?" he said. ``Yes. I think they probably feel a lot like we do. You go through periods like that throughout the year. It's not always perfect, where you can run your [preferred] lineup out there, or your [preferred] pitching staff. But good teams find a way to win, and they did tonight."
Francona and Torre are definitely in agreement on that one. ``You try to win by any means you can," Torre said, ``and when you do, it gives you the idea there are certain things you can overcome just by doing the job. I would have enjoyed the game more last night [Tuesday's 7-5 conquest] if it weren't for the eight walks. Tonight, was just a grind."
Asked what he learned from the past three nights, Torre arched an eyebrow. ``What have I learned?" he said. ``Nothing, really. You have to play nine innings, but you can't always control the outcome. I learned that in a book, a book by John Wooden. He said you can talk about preparation and all that, but sometimes you play well and the outcome still doesn't go your way. That's why I don't judge players as much by the results as by the effort. That's about all you can control."
Torre left Fenway Park last night feeling good, but certainly not smug. The Yankees are wounded, and they are making do with a shaky pitching staff, as are the Red Sox and Blue Jays. But one of them is going to win this thing eventually. That much we know.
Eventually may very well be the last weekend of the season, and what else is new? Until we all meet again, Joe Torre left us with this thought, both about games in Fenway Park and, if you think about it, the world of baseball itself.
``Three nights in Fenway," he said. ``The only thing predictable is the unpredictable."
He really said it. And did anybody out there happen to publicly foresee Big Papi with four whiffs? Joe Torre sure didn't.
Bob Ryan is a Globe columnist. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.