NEW YORK - Were Josh Beckett to come into Yankee Stadium tonight, take the New Yorkers by storm, and pitch seven or eight innings, there would certainly be sighs of relief from Red Sox relievers. They would shake his hand and congratulate him and enjoy a rare bit of silence from the bullpen phone.
It has not been that way for the Sox starters recently. Last night, Clay Buchholz lasted 3 2/3 innings in a game that spiraled so far out of control it ended with the Yankees winning, 15-9, in front of 54,667 at the Stadium. The last Sox starter to make it through the seventh inning? That would be last season.
So, how much of a burden is being placed on the bullpen?
"A lot," Jason Varitek said. "A lot.
"I think there were some good things we can take from this game; we had some guys swing the bats well and we battled back. But we've got to find a way to get some more innings out of our starters."
There was fun to be had, fun for just about every hitter who stepped to the plate (only Jacoby Ellsbury, 0 for 5, didn't record a hit). Sean Casey clowned on second base, Manny Ramírez clowned in the dugout, and batters devoured almost every pitcher who stepped in to face them. The mound was where it wasn't very much fun to be.
"We battled back and made that a game twice," Varitek said. "We did a good job doing that. They just kind of punished the ball on us today."
Sox relievers allowed eight hits and seven runs in 4 1/3 innings in a 4-hour-8-minute game.
By the sixth inning, the pace quickened - LaTroy Hawkins, who started the inning, stabilized the Yankees bullpen by pitching two innings of scoreless relief to get the win. But by that point, 20 runs had scored, and little remnant could be found of the pitching duel that occurred last Friday at Fenway Park.
There certainly was plenty of offense. Ans plenty of deep counts and pitches.
"Sometimes you have to give them a little credit," Sox manager Terry Francona said. "First inning [Buchholz's] ball was real live, his fastball, and they hit two of them."
Those home runs, by Bobby Abreu (two-run) and Alex Rodriguez, started an outpouring of offense that didn't stop through the five innings, then the Yankees took two innings off and scored four in the eighth.
Buchholz allowed seven runs on eight hits and one walk. But his counterpart, Chien-Ming Wang (4 innings, 8 runs, 9 hits), wasn't any better.
"We were coming," Francona said. "You could feel us coming. Sometimes you just need to catch a break."
The Red Sox scored six runs in the fifth inning, in which 11 batted and five straight got hits. But the Yankees scored four in the fourth and four in the fifth, off Buchholz and his replacement, Julian Tavarez.
Though Tavarez was praised Monday for keeping the game in Cleveland close enough for Ramírez's ninth-inning heroics, he couldn't replicate the feat. And that's putting it mildly. Assisted by Julio Lugo's sixth error of the season (as a team, the Sox have nine), Tavarez allowed three earned runs (four total) to his pitching line, and the explosion of offense stopped only when David Aardsma appeared.
But Aardsma (2 innings, 2 hits, no runs) couldn't finish the game himself. He was relieved by Mike Timlin, against whom the Yankees went 5 for 5 in two appearances last weekend. Timlin fared no better last night, allowing three hits and four runs in one inning, although he thought he should have.
"What are you going to do?" Timlin said of the pitches he threw to Jorge Posada (double) and Jason Giambi (double). "Same two pitches to [Robinson] Cano and [Chad] Moeller. Same two pitches. Two popups. What are you going to do? Probably won't be the last time. If I threw another inning, I'd throw the same pitches. They were all quality pitches."
But as Varitek said, there was good news. J.D. Drew (.349) had three more hits and two RBIs and Casey had two hits. Casey had a moment of levity, when he strayed off base then crawled back to second, calling himself safe, getting back as his helmet slipped over his eyes and his teammates chuckled. But that was outweighed by the bad, the foul ball off Kevin Youkilis's big toe, the implosion of the bullpen, the error for Lugo, the blowout loss to the Yankees.
"Last year at the beginning of the year we really were consistent," Francona said. "We've won games, but they've been hard games to win, and we've been to our bullpen early. Tonight, we go to Tavarez and, if he struggles, that's what happens. We really didn't have anywhere to go.
"If you run into a problem like that, there's not a lot of protection. That will be my biggest mistake. I think that's the best way to get a team untracked is by getting the bullpen in tatters. I won't do that. But that's the best way to ruin a team - and we're not going to do that."
Amalie Benjamin can be reached at email@example.com.