THIS STORY HAS BEEN FORMATTED FOR EASY PRINTING
Dan Shaughnessy

In reverse gear and skidding fast

A fan expressed his displeasure when David Ortiz, recently linked to a positive test for performance enhancers, batted. A fan expressed his displeasure when David Ortiz, recently linked to a positive test for performance enhancers, batted. (Paul Bereswill/Getty Images)
By Dan Shaughnessy
Globe Columnist / August 7, 2009

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NEW YORK - Billy Traber on the mound. Kevin Youkilis in left. John Smoltz in the showers, possibly contemplating retirement.

And the Red Sox sinking like a stone in the American League East.

Not exactly what you had in mind for Boston’s big August series at the new Yankee Stadium, is it?

The Yankees presented Muhammad Ali with an award before last night’s game, and if the champ stuck around, he was probably reminded of his bloodbath victory over Ernie Terrell in the Astrodome in 1967.

Zero for 8 against their division brethren this year, the Yankees pummeled Smoltz and broke through with a 13-6 victory over the unraveling Sox.

Josh Beckett will be asked to stop the madness tonight. The Sons of Tito are 3 1/2 games behind the Bombers and only 2 1/2 ahead of Tampa Bay. Pass the brown paper bags. The Hub is on the brink of panic.

“We’re playing like [expletive] right now, that’s obvious,’’ said AL MVP Dustin Pedroia. “We’ve got to play better.’’

Clearly it’s time for Theo and the minions to Just Say No to the admirable Smoltz experiment. We’ve seen eight starts and Smoltz is 2-5 with an 8.33 ERA. The Yankees roughed him up for eight runs on nine hits and four walks in 3 1/3 innings. Lefty batters went 9 for 13 against Smoltz with three walks.

It doesn’t sound as if Smoltz is going to make it easy for the brass.

“It’s correctable,’’ said the 42-year-old righty, while admitting, “Time may not be on my side if this continues.’’

Continues? That would indicate that he’s getting another start. Though the alternatives are not good (Michael Bowden?), it’s hard to imagine the Sox sending Smoltz back to the mound Tuesday at Fenway against Detroit.

“We have a lot of things to talk about,’’ said Terry Francona. “I don’t think five minutes after a game we need to come to a conclusion.’’

On paper, the Sox’ only hope to win this game was wrapped in the “reverse lock’’ theory. Popularized by Earl Weaver in the golden days of the Orioles, the reverse lock holds that on a night when a team has no chance to win, said team will prevail precisely because of that. This was certainly the Sox’ plight last night.

The Yankees had the momentum, the hot starting pitcher (Joba Chamberlain was 3-0 with a 0.83 ERA since the break), home field, and a scalding lineup packed with lefthanded punch. The Sox were coming off two horrible losses in Tampa, were without Jason Bay (hamstring), started Youkilis in left field, and had Smoltz (2-4, 7.12 ERA) on the mound.

Smoltz gave up only one run in the first three innings, a homer by Johnny Damon. But there were trouble signs when the first four batters of the third hit fly balls that traveled an aggregate 1,550 feet. Jacoby Ellsbury looked like he was training for the Penn Relays.

It came apart in the 35-minute, eight-run Yankee fourth.

Casey Kotchman had just made everyone forget Adam LaRoche (who?) with a two-run homer that gave the Sox a 3-1 lead in the top of the inning.

Then it was over, faster than you could say, “Fireball Fred Wenz.’’ The inevitable Smoltz implosion. Double. Single. Walk. Three-run homer by Melky Cabrera. After one out, we had a single, a double, an intentional walk, and finally . . . the hook.

“When it went, it seemed to go in a hurry,’’ said the manager. “They took some healthy swings. They knocked him around pretty good. The roof caved in.’’

Everybody loves Smoltz the way Everybody loves Raymond. He’s a Hall of Famer. But it looks like it’s over. He can’t get lefties out.

This was the first time the Sox and Yanks saw one another since June 11. New York is 32-16 since that date and now the Yankees have finally established that they can beat Boston.

Francona was asked about the relative states of the franchises. Clearly the Yankees are hot and the Red Sox are not. The Yankees are a better team than they were in June. Are the Red Sox?

“It’s a long year,’’ answered the manager. “Sometimes you’re a little beat up. But we like our team a lot.’’

Weaver, he of the reverse lock theory, said, “You’re never as good as you look when you win or as bad as you look when you lose.’’

Those are words to live by if you are a card-carrying member of the Nation. Because right now, it looks bad (forgot to mention that Jed Lowrie came out with a wounded wing in the carnage). Suddenly the thought crosses the mind that the Red Sox might not even make the playoffs. It happened to the Patriots. It can happen to Boston’s baseball team, too.

Lastly, there is the matter of one Big Papi (.222), who went 0 for 5; he is 0 for his last 16 and 1 for 19 since those first two games after the disclosure that he is on The List. Once again, Ortiz had no interest in answering questions in front of his locker and broke up a media throng by turning his iPod to 11. The tune was “Turn My Swag On’’ by Soulja Boy feat Busta Rhymes (I don’t think they played it at John Henry’s wedding).

Ortiz plans to deliver his explanation (with Michael Weiner of the Players Association) at a press conference here tomorrow.

“I’m gonna let you guys know what I got,’’ he said at 11:20 last night.

For once, the distraction might be welcome. It’ll take our eyes off how badly the Sox are playing.

Dan Shaughnessy is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at dshaughnessy@globe.com.

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