Yankee bats destroy Sox’ momentum
As Brad Penny walked off the field, failure in his wake, boos suffused the hot, sticky air in Fenway Park. He had just begun a meltdown that was far from over, an utter disaster of a game that damaged the Red Sox’ chances of inserting themselves back into the division race. It erased the memory of a just-finished sweep over clearly inferior competition, and left the Sox 7 1/2 games behind in the American League East.
In a game that started as a lovefest with the return of Jerry Remy to the NESN booth, the disappointment grew quickly. It seemed as if it could not get worse, as if the Yankees could not get yet another hit. But they did, over and over again. The damage continued far after Penny was gone. No pitcher, on either side, seemed able to get anyone out - though that went double for the Sox’ cadre.
And therein lies the current gulf between the Sox and Yankees. Having swept through New York over the first eight games of the season, the Sox now look up at their rivals, in performance and standings. The small comfort, if it could be called that on a night the Sox lost, 20-11, at home in a game that took 3 hours 57 minutes, was that the Rangers lost again, keeping the Sox’ lead in the wild-card standings at one game.
“It was very frustrating,’’ Mike Lowell said. “I don’t really care who’s on the mound for the other team. When you get down by a large margin, you’re in a total uphill climb. It really doesn’t make it easy for us. But we didn’t give up, not even until the last out of the game. I thought it was a big part of character. All the guys that left early, you saw them still in our dugout. That’s a big thing. It’s easy to pack it in in a game like this.’’
By the end, Penny was merely a memory, removed after giving up 10 hits and eight runs in four-plus innings. In regards to his future in the rotation, that discussion will continue today. Manager Terry Francona sounded eerily similar to the way he spoke of John Smoltz that day in New York that predicated the end of Smoltz’s tenure with the Sox.
“I think we’re always probably evaluating,’’ Francona said. “I’d rather not do that tonight, I mean it’s 10 minutes after the game. There’s obviously some things we need to talk about. [Tim Wakefield] pitched tonight, and again I haven’t even talked to Wake yet, but it sounded like it went pretty well. So we’ll get together tomorrow and we’ll see where we need to go.’’
Wakefield, who pitched 5 2/3 solid innings for Pawtucket last night, might just be pitching in the majors again by Wednesday, Penny’s next scheduled start. Penny, though, didn’t seem particularly worried about his position. “Not really,’’ he said. “I feel good, I’m healthy. I’ll turn it around.’’
Except for one problem: Since June 23, Penny’s ERA is 6.38, the same sort of pitching that led the Sox to cry uncle on the Smoltz experiment.
“Everything they hit fell, mistakes, good pitches,’’ Penny said. “I really wasn’t commanding the ball in tonight. Tried to go in, I’d leave it inner third, over the plate.
“I threw a lot of strikes, I wouldn’t say a lot of them were real quality.’’
His solution to what he needs to do differently: “Not give up so many runs,’’ Penny said.
“It wasn’t an issue of throwing strikes, it was throwing strikes that wandered over the middle of the plate,’’ Francona said of his starter, who routinely hit 97 miles per hour on the radar gun. “They barreled up a lot of balls tonight. He came out with good power behind his fastball, but against that lineup if you miss over the plate and you’re throwing for the most part kind of one speed, without being able to mix in other pitches for strikes, for strikes they have to respect - they took some pretty healthy swings once they got going.’’
The fans were treated to a show of strength by the Yankees, watching Penny allow shot after shot, including a single by Alex Rodriguez in the fifth that came perilously close to being a home run, caroming off the top of the Monster. Rodriguez rounded first but stayed put, with Mark Teixeira heading to third.
Then came an actual homer. Michael Bowden, recalled from Pawtucket before the game, took Penny’s place with no outs. Hideki Matsui rocketed his second pitch into the Sox bullpen. Bowden provided no relief at all, and the Yankees scored a backbreaking six runs in the inning.
But it was Penny - winner of just one of his last 11 starts - who put the Sox in the hole. His night started off poorly and continued to get worse.
It was a massacre, with no other way to describe the Yankee hits that peppered the park. And as the lead grew to double digits in the fourth, the rustling started at Fenway. Given the sweep the Sox had just completed, the way their new-look, offensive-minded lineup was swinging, this was not the way things were supposed to go.
“It’s one of those games that happens every now and then,’’ said Nick Green, who took left field for Jason Bay in the sixth. “You just have to forget about it.’’
That was easier said than done. Because the beating didn’t end when Penny left. Bowden was touched for seven earned runs over two innings, Manny Delcarmen allowed one run, and Ramon Ramirez was on the mound for the Yankees’ four-run ninth. Only Takashi Saito (perfect eighth) made it out unscathed.
Yankees starter Andy Pettitte didn’t allow his second hit until the fifth inning, by which point the Yankees had 14 of them to go with 12 runs. Each team scored three runs in the sixth, and each team scored four runs in the ninth. No one gave up offensively. But, in the end, it didn’t matter. The Sox had lost, and lost badly.
“I think that it was plain and simple that we got our asses kicked pretty good,’’ Lowell said. “Those are easier to forget than the ones that you lose, 2-1, because we didn’t have a chance today. So we move on, and we’ll see if things play out a little differently tomorrow.’’
Amalie Benjamin can be reached at email@example.com.