Bobby Valentine is not a grader. He refused to rank his club heading into the All-Star Break with any sort of letter-based evaluation.
But things have been a mixed bag up until this point. The Sox’s first-inning woes struck again Sunday night; they fell behind early against the Yankees with a chance to salvage a series split hanging in the air. Instead, they fell 7-3, are back to .500, and have lost five of six to New York this season.
“I think it’s always incomplete until the end of the year anyway,” Valentine said.
Valentine was talking about his team’s grades, but things sure looked incomplete in the series finale. Jon Lester gave up three straight hits in the top of the first to Derek Jeter, Curtis Granderson, and Mark Teixeira that put the Sox in a 2-0 hole just minutes into the 4 hour-long contest.
In four games this weekend, Boston starters gave up the following number of runs before their teammates even strode up to the plate: 5, 4, 3, and 2.
“It’s tough to be behind, that’s for sure,” Valentine said after a long pause when asked about his team’s early struggles. “Well, we got better, but we were looking for no runs in that first inning. What can I tell you?”
Lester appeared on the precipice of rebounding after the first. He got two weak popouts to Gomez at first in the third, then struck out the side, which included Jeter and Granderson, in the fourth.
“I thought he had great stuff, throwing his cutter to both sides of the plate early in the count, late in the count, breaking ball, changeup,” catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia said. “They got the runs early, but he made some good pitches. The ball kept finding the hole. You can’t really explain anything, you can’t really talk about anything. I thought he made some really good pitches tonight.”
But Lester never made it through the fifth, having thrown 101 pitches in his shortest outing since May 25, exiting after an Andruw Jones RBI single, left to suffer a slow walk to the dugout and sporadic jeers from the Fenway crowd.
“Jon had another uphill battle,” Valentine said. “I thought he was throwing the ball well, just before you know it, you look up there, there’s a lot of hits on the board, and runs, baserunners, and pitches. That’s not what he wanted, I’m sure.
“That’s not what we needed.”
The Sox have now lost six of their past seven, and have allowed at least one run in the first inning of 12 of their past 14 games at Fenway, dating back to June 10.
Yankees starter Ivan Nova kept the Sox at bay for most of the game, save the upstart Triple-A call-up Pedro Ciriaco, who finished 3 for 4 with 2 runs. Effectively mixing his curve, slider and fastball, Nova struck out 10 Sox batters, his second-highest total all season. Boston struck out 15 times all night, its most in a nine-inning game since June 27, 2010, against Tampa Bay.
After falling behind in the first, Ciriaco reached on a single and stole second, eventually scoring when Jeter dropped a potential inning-ending flyball from Cody Ross. Ciriaco again scored in the third when he singled and was driven in by a deep David Ortiz double.
Perhaps this recent slide came at the right time. Save Ortiz, Boston’s lone All-Star representative, the Sox have four days off to recover, regroup, and, perhaps most importantly, reload.
“I hope that these four days is something we can use to get back on track,” Saltalamacchia said. “We did pretty well for a team that had a lot of pieces fall out and a lot of pieces step in. I’m looking forward to the next half being better than the first.”
Ortiz took a similar view, albeit with a less optimistic ending.
“We’ve got to get through it, I guess,” Ortiz said. “I think people understand our situation with the injuries. It can’t get worse.
“Well, I guess it can.”
Other postgame items of note:
•Adrian Gonzalez had his 18-game hitting streak come to an end when he left the game before the third inning with a reported illness. The streak was a career-high for Gonzalez, and the longest this season by any Sox player.
•Ciriaco became the first Sox player since 1918 to reach base four times with at least one stolen base in consecutive Fenway Park games. Since going 0 for 4 with two strikeouts in his debut Saturday afternoon, Ciriaco is 7 for 9.
•Ryan Sweeney had a scare in the top of the 5th when he barreled head-first into the centerfield wall chasing an A-Rod triple. The doctors checked him out after the inning and saw no signs of a concussion. Sweeney had spent time on the DL earlier this season with a concussion.
• After the break, the rotation will go as follows: Franklin Morales, Clay Buchholz, Josh Beckett, Aaron Cook, Lester, and Felix Doubront. Valentine said he would “probably not” stick with a six-man rotation after that.
• Valentine said Dice-K would “probably” travel to Tampa Bay for the Sox’s first series after the break, and that he was “pretty sure” Jacoby Ellsbury would travel as well.
Thanks to everyone for following along and commenting this weekend. Pete and Nick are in Kansas City for the All-Star Game. See you once the break’s over.