The heads turned together atop the Green Monster as balls bypassed their seats entirely, sailing on a laser-guided beeline for Lansdowne Street, the game at once slowly fading into the distance.
For the second straight outing, the Yankees poured on early runs, only this time the Red Sox offered little semblance of a comeback. Consecutive homers in the first and fourth innings built too big of a deficit, insurmountable with a patchwork lineup featuring more players who began the season in the minors (four) than those who started for Boston on Opening Day (three).
And now, with a 6-1 loss in the first act of Saturday’s doubleheader, the Sox are back at .500, 9½ games out of first in the AL East, that once-hopeful pre-All-Star break run reduced to a 2-7 record in their last nine games.
The first inning this time around was one-sided after both teams scored five in the first Friday night. Nick Swisher hit a three-run homer, also scoring Derek Jeter and Robinson Cano, and Andruw Jones followed with a solo blast off Franklin Morales. Jones and Jayson Nix padded the lead with back-to-back shots the fourth.
“If there was a solution, it would be solved,” manager Bobby Valentine said of the Sox’ first-inning woes. “[Pitching coach] Bob McClure’s down there warming them up, bringing them in and they have a game plan. Just seems that a lot of guys are struggling in the first inning.
“I had Nolan Ryan for years, and his first inning was always a problem. I don’t know if I ever corrected it or figured out a solution for it. Sometimes it just happens, I don’t know. I’d rather it not.”
The Sox have a 6.21 ERA in the first inning this season, by far their highest of any frame.
“That’s not good,” McClure said. “But it happens sometimes.”
Before this outing, Morales had been Valentine’s hidden gem among an otherwise injury-plagued staff. He entered with a 1.35 ERA and 33 strikeouts against three walks in his last six appearances.
But he never made it out of the fourth, hooked in favor of Justin Germano and exiting with four homers allowed and two strikeouts.
“His fastball kept coming back over the middle of the plate instead of running away from the righthanders,” Valentine said. “Couldn’t control it like he usually does on the outside part. He got hit throwing them fastballs in fastball-hitters’ counts.”
The Sox, returning from a West Coast offensive outage to the tune of eight runs in the series opener, found themselves in a drought against Yankees starter Freddy Garcia, who did not allow a hit through three innings.
In the fourth, Boston strung together three straight singles and a run before Ryan Kalish bounced into a double play. In the fifth, Brent Lillibridge and Daniel Nava put runners on the corners with singles, but Pedro Ciriaco, recalled from Triple A Pawtucket, grounded out to the mound.
“He did what he’s been doing for a few years now, mixing and matching, keeping guys off-balance, using guys’ aggressiveness against him,” catcher Kelly Shoppach said of Garcia. “Give him some credit, but we’ve got to do a better job at the plate.”
Germano, in his first major league appearance this season, kept the Yankees at bay through 5⅔ scoreless innings, his seven strikeouts tying for the most by any reliever this season.
“He did a great job. He was able to drop that curveball in in any count,” Shoppach said. “He has a nice little sinker, some stuff to keep them off-balance and get some ground balls.
“He was able to execute pitches the whole time.”
With the nightcap looming and five relievers used Friday, Germano at the very least saved the bullpen for later use, and received a standing ovation as he exited.
“Today’s game was very valuable, in that he was the second pitcher and the last pitcher,” Valentine said. “At least we go into tonight’s game relatively rested in the bullpen.”