There are those who split the baseball season in half — not by the actual 81-game midpoint, but with the arrival of the All-Star break.
The Red Sox have reached it. Mercifully, you might say. Eighty-six games into a campaign that began with a new manager and old wounds from last September’s swoon, the year has been dominated by disappointment and disabled list trips. The Sox limped away from Fenway Park Sunday night – actually, early Monday morning, after another four-hour marathon – with their seventh loss in nine games, and limp into the break searching for better health and renewed hope. The 7-3 loss to the first-place Yankees dropped the Sox into last place in the AL East, tied at 43-43 with Toronto, 9½ games back.
Last year’s Sox were 9½ games up in the wild-card race with a month to play and missed the playoffs. This year’s team has three times the amount of games left, optimistic that when they finally get some key parts back that have been ailing — Dustin Pedroia, Jacoby Ellsbury, Carl Crawford — they’ll be able to start chasing down the Yankees.
“I think we have to look ourselves in the mirror and play with more energy,” said Cody Ross, who was hitless in four at-bats. “We got out butts kicked, so it’ll be nice to have these days off and regroup.
“It was an up-and-down first half, that’s for sure. We played really poorly at times and really good at times. Really couldn’t be consistent, but we’ll try to put this first half behind and figure it out in the second.”
It wasn’t a fair fight over the weekend, the visitors blistering Sox pitching for 28 runs and 45 hits. New York reaches the break with a seven-game lead in the AL East after taking three of four in a series when they scored early and often.
None of the four Red Sox starters in the series pitched a clean first inning, with the Yankees scoring a combined 14 runs their first time up against Josh Beckett (five allowed on Friday night), Franklin Morales (four on Saturday), Felix Doubront (three on Saturday night), and Jon Lester (two).
Prior to the game, when asked about the Yankees’ first-inning prowess over the weekend, Sox catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia snapped, “We’re not going to talk about that. It’s over.”
It wasn’t over, but it was better, compared with the first three games. Lester, who came in with an 8-3 record against the Yankees in 17 career starts but was seeing them for the first time this year, gave up a leadoff single to Derek Jeter, a single to Curtis Granderson, and a double to Mark Teixeira, which scored Jeter. After a one-out walk to Robinson Cano loaded the bases, Nick Swisher grounded to Mauro Gomez, who stepped on third to force Teixeira but couldn’t turn a double play as Granderson scored.
An uncharacteristic gaffe by Jeter let the Sox cut the Yankees’ lead in half in the bottom of the first. Pedro Ciriaco, fresh off his four-hit game Saturday night, singled with one out and stole second. He was still there with two outs when Ross sent a high fly Jeter’s way. Taking a few steps onto the outfield grass, then coming back in, Jeter had the ball hit his glove and bounce out, an error that easily scored Ciriaco.
The Yankees made it 3-1 in the second with a leadoff double by Jayson Nix, who moved to third on a passed ball and scored on a sacrifice fly to left by Chris Stewart.
Adrian Gonzalez ended the Yankees’ second inning — catching a popup by Alex Rodriguez — but he didn’t take the field for the third, leaving with what the team announced as an illness (he struck out in the bottom of the first). Gomez moved from third to first and Nick Punto came in at third. He was immediately tested on a hard shot by Swisher, and couldn’t make the play near the bag on a ball ruled a hit.
Ciriaco scored the second Sox run, reaching on a third-inning infield single and coming home on a Wall-ball double by David Ortiz. Another infield single, by Punto, and a walk to Ross loaded the bases with one out, but Yankees starter Ivan Nova (six innings, six hits, two runs) got out of the jam by striking out Saltalamacchia (looking), and getting Ryan Sweeney to ground to first.
Four more base runners and two more runs in the fifth ended Lester’s night after just 4⅓ innings (nine hits, five runs, two walks). He allowed a single to Teixeira to start the fifth, then Rodriguez sent a towering, slicing shot toward the triangle in center. Sweeney gave chase and lunged for it but couldn’t make the play, crashing into the base of the wall near the Sox bullpen. Rodriguez had a run-scoring, stand-up triple, Sweeney still hunched over on the warning-track dirt as he pulled into third. Sweeney remained in the game.
Lester did not. A walk to Swisher and a hard single through the hole at short by Andruw Jones brought out Bobby Valentine and brought in Scott Atchison, who struck out Nix, then retired Stewart on a diving catch by Sweeney to keep the Yankees’ lead at 5-2.
“I just think it’s a good mental break, get away from it for a couple days, get out of the monotony of the same routine I do every day,” said Lester. “It’ll just be good to relax and not worry about bullpens or anything like that, it’ll be nice for a couple days just to get away.”
It stayed 5-2 until the top of the seventh. Atchison gave up a one-out double to Swisher, then a two-run home run to Jones into the Monster seats that made it 7-2.
The Sox got a run back on a double by Mike Aviles in the eighth.