NEW YORK — The Yankees lineup has been an unsolvable matrix this season for pitcher Franklin Morales, a situation with no exit, except being shoved into a room filled with home runs.
For all the brilliance Boston’s converted reliever has brought to his spot starts, there are two pinstriped marks, which again came to the fore Friday night.
The Yankees hit four solo homers to the short porches in left and right field off Morales through five innings Friday, each one another reminder of how New York has dominated the lefthander this season. Of the nine homers Morales has allowed in starts this season, eight have been to the Yankees.
“I tried to attack the hitters,” Morales said. “But when you miss that pitch with that team, somebody needs to pay, and I paid today. I tried to keep the ball down.”
As a starter, Morales has been phenomenal on the road. He entered with a 2.04 ERA in four starts away from Fenway, allowing just five earned runs in 22⅓ innings with a 3-1 strikeout-to-walk ratio.
Granted, three of those starts were at Seattle, Cleveland, and Chicago, teams that, entering Friday, were a combined 43 games under .500. Still, Morales has been a nice surprise in a rotation struggling to find production out of the big names such as Jon Lester and Josh Beckett.
Then Morales doubled those five earned runs in the series-opening 6-4 loss, pushing his earned run total against the Yankees in starts this season to 11 in 8⅔ innings.
Contrast that with his 2.11 ERA in his other starts, including a 2.04 ERA away from home, and Morales has some strange splits going for him in 2012.
“Yeah, the home runs, that’s the way they live and they had a whole bunch of them tonight,” manager Bobby Valentine said.
Morales loves to attack the zone, and New York took full advantage. Nick Swisher put the Yankees ahead, 1-0, in the first. Curtis Granderson and Russell Martin went back to back in the second, each on 1-and-0 counts. Derek Jeter yanked a full-count slider into the left-field seats in the fifth.
“Well, they were aggressive swinging early in the count, early in the game and they got him for three home runs,” Valentine said.
In his last start against New York, when he lasted just 3⅓ innings at home on July 7, Swisher and Andruw Jones went back-to-back in the first, and Jones and Jayson Nix hit consecutive homers in the fourth.
“They’re a good hitting team,” catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia said. “When you fall behind, you can’t leave the ball over the middle of the plate.
“There’s no real answer for it. You just to have to continue to attack, continue to attack, and throw your best stuff out there. He’s a great pitcher, and tonight wasn’t his best night, but he still grinded and battled and kept us in the game.”
Indeed, Morales flashed glimpses of the pitcher who entered with opponents hitting just .162 against him on the road. Beginning with a strikeout looking against Nix after Granderson and Martin’s double dip, Morales retired 10 of 11. Only Jeter reached on a throwing error by shortstop Mike Aviles during the midgame downpour.
“He was having trouble gripping the ball there, his offspeed stuff when it was wet,” Valentine said. “But both teams played in it.”
But that stretch ended when Jeter hit his 250th career homer, erasing a one-run Sox lead.
“Well, other than the home runs he had pretty good stuff,” Valentine said. “They hit all of his different pitches, so it wasn’t any one pitch. Jeter hit a ball that cut a little inside, a pitch I think he wanted to have go away.
“He wasn’t that bad. He just wasn’t good enough.”