The Red Sox packed 38,143 fans into Fenway Park on Friday night, the largest crowd of the season. They came to greet a first-place team finally home after a 10-day road trip.
They left worried. The Red Sox pitched poorly, played sloppy defense, and ran the bases with little regard for common sense. The result was an ugly 10-3 loss against the rival New York Yankees.
“This wasn’t one of our more sharp efforts,” manager John Farrell said.
Hold on tight. The Sox have lost three straight, four of five, and six of their last eight games. They now lead the division by one game on the Rays, who beat Toronto.
Farrell compared this skid to a rough stretch in early May. But with only 38 games left, a string of losses becomes more consequential.
The Sox, who have yet to lose four in a row this season, face Hiroki Kuroda, the Yankees’ best starter, Saturday afternoon. Then comes CC Sabathia on Sunday night followed by a six-game West Coast trip.
“We’ll figure it out,” Dustin Pedroia said. “Every game is important. It’s been important all year. That’s how we’ve looked at it every day.”
Beyond wins and losses, the level of play has been well below the standard set earlier in the season. The Sox have scored only 14 runs in their last five games, going 10 for 48 with runners in scoring position.
There have been seven errors in the last three games, three coming on Friday.
Base running continues to be problem as well. The Sox ran into three more outs on Friday, part of a troublesome trend since the All-Star break.
“It’s one of those funks that you walk into,” David Ortiz said. “You need to get out of it.”
Alfonso Soriano, traded to the Yankees by Theo Epstein’s Cubs last month, was 3 for 4 with a home run and four RBIs. He is 13 for 18 with five home runs and an astonishing 18 RBIs in New York’s last four games.
In his first game for the Yankees, Mark Reynolds homered and drove in three runs.
Felix Doubront, who has pitched well against the Yankees throughout his career, lasted four innings this time. He gave up seven runs on eight hits and two walks.
“Mistakes, mistakes. Too many mistakes,” Doubront said. “I was throwing the ball more in the [strike] zone and not with the deception I had before.”
Yankees starter Andy Pettitte gave up 18 hits over seven innings in his last two starts, looking every bit of 41 years old. But he pitched into the seventh inning on Friday, giving up three unearned runs.
Pettitte (8-9) used his cutter and changeup effectively, not giving up a run until after the Yankees led, 7-0.
Being overmatched by a lefthander has become a bad habit for the Sox. They are 22-18 against lefty starters this season but 2-6 since July 22.
In the prime subplot of the night, accused drug cheat Alex Rodriguez was 2 for 4 with a walk, a run, and a stolen base amid loud booing every time he came to the plate. The crowd chanted “You do steroids” at Rodriguez in the third inning before he singled to quiet the din.
Rodriguez has played 10 games for the Yankees since appealing his 211-game suspension from Major League Baseball. He is 12 for 40 (.300) with the Yankees winning six of those games.
The Sox play nine of their remaining 38 games against the Yankees. Rodriguez’s impact on the race could be significant.
Doubront (8-6) allowed two home runs that changed the game in the early innings. Reynolds, a strikeout-prone Cleveland castoff signed on Thursday, had a two-run shot in the second inning to give New York a 3-0 lead.
The game got away from the Red Sox in the third inning. Eduardo Nunez singled before Robinson Cano reached on an error by shortstop Stephen Drew on what should have been a double play.
Soriano then homered just inside the light tower in left-center. The blast was his eighth in 19 games for the Yankees.
“A big swing in the game,” Farrell said.
Rookie Drake Britton allowed three runs on five hits in the ninth inning.
As the Sox struggled to hold the Yankees down, Pettitte had a fairly easy time thanks to mistakes by the Sox.
Jonny Gomes had an RBI single in the fourth inning then was picked off.
Pedroia reached on a second error by Nunez to start the seventh inning. He scored on a single off the wall by Ortiz. Soriano easily threw out Ortiz going to second.
With two outs, Drew doubled. He scored after Mike Napoli walked and Jarrod Saltalamacchia singled to center.
With a chance to get the Sox back in the game against righthanded reliever Shawn Kelley, Farrell sent up lefthanded-hitting Mike Carp to hit for Will Middlebrooks.
Carp thought he was hit by the fourth pitch and went to first base. The umpires met and sent him back to the plate.
Carp was called out looking at a 3-and-2 pitch that appeared well off the outside corner. Carp threw his helmet and started shouting at umpire Bill Welke. He was ejected.
“It was the whole at-bat in general. That cannot happen,” Carp said.
Farrell did his best to dampen any dire thoughts.
“We’re not going to make wholesale changes,” he said. “We have to continue to go about our approach and that’s been proven to be successful over the course of the long run.”