NEW YORK — Grady Sizemore lofted the fifth pitch of the game to center field Thursday night. Jacoby Ellsbury, who had just waved a friendly hello to his new friends in the bleachers at Yankee Stadium, settled under the ball and made an easy catch.
It was the start of what had to be a satisfying night for Ellsbury. He scored one run and drove in another as the Yankees beat the Red Sox, 4-1, before a crowd of 42,821.
The Yankees may ultimately come to regret signing Ellsbury for seven years and $153 million. But he made a significant difference Thursday as the ancient rivals met for the first time this season.
The 4-6 Red Sox were held to four hits for the second consecutive game and remained inconsistent offensively. Yankees righthander Michael Pineda pitched six strong innings before two relievers retired the final nine batters in order. David Phelps got seven outs for his first save.
Ellsbury, who didn’t speak to reporters after the game, claimed the final out, too, dashing in to snag a shallow popup off the bat of Xander Bogaerts.
“Obviously we’ve got to have better at-bats,” said Dustin Pedroia, who was 0 for 4.
That Clay Buchholz was significantly better than his first start didn’t matter on a night when the Red Sox advanced one runner beyond second base and struck out 12 times.
The Red Sox were 0 for 5 with runners in scoring position, dropping them to .202 on the season. It’s only 10 games, but the Sox have yet to find their footing offensively and the absence of Ellsbury batting leadoff is part of the reason.
Grady Sizemore was 0 for 4 atop the lineup, leaving Red Sox leadoff hitters 6 of 38 (.158) with four runs and one extra-base hit.
A team that found ways to win throughout last season is still searching for combinations that work.
“We’ve got to regroup and put together a better effort offensively,” manager John Farrell said. “The ability to string hits together is where we’ve been a little bit lacking. When we have, it’s been a couple of base hits wiped out by a double play at times. That’s kind of where we are right now.
“It’s not a lack of effort. It’s that things haven’t worked out the way we’re anticipating.”
The Red Sox didn’t make an issue of Pineda pitching with what appeared to be a glob of pine tar on his right hand. Television cameras picked it up, but the Sox claimed either ignorance or apathy.
Farrell said by the time he was told about it, Pineda had wiped his hand.
“I can’t say it’s uncommon that guys will look to create a little bit of a grip. Typically you’re not trying to be as blatant,” Farrell said.
Said David Ortiz: “Everybody uses pine tar in the league. It’s not a big deal.”
Given how weakly the Sox swung the bats, a foreign substance would have been superfluous.
In his Yankee Stadium debut, Pineda didn’t allow a hit until the fifth inning when Bogaerts singled. The 25-year-old retired the next five batters before Ortiz doubled to center with two outs in the sixth.
Mike Napoli, who had earlier walked, flew out to end the inning.
Down, 4-0, the Red Sox finally scored in the seventh when struggling Daniel Nava homered into the second deck in right field. That snapped a streak of five strikeouts for Nava. It was his second extra-base hit and RBI of the season. He struck out again in the ninth and is hitting .139.
Bogaerts followed with another single and Yankees manager Joe Girardi lifted Pineda after 94 pitches. Lefthander Cesar Cabral struck out A.J. Pierzynski and Jackie Bradley Jr. Phelps took over from there.
Pineda allowed one run on four hits with two walks and seven strikeouts. He has given up two runs over 12 innings in two starts after missing the better part of two seasons following shoulder surgery.
The Red Sox defense, also shaky this season, let Buchholz down in the fourth inning.
Ellsbury led off with a ground ball to third base that got through backup Jonathan Herrera. Carlos Beltran followed with a single before Brian McCann snapped an 0-for-14 streak with an RBI single to right field.
Beltran took third on the single and scored when Alfonso Soriano grounded into a double play.
Buchholz made his own trouble in the fifth inning. Dean Anna, New York’s rookie second baseman, lined a split-finger fastball over the fence in right field for his first career home run.
Derek Jeter doubled with two outs and scored on a single by Ellsbury.
Buchholz retired the side in order in the sixth inning and was done after 94 pitches. He was charged with two earned runs. He struck out six without a walk and allowed seven hits.
It was a vast improvement over his first start of the season, when Buchholz gave up six runs on 13 hits over 4⅓ innings against Milwaukee.
“Better power and action to his stuff through the strike zone, much more consistent location . . . I thought a positive step for him tonight,” Farrell said.
Buchholz said the improvement started in the days leading up to his start.
“Felt a lot better,” he said. “I felt, just in the last five days, arm strength and everything, it got a lot better. I felt a lot more comfortable with each pitch out there tonight.”Peter Abraham can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @peteabe.