The worst-case scenario was on display Wednesday, when Clay Buchholz failed to get out of the fourth inning and Julian Tavarez squandered a lead in the fifth inning as the Yankees beat the Sox, 15-9, in front of a sellout crowd of 54,667 at Yankee Stadium.
"Last year, at the beginning of the year, we did pretty well with guys giving us innings," Terry Francona said. "This year, even when we've won games, they've been hard to win."
Sox starters have lasted at least six innings just seven times in the first 16 games. Last year, Sox starters went at least six innings 12 times in the first 16 games, including eight consecutive times from Apr. 8-18.
Francona and the Sox aren't shocked by the relative brevity of the starters thus far. Buchholz and Jon Lester are each beginning a major league season in the rotation for the first time while Josh Beckett didn't pitch in an official spring game due to back and hip injuries. Tim Wakefield is 41 and was hampered last season by a tear in his right rotator cuff. And Daisuke Matsuzaka has rarely been a model of efficiency.
In addition, the Sox proceeded cautiously with the starters in Ft. Myers. "We didn't rush to get pitch counts up," Francona said. "We played deep into last year and we didn't want to pay the price this year."
Nor will Francona pay a hefty price by taxing Sox relievers to compensate for the struggles of the starters. That's why the rubber-armed Tavarez—who threw 2 2/3 shutout innings in relief of Lester in the Sox' comeback win over the Indians Monday—was called on to relief Buchholz with two outs in the fourth and why Mike Timlin, who is trying to regain his touch after opening the season on the disabled list, was left in to absorb a four-run ninth inning.
Francona was determined Wednesday not to use Manny Delcarmen (nine appearances), Hideki Okajima (eight appearances) or closer Jonathan Papelbon, who has thrown more than an inning in three of his six appearances after recording more than three outs just four times in 59 outings last year.
"We needed to stay away from some people," Francona said. "That's the best way to [hurt] a team…get the bullpen in tatters. That's the best way to ruin a team. I won't do that."
Buchholz gave up back-to-back homers by Bobby Abreu and Alex Rodriguez in the first inning but retired eight of nine following Rodriguez' blast. But the patient Yankees wore him down in the fourth, when he gave up four hits, including a two-out RBI double by Chad Moeller and a two-run single by Derek Jeter as the Yankees took a 7-3 lead.
"It seems every time that I got in a hole and I needed to throw a pitch for a strike, a lot of times they just got a bat on it, they fouled it off or make you come back with another pitch," Buchholz said. "That's what's so hard about pitching to lineups like this: They know how to swing the bat, put the ball in play and make things happen. And that's what they did tonight."
The Sox stormed back for six runs in the top of the fifth, when they chased Yankees starter Chien-Ming Wang with five hits in a span of 14 pitches. Ross Ohlendorf managed to strike out the side, but he also gave up a walk and two hits, including a go-ahead two-run single by Dustin Pedroia that gave the Sox a 9-7 lead.
But Tavarez frittered away the lead in the bottom of the inning, when the Yankees scored four times. Melky Cabrera's RBI fielder's choice grounder broke the tie, and Chad Moeller's wide slide into second caused Julio Lugo's relay throw to skip into the Yankees dugout, which allowed Robinson Cano to score the final run of the rally.
The Sox got only one runner as far as second the rest of the way and the Yankees piled on against Timlin in the eighth. Timlin's ERA rose from 20.25 to 27.00 (seven earned runs in 2 1/3 innings over four appearances).
Diehard managing editor Jerry Beach can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. To receive a free issue of Diehard, call 888-501-5752.
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