NEW YORK – This was supposed to be the payoff.
The contract, the rehab, and the seven previous starts were all leading to Thursday night’s showdown with the only team that Red Sox fans truly care about seeing their team beat – the Yankees.
It didn’t work out. For John Smoltz, it hasn’t worked out.
"I'm pretty humbled right now with the way things have gone," said Smoltz after the Red Sox’ 13-6 drubbing at the hands of the Yankees Thursday night at Yankee Stadium. "I don't like to use the word embarrassed, but I have a lot of pride and I certainly don't like letting somebody down."
Smoltz finished his night having gone just 3 1/3 innings, giving up eight runs on nine hits. It marked the first time in his career that the 42-year-old had allowed five earned runs or more in four straight starts. Suddenly the Red Sox’ jubilation in beating the Yanks in the teams’ first eight meetings this season was a distant memory.
Smoltz is now 2-5 with an 8.32 ERA. Left-handed hitters have totaled a .444 batting average against him. And after holding hitters to a .246 batting average the first time through the lineup, the number jumps up to .397 the second time, and .390 for the third go-round.
One scout who saw Smoltz, and has seen him multiple times this season, observed that hitters are just letting the hurler’s trademark slider go until they get what has become a very hittable fastball. It was a strategy New York’s Johnny Damon admitted the New Yorkers took.
“I think when he struck me out in the first (inning) we got an idea of the way he was going to pitch. He threw me a nasty slider 3-2 and Teixeira walked right afterward. Then it seemed like the lefties were able to lay off (the slider) later on in the game,” Damon said.
“He still has some pretty good stuff. It just seemed like later on in the game he wasn’t spotting his pitches as well and we were able to get a few runs off him and then the pitching change happened.”
So what is Plan B?
With his effectiveness the first time facing hitters, it would appear the value that can be derived from Smoltz the rest of the way might be as a member of the bullpen. But then there is that tricky matter of who starts.
Michael Bowden had his roughest outing of the season on Wednesday in Pawtucket, giving up six runs over just three innings.
Tim Wakefield’s calf still isn’t letting him move to a degree that would suggest he could field his position.
And Daisuke Matsuzaka and even newly-acquired Paul Byrd won’t be viewed as viable solutions until at least three or four more times through the rotation.
Unfortunately for the Red Sox, this, the latest reality check in a week full of them, told a story they didn’t want to hear – that of a team that’s 3 1/2 games out of first-place with few solutions in sight regarding one of its biggest problems, back of the rotation starting pitching.
"This is a result-oriented business," said Smoltz. "This is an organization that expects high standards and I expect them of myself. I'll be the first to say that these last few games -- they all haven't been like this. This is probably the worst result game that I've pitched. You don't want to do it here."
ONE MORE DAY FOR ORTIZ
Right when the clubhouse opened, David Ortiz asked to spread the word.
“Nothing today,” he said. “Like I said, when I find out something I’ll let you know.”
Well, whatever Ortiz knows about how he got on the list of 103 players who tested positive for performance-enhancing drugs in 2003 finally will be verbalized Saturday at Yankee Stadium.
Greg Bouris, a spokesman for the Major League Baseball Players Association who was in the Red Sox’ clubhouse prior to Thursday night’s game, said that Ortiz will address the media in a press conference along with incoming union chief, Michael Weiner.
Later in the afternoon, Ortiz, who was in a spirited mood throughout the pregame, was surrounded by the throng of media – local and national – looking to see if Ortiz would comment on his situation at all. But all they got was the slugger sitting in front of his locker, uttering few words before sending the gathering scattering by cranking the music atop his cubicle.
But after, Ortiz was much more forthcoming regarding how he felt.
“We’re going to figure things out and move on,” he said. “I’m not going to keep this in my head my whole career. It’s not like I have 10 years left, but it’s the kind of situation that gets you frustrated…I’m going to let you guys know what I’ve got, period.”
Ortiz went 0-for-5 and is currently 3-for-23 on the current road trip. At least some of the struggles, he said, can be attributed to the pressure put on by the revelation that he was one of the players who tested positive for performance-enhancing drugs in ‘03.
“Sometimes,” he said when asked if the news has become an albatross. “But I just don’t think about it, go back out there and fight.
“I’m feeling good. I’m feeling good. Things are happening, but I feel good. I don’t want to put too much in my head right now, there’s no time for that. We’re running out of time.”
Ortiz was heartily booed by the sell-out Yankee Stadium crowd in each of his five at-bats, yet that part of the environment didn’t seem to put a dent in the slugger’s psyche.
“I don’t care. You get that every time you come to New York. Actually, this time it wasn’t like it (usually) is,” he said. “I was expecting something worse. I come out early to the field and you see the fans come right to me, even Yankees fans. ‘You’re the best.’ ‘Just hang in there.’ It’s all kind of the stuff you want to hear. That never changes.”
As for the plight of his team — which is now 3 1/2 games in back of the Yankees — Ortiz tried to reel in some of the panic.
“When you lose games of course you worry about we should have done better,” he said. “After you lose there’s nothing you can do but pick up your head and come back the next day and fight back.”
LOWRIE IS WORRIED
During his first at-bat Jed Lowrie felt numbness in his left hand. In his second at-bat it got worse. That’s when the Red Sox shortstop knew it was time to call it a night.
The pain Lowrie experienced ran from the middle of his left forearm down the side of his hand all the way to the end of his pinky. It encompasses the same wrist on which he had surgery earlier this season.
“I’ve always tried to have an approach of tomorrow is a new day and figure out what the problem and get it fixed, but it’s frustrating,” said Lowrie, who was slated to talk with Red Sox manager Terry Francona to find out what the next step would be. “I can’t sit here and tell you I’m not frustrated, but I have to figure out what’s going on and get it better.”
It wasn’t the first time Lowrie had experienced such pain, having dealt with it late in a game against Oakland a week before. But when the problem cropped up late in that game, he dealt with it until the next day, and after that the problem began to dissipate… until Thursday at Yankee Stadium.
“I told (trainer) Paul (Lessard when it happened against Oakland), but like I said it didn’t happen until the eighth inning and I didn’t have any more at-bats and I just had to play the field. It was still a little numb the next day and more painful, but after a couple of days it felt better. I don’t know if this was something new or if the first time never got better.”
Lowrie was replaced at shortstop by Nick Green in the fourth inning after striking out in both of his at-bats.
AN OUTFIELD IN FLUX
The Red Sox need healthy outfielders, and that is why Rocco Baldelli and his bruised left ankle (the result of fouling a pitch off of his foot on Wednesday) went on the 15-day disabled list Thursday. Even though such a maneuver might not have been necessary at another time, the Sox were already playing with a hampered J.D. Drew and Jason Bay. Bodies were needed.
So, Baldelli went to the D.L. and Josh Reddick returned.
And Kevin Youkilis went to left field.
Youkilis had last played in left back in 2006, when a Manny Ramirez hiatus forced him to man the position 18 times. He did play in two games in right field last season.
“Best-case scenario,” he said, “nothing gets hit to me.”
No such luck. While Youkilis didn’t make any putouts, he was tested in the third inning when he played a Mark Teixeira drive off the wall, grabbed it in front of centerfielder Jacoby Ellsbury, and rifled it in.
While Youkilis said he did have an outfielder's glove back in Boston, he said he hasn’t used it in a game and planned on using one of his teammate's mitts this time around.
"So I'm back there talking to Youk and Youk was laughing and said, 'Is this one of those things where I need to play the outfield again?'" said Francona. "It's a way of getting a lot of good bats in the lineup. And he's willing to do it, which amazes me. So I just told him, 'You know what, we'll do it. And I said, 'If you make an error out there, send the [media] to me, because it's my fault.'
"I also think we'll go out and play with a lot of energy and try to figure out a way to win the game. I think you can figure out by the way I'm saying it, it's appreciated what he's doing."
The sight of Youkilis in the outfield has the potential to crop up at least one more time this series, with left-handers C.C. Sabathia and Andy Pettitte pitching for the Yankees, Saturday and Sunday. The left-handed hitting Reddick -- who came on in the seventh inning -- would figure to get the start Friday vs. righty A.J. Burnett.
As for Bay, the Red Sox are executing caution regarding how much they test the outfielder's injured hamstring.
"I guess there's a chance he could miss the whole weekend," said Red Sox manager Terry Francona. "I don't think we need to say that right now, because there's a chance he could play. I don't think he's going to play the next couple of nights. When we play a guy like we did last night, and he takes a step backwards, we're not real thrilled with ourselves. So we're trying to be careful.
"I don't think anybody thought Bay is remotely close to a DL [stint], but he's probably in that [in-between range], four, five, six days. If it's four, and he needs another one, we want to be able to give it to him. [There's] nothing worse than waiting three or four days and then being one day too quick. That doesn't make a lot of sense."
OLD AND NEW FOR PEDROIA
It was like old times for Dustin Pedroia, except the eighth-inning reunion wasn’t exactly full of school fight songs and reminiscing about memories gone by. In the eighth inning, with the game out of hand, two pitches made things a bit more interesting.
Yankees pitcher Mark Melancon — a former University of Arizona reliever who Pedroia hit well while at rival Arizona State — first threw a pitch over the Sox’ second baseman’s head before hitting him in the left shoulder.
Pedroia immediately yelled out Melancon, “That’s two (expletive) times, (expletive)!” while being escorted down the first base line by New York catcher Jorge Posada. The incident led to Francona coming out to show his displeasure, while also checking on the health of his No. 2 hitter at first base.
“It was kind of surprising, obviously,” Pedroia said. “It goes over your head and that’s not really anything to mess around with. I don’t know why they would be throwing at me, if they were, especially in that situation. It’s a blowout. That’s fine.”
Pedroia was having a fairly big night up until that point, having doubled in his first at-bat, and then hitting the first opposite field home run of his life in the third inning for the game’s initial run.
So, did Pedroia think Melancon was throwing at him?
“I don’t know,” he said. “That’s really not my concern. My concern is the way we’re playing. We’re not playing very good. I’m not going to say anything about that. We’ve got bigger issues to handle than a couple of balls getting away from a guy. We’ll come out tomorrow and play good.”
And about that home run …
When Pedroia notched his solo homer in the third inning off of Joba Chamberlain, it was his first opposite field long ball of his major league career. It was also the first time he hit a homer going the other way since ... college? high school? Little League?
Actually, it was the first time he had "gone oppo" in his life.
This is what he wrote when blogging for WEEI.com during the World Baseball Classic:
"Even after that first game I felt a little out of sync. That carried over for the first four at-bats of Sunday night’s game, even on the last of those when I hit a double down the left-field line. But then in my last two at-bats I started feeling better. I crushed a ball to the right-field fence. Now, a couple of things about that fly ball …
"The first is that during the season I would have definitely had an idea if that ball was gone or not. But in this case I thought it was over the fence. Just another part of the game you have to slowly get used to.
"Second, it is a little known fact that I have never hit an opposite field home run in my life. Not one. So when the ball left the bat not only did I think it was a home run, but I also immediately thought that I was in the process of making my own personal history with my first opposite field bomb. I thought, ‘There it is!’ Then Bobby Abreu catches it at the wall … shoot!"
Rookie of the Year. MVP. And now, opposite field home run. What else is there?
BONUS: HAGADONE MAKES FIRST START FOR LAKE COUNTY
Nick Hagadone, the former Sox first-rounder who went to Cleveland in the Victor Martinez trade, made his first appearance for Single A Lake County. Hagadone went three innings, giving up one run on three hits while striking out five and not walking a batter.