The New York Yankees have often started sluggishly in recent years, but not quite like this.
The last-place Yankees will try to avoid the longest losing streak of the Joe Torre era Saturday when they continue their three-game home set with the arch-rival Boston Red Sox.Boston (15-7) won Friday night's series opener 11-4 to improve to 4-0 with 32 runs scored against New York (8-13) this season. The Yankees have dropped seven straight games overall for the first time since the last seven contests of the 2000 season, The team was coasting to an AL East title and eventual World Series championship.New York has not lost eight in a row since Aug. 19-26, 1995, Buck Showalter's last season as manager before Torre's arrival.The skid has dropped the Yankees 6 1/2 games behind the Red Sox in the AL East, the same deficit they faced at the end of April two years ago after a 10-14 start. With another loss Saturday, though, New York would have its largest deficit in the season's first month since April 30, 1984, when it trailed Detroit by 10 1-2 games."This is when you find out how good a team is," said Yankees captain Derek Jeter, who went 3-for-5 Friday and has reached base safely in all 20 games he's played in 2007. "Things are going your way, it's easy to say: `Oh, this team is good. They just won 10 in a row.' This is when you find out about teams. We'll see how good we are."Poor pitching has been the biggest reason for the slide. New York's staff has compiled an 8.38 ERA and .337 opponent batting average during the seven-game losing streak, with 12 home runs allowed.The Yankees have also allowed six runs or more in eight consecutive games -- the first time they've done that since a franchise-record nine-game run June 8-15, 1933.The pitcher with the highest ERA on the team wouldn't seem the likeliest candidate to end the pitching woes, but that's just who the Yankees will rely on. Jeff Karstens (0-1, 14.54 ERA) gets the call as New York skips struggling Japanese left-hander Kei Igawa, who gave up seven runs in Monday's loss at Tampa Bay."I thought Karstens pitched a more controlled game the last time he pitched, as opposed to Kei," Torre said on the Yankees' official Web site. "Kei really struggled the other night. His stuff was fine, except that he just couldn't command it.We figured this would give him a couple times in the bullpen to work on some stuff with pitching coach Ron Guidry."Karstens may have thrown the ball over the plate last Saturday in Boston, but the Red Sox had no trouble hitting it. The right-hander threw 58 of his 89 pitches for strikes, but he yielded seven runs and nine hits -- including a David Ortiz homer -- over 4 1-3 innings of New York's 7-5 defeat.The Red Sox will counter with knuckleballer Tim Wakefield (2-2, 2.08), who is certainly no stranger to the Yankees with a 9-13 record and 4.60 ERA in 42 career appearances -- 25 starts -against them. He also has a 3.15 ERA at Yankee Stadium, second-lowest to Pedro Martinez (2.95) among active pitchers with a minimum of 10 starts there.Wakefield has produced a quality start in all four of his outings last season, but he lost to Toronto on Monday, giving up four runs and eight hits over six innings of Boston's 7-3 defeat."He pitched well, but his knuckleball wasn't the nasty knuckleball that he's had," said Doug Mirabelli, Wakefield's personal catcher.Although the Red Sox have won eight of 10 and own baseball's best record, Boston's players aren't getting too comfortable."Things can turn around at a moment's notice," said first baseman Kevin Youkilis, who had a two-run homer Friday. "We can't really worry about what they're doing. We have to do what we do best and hope that we keep winning."