- Wallace Matthews, ESPN Staff Writer
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BOSTON -- This is how silly things got at Fenway Park on Friday night after a sixth inning in which the Yankees didn't so much resemble a baseball team as the ducks at the wrong end of a shooting gallery.
"I turned to Javy Vazquez in the dugout and I said, 'You played some infield, didn't you?'" Joe Girardi reported.
He was not joking. At that point in the game, his team was leading 9-1, but the names on the lineup card were Thames and Pena and Cervelli and Winn. This wasn't some split-squad game in spring training, this was the real thing, against the Red Sox, in a series that could very well set the tone for the American League East race for the rest of the season.
And having already lost Curtis Granderson to a groin injury, Jorge Posada to a strained calf muscle, Mariano Rivera to some tightness in his back and earlier in the same game, Nick Johnson to a sore wrist, Girardi was now without the best hitter in his lineup, Robinson Cano, victim of a wayward Josh Beckett fastball that plunked him so hard in the right knee it hurt the witnesses in the press box.
The thought must have crossed a few minds that maybe Boston's nefarious plan, after all, was to knock as many Yankees out of the game as possible, concede the first one and come back to win the next two against a lineup of subs, scrubs and guys just up from Triple-A.
But that wouldn't make any sense, now would it? Beckett couldn't be that stupid, or that crazy, as to throw at guys with the bases loaded just for the sake of some nebulous potential benefit down the road ... could he?
It was ludicrous and inconceivable, but really, no more inconceivable than the idea that a pitcher as gifted as Beckett could pitch with absolute pinpoint control for five innings and then turn it into a game of dodgeball in the sixth.
"I don't know if I've ever seen that in a guy who's pitched at an extremely high level for a long time the way he has," Girardi said. "He just seemed to lose command."
Or, perhaps, his mind. At least some of the Yankees seemed to think so, rising almost as a unit to the top step of their dugout as Beckett first kneecapped Cano and then, five batters later, buried one in Derek Jeter's ribs to force in the Yankees' sixth run of the game.
The Yankees would go on to win 10-3, behind another solid pitching performance by Phil Hughes, their third win in four meetings with the Red Sox so far this season, but after the game, most of the talk centered on what they had lost -- as in healthy bodies.
"Anytime you consistently see guys getting hit and hurt, Cano going down tonight, our hottest hitter, it's a little frustrating," said Hughes, whose seven innings of two-run ball improved his record to 4-0 with an ERA of 1.69. "The purpose was going inside, I assume, and sometimes it gets away from you. But there was nothing that called for any retaliation tonight."
"No one hits anyone with the bases loaded," said Jeter, always the epitome of logic. But Beckett's Jekyll-and-Hyde job defied logic and made a mockery of common sense.
For the first five innings, Beckett seemingly could have placed any pitch he wanted between the eyes of a rattlesnake. He struck out five of the first six batters he faced, and for five innings, his strikes-to-balls ratio was sick, 54 to 22.
But things began to sour after Nick Swisher hit a flat curveball over the center-field fence with two out in the fourth to give the Yankees a 3-0 lead. By the sixth, Beckett was a full-fledged wild man, throwing 18 of his 30 pitches that inning for balls, walking two batters (one intentionally) and plunking both Cano and Jeter.
By the time Terry Francona came to get him, a 3-1 game had turned into a 9-1 rout, safe even for David Robertson, who came on to pitch the eighth and allowed a run, and Boone Logan, who mopped up in the ninth.
As they did on the opening weekend of the season, the Yankees looked superior to the Red Sox in nearly every category, including starting pitching, the one in which they were expected to lag.
But now, there is one category in which they are decidedly running second: bench strength. Conceivably, Saturday afternoon's game will feature Ramiro Pena at 2B, Marcus Thames at DH, Cervelli at catcher and some as-yet-unnamed call-up on the bench serving as an emergency infielder.
"My card's a little short right now," Girardi said. "I sure would welcome some guys coming back."
But that is not likely to happen anytime soon. Johnson, who has a history of problems with his right wrist -- he missed all of 2008 with a ligament tear -- is headed back to New York for an MRI and a stint on the DL. Cano, who limped out of the clubhouse with an ice pack on his knee, is day to day at best.
Girardi couldn't even commit to Posada's return from the calf strain that all week long has been characterized as "minor" and still has cost him four games and counting.
It puts a lot more pressure on the starting pitching, which minus Vazquez has been stellar so far, but now must work with the burden of knowing there is not much behind them to fall back on.
"It's frustrating, but no one's going to feel sorry for us and we're not going to feel sorry for ourselves," Girardi said. "Other teams go through it, too. We just got to keep playing hard and eventually, we'll get everyone back."
Hopefully, before everyone gets it in the back.