April 24, 2004

Red Sox 11, Yankees 2. It's nights like Friday that make me wonder if Theo Epstein made a big fuss over Hideki Contreras knowing he might well turn out to be a bust for the Yankees. Probably not, but in their first trip to Yankee Stadium since last October, the Red Sox once again treated Contreras like a batting practice pitcher. The Cuban Con Man: "Of all my outings, this is the worst I've felt after one because aside from the fact I usually work hard, I worked extra hard and prepared myself." ... Could he still be tipping his pitches? Maybe he just sucks.

He pitched well to the first four batters -- six batters, if you're feeling charitable. In the first, he struck out Damon and got Mueller to pop to third and Ortiz to fly to center. He caught Manny looking to start the second, allowed a single to Burks and made a nice play on Varitek's little grounder to the far side of the mound. Burks had stolen second base (!), so at that point Contreras had two outs and a man on second. He walked Millar on five pitches and surrendered an RBI-single to Bellhorn on another 3-1 pitch.

In the third, Contreras walked Damon (who realized if Burks could steal a base, so could he (Reese swiped a bag in the 4th)). He walked Ortiz, but retired Ramirez and Burks to keep the score at 1-0. By this time, he had thrown 69 pitches. Contreras began the fourth by striking out Varitek (after falling behind 3-0). Then he fell apart. Millar clubbed an inside fast ball over the left field fence and Bellhorn followed three pitches later with a liner over the right field wall. Reese singled to right and stole second, and Damon walked. And that was that. ... Donovan Osborne came in and Mueller pounded his 1-1 offering to deep left for a 3-run homer and a 6-0 Boston lead. The Red Sox added a run in the 6th when Damon and Ortiz both doubled. Reese drove in two runs with a double in the 7th when Crosby fell down in center; Damon added a run-scoring single. Manny hit an opposite field solo homer in the 8th.

Contreras allowed 5 runs in 3.1 innings and actually lowered his career ERA against Boston -- from 20.24 to 18.00. He has pitched well against Tampa Bay and Detroit, but when it comes to top-tier lineups, Contreras has shown no evidence he can consistently compete. If batters recognize and avoid the splitter -- and Boston has done that every time out -- they can sit on the fastball. Also, with men on base, Contreras is less inclined to use his splitter, fearing a passed ball. The Yankee media can't stop talking about what great "stuff" he has, but I've never seen it. Maybe it's mental; maybe he is unable to shut out past performances (whether his last outing or the last batter) and push forward. All I know is that he is lousy against the Red Sox.

Lowe needed one inning to get into a groove. Crosby led off by grounding to second. [Torre has Jeter, Rodriguez, Giambi, Sheffield, Matsui and Williams in his lineup, but he bats Bubba Crosby at the top. Amazing.] Jeter lined to right, A-Rod blooped a double down the right field line, Giambi walked on 4 pitches and Sheffield lined out to Damon in left center. Not a very Lowesque inning, but he settled down. After Sheffield's liner, there were no outfield putouts until the final out of the seventh. In his last 4.2 innings, Lowe got 12 groundball outs and 2 strikeouts. ... In the sixth, Jeter struck out on four pitches, Rodriguez grounded out to shortstop and Giambi grounded out to first. All three players were heavily booed.

Boston led 10-0 after 6½ innings and it was raining. Lowe had thrown only 92 pitches, so Tito sent him out for the seventh. Sheffield singled and Matsui homered into the right field bleachers. Mike Timlin came on and retired the next 3 hitters. Timlin, who did not work in Toronto because of an upper respiratory condition, also pitched the 8th, allowing one single, but notching two strikeouts.

Lenny DiNardo made his major league debut in the 9th. Sheffeild grounded to third (Bellhorn, who had moved over in the 8th, made a strong throw from the foul line), Matsui struck out swinging and Williams grounded to third. ... DiNardo: "I can't even describe what I'm feeling right now. I come to ballpark and it's not even like a job. It's like fantasy camp for me, hanging out with all these guys. It's a dream come true."

New York is now under .500 (8-9) after 17 games for the first time since 1997, when they were 7-10. Because the Yankees have an off-day on Monday, Javier Vazquez will oppose Pedro on Sunday afternoon on three days rest, something he has done only once before in his career. On September 25, 1999, while with Montreal, he allowed five runs (three earned) on eight hits in six innings to Atlanta.

Trot Nixon faced both left-handed and right-handed pitching yesterday in Florida and could begin his minor league rehab assignment in Sarasota (A) next week. ... Nomar Garciaparra did some running and will rest today. ... Ramirez may DH today, with either Kapler or Crespo in left. ... Arroyo/Brown at 1:05 pm.

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