Saturday, August 7, 2010 Updated: August 8, 3:23 AM ET
No A-Rod is no help for Red Sox
By Gordon Edes ESPNBoston.com
NEW YORK -- When Yankees captain Derek Jeter was accidentally shot by a New York City cop, it was fiction -- a scene from Mark Wahlberg's new movie "The Other Guys" which opened this week.
John Lackey let the game get away from him in the fifth Saturday.
When Yankees slugger Alex Rodriguez was dropped by a line drive off the bat of a teammate, Lance Berkman, during batting practice, it seemed too good to be true for the Red Sox.
Rodriguez was drilled in the left shin when he turned to say hello to Fox broadcaster Joe Buck. Red Sox left fielder Bill Hall saw it all unfold on a closed-circuit TV in the batting cage in the visitors' clubhouse.
"They have a camera on the field during BP,'' Hall said. "There was no sound on the TV, so I couldn't hear it, and at the time I didn't know who hit the ball.
"He just turned his head for three seconds to say hello to Joe Buck, and by the time people said 'heads up,' it was too late. He was fortunate it hit him low.''
With the second-place Rays pounded by eight home runs in Toronto earlier and the Yankees' cleanup hitter writhing in the grass less than two hours before the start of Saturday afternoon's game, maybe John W. Henry's wished-for "miracle" wasn't so far-fetched after all.
But any advantage the Red Sox received from A-Rod being scratched from the lineup with what was called a bruised shin vanished on an afternoon in which Sox pitcher John Lackey complained of being "nickeled and dimed,'' Sox slugger David Ortiz groused about umpire Jerry Layne's strike zone and Yankees starter CC Sabathia cast a giant shadow on a Sox offense that failed to visit second base after the second inning.
"They still have a good team over there without him in the lineup,'' Hall said after the Red Sox fell back to six games behind the first-place Yankees, giving back the game they'd gained in the standings by winning the series opener Friday night. "I think their chances are better with him, but still, they've got a lot of guys. As of right now, Robinson Cano is the best hitter on their team. He's a tough out right now. It's a little bit different, but they've still got guys they can lean on who still do damage.''
Cano delivered the hit -- during a sequence of four consecutive two-out singles by the Yankees in the fifth inning -- that broke a 2-all tie between Sabathia and Lackey, who could barely contain himself as the Yankees kept hitting balls out of reach of his fielders.
"Nickeled and dimed to death,'' lamented Lackey, 1-4 in his past five decisions.
Curtis Granderson's triple to the right-center gap in the second inning, which drove in a run and led to another, qualifies as more valuable currency. The Yankees' last run, meanwhile, was penny-ante stuff. Granderson scorched a ball past second baseman Jed Lowrie in the sixth, stole second and went to third on catcher Victor Martinez's throwing error, then came home on a base hit by A-Rod's replacement, Ramiro Pena.
"Death" was a recurring theme in the Sox clubhouse, manager Terry Francona invoking the word to describe his feelings for Lackey.
"We love him to death,'' Francona said of the right-hander, whose ERA of 4.60 is in territory Lackey hasn't known since 2004 (4.67) and 2003 (4.63).
The affection the Yankees have for Sabathia, meanwhile, knows no bounds. The left-hander was touched for two runs in the second inning, the first coming on the second home run he has allowed this season to close friend Martinez, but then did not allow another Sox runner past first base before yielding to Mariano Rivera for the ninth.
Sabathia was especially merciless to Ortiz, who rolled into a double play in the first, looked at called third strikes in his next two at-bats, then went down swinging as the final batter Sabathia faced.
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On both occasions Ortiz was rung up by Layne, the crew chief working the plate, he took exception. Asked what he thought of Layne's strike zone, Ortiz emitted a sarcastic chuckle.
"You watch the game?'' he responded. "All right, make up your mind. That's going to be your homework for tonight, all right? Some things are ridiculous, just a joke.
"Swing at all kinds of [expletive], that's all you can do, man. Swing, swing, swing and good luck.''
The culprit named by Ortiz on Saturday was the pressure he believes MLB is placing on umpires to speed up the game. It's not the first time he's voiced that complaint.
"Pace time is killing the game,'' he said. "I guess you got to rush as a hitter now.''
Perhaps Ortiz wasn't accustomed to a Sox-Yankees game played in less than three hours -- a snappy 2 hours, 47 minutes. That's a pace far different than the one that caused umpire Joe West to moan back in April that these teams were responsible for games stretching beyond reason.
One day, a happy medium might be struck. In the meantime, the Sox face the unhappy prospect of losing more ground over the next two days to the Yankees, with or without A-Rod, who was still limping after the game.
You can trust, though, that the Sox will keep their heads up, especially during batting practice.
Gordon Edes covers the Red Sox for ESPNBoston.com. Follow him on Twitter.