Sports Sportsin partnership with NESN your connection to The Boston Globe

Ace is wild

It's Martinez's turn to struggle

NEW YORK -- Slice it any which way and the pie looks the same. The piece that represents the odds of the Red Sox overtaking the Yankees for the division title after a lost weekend in the Bronx is skinnier than Calista Flockhart.

The Sox could do the math after their second straight crushing defeat with the division on the line, this one an 11-1 whupping by the Yankees before 55,142 witnesses on 161st Street, otherwise known to the boys from Boston as Blues Alley. After fading 4 1/2 games off the pace, Terry Francona's rambling rebels still could seize command of the American League East, but they might need to win their final 14 games and hope the Yankees lose at least four of their final 13 to do it.

They were realistic enough to acknowledge the obvious.

"They put us in the rearview mirror a little bit, which is what they needed to do," Francona said after the Yankees took two of three in the weekend blitz while outscoring the Sox, 27-8, and holding the most productive offense in the majors to a .200 average.

But in the eyes of Francona and Co., the rearview mirror is nothing like road kill. The Sox not only rule the consolation race for the wild card with a 5 1/2-game lead over the Angels, they still have Joe Torre's crew in their cross hairs.

"We're not knocked out of the race," Mike Timlin said after he was summoned to replace a faltering Pedro Martinez with none out in the sixth inning. "We're not knocked off a cliff. We lost two games. That's how we look at it. It's just another two games we have to make up."

But they may need better from Martinez to do it. In one of the shakiest outings of his career against his archrivals, Martinez experienced another first-inning flop and never fully recovered as he surrendered eight runs on eight hits, three walks and a hit batsman in a game the Sox sorely needed to win. Martinez never had allowed more than five runs in 25 starts against the Yankees.

"I wasn't actually hitting my targets and made a couple mistakes," Martinez said. "Some of them were good pitches they hit, but some of the others were just my fault." When Gary Sheffield hit a mistake from Martinez for a two-run shot in the first inning, the Yankees amassed all the runs they needed to make next weekend's three games at Fenway Park appear less threatening to them. The blast marked the eighth home run Martinez has allowed in 31 first innings this year. By contrast, he allowed only seven long balls in 168 first innings in his Sox career before this season, according to statistician Chuck Waseleski.

The maelstrom engulfed Martinez -- he found himself in an 8-1 hole by the time Timlin stepped in -- the day after Derek Lowe left the Sox empty-handed with an even uglier outing.

"I don't want to say we didn't put up a fight because we did, but we were out of these games and they weren't very competitive," Francona said. "That's a little frustrating for everybody." Martinez dropped to 10-9 in his career against the Yankees (the Sox are 11-18 against New York in his starts, including three in the postseason) as he surrendered three home runs to the Bombers for only the second time. The only other time was June 20, 2000.

"They were able to jump on him early," catcher Jason Varitek said. "You don't get away with much with that lineup."

Trailing, 2-0, in the third, Martinez surrendered a solo shot to Derek Jeter. Then the sky fell in the sixth as Martinez failed to retire the first five batters, sandwiching a pair of four-pitch walks around a two-run homer by Jorge Posada before he allowed a double to Ruben Sierra and a two-run single to Miguel Cairo. Timlin doused the flames in part by getting Sheffield to bounce into a double play, with the final run charged to Martinez scoring.

The results paled against the expectations for Martinez, who dropped a second straight start for the first time since June 14, 2002.

"It's not damaging at all," he said of dropping two out of three. "We were 10 behind and we came back. When a lot of you guys gave up on us, we somehow worked it out. Hopefully, we'll do that again. We still have another series back at home and hopefully we'll return the favor." It would help if they missed Mike Mussina, who followed Jon Lieber's gem the previous day with one of his own. Mussina improved to 3-2 with a 1.31 ERA in five career starts against Martinez by allowing the lone run on seven hits and a pair of walks over seven innings.

The Sox scored only after Orlando Cabrera blooped a ground-rule double down the right-field line leading off the fifth. Bill Mueller grounded to first to advance Cabrera to third and Johnny Damon one-hopped a hard grounder off Mussina for an RBI single.

The Sox produced no late thunder. No last-ditch rally. No momentum they might carry into tonight's opener of a four-game series against the Orioles at Fenway.

But they warned the skeptics to bury them at their peril.

"This race is nowhere near being over," Kevin Millar said. "This team doesn't get demoralized. This is the Sox. We keep our heads up." 

Today (free)
Yesterday (free)
Past 30 days
Last 12 months