Karstens burned by Sox in debut
Yankees got to Beckett early, but were slowed rest of way
BOSTON -- In the opinion of at least one veteran observer, the tempo of Jeff Karstens' effort on Saturday derailed not with David Ortiz's fourth-inning home run, but in a six-pitch sequence to the previous batter, Kevin Youkilis.
For the first two innings, the Yankees and Red Sox traded two-run punches like heavyweight contenders, but as the sun began to lower over Fenway Park, so did the offensive output. That made Boston's three-run fourth inning all the more pivotal in an eventual 7-5 Red Sox win.
"That, I thought, was the difference," Yankees manager Joe Torre said, absorbing defeat for the second time in a 24-hour span. "That's where their lineup showed up more than anything."
In the at-bat to Youkilis, Karstens buzzed a swinging strike past the Boston first baseman at the knees. But then, further exaggerating the learning curve for Karstens -- making his first start of the season after a bout with right elbow tendinitis cost him a shot at the Opening Day roster -- Youkilis worked the count with precision.
Pitch two missed inches off the inside corner. The third was a fraction low. Ball three was even lower, and after a foul, Youkilis sat on a pitch closer than the second, tossing his bat aside for a stroll to first base.
Three pitches later, Karstens grooved a thigh-high offering to Ortiz, who hooked a drive inside the right-field foul pole for a two-run homer, boosting the Red Sox to a three-run advantage. All Karstens could do was lament and reflect upon the Youkilis at-bat.
"I thought there were a couple of pitches that were close, but they probably were balls and a little down," Karstens said. "[Youkilis] had a good eye. What could I do? I could have put it over the plate a little more and take my chances with him, and not let Big Papi hurt me."
Karstens had said that he didn't mind making his season debut against the Red Sox, reasoning that he might as well be thrown into the fire right away.
But Ortiz may have made him reconsider. Big Papi reached the rookie right-hander for a two-run double in the first inning, delivered before Karstens had even retired a batter, and compounded the damage with his two-run homer in the fourth.
"He seems to be so patient for pitches up over the plate," Karstens said. "I made pitches down and he wouldn't offer at them."
Lumped in with Manny Ramirez, who was held to a harmless eighth-inning single in four at-bats, shortstop Derek Jeter recognized Ortiz as an ever-present thorn in the Yankees' sides.
"Both of them have done a lot of damage to us over the years, so I don't think you're more comfortable with one of them up than the other," Jeter said. "They're sort of a group. You're aware of it. You'd love to face those guys with no one on base all the time."
Julio Lugo had two run-scoring groundouts and Youkilis also had an RBI single against Karstens, who surrendered seven runs and nine hits in 4 1/3 innings. Karstens walked two and struck out four in an 89-pitch effort.
With the Yankees' rotation -- down veterans Mike Mussina and Carl Pavano, but with ace Chien-Ming Wang due back Tuesday -- spinning into damage control, the 24-year-old Karstens wasn't asked to be a savior, but the Yankees would have been satisfied if he'd been able to hold the floodgates against Boston's offense.
Karstens said he felt ready to take the ball as it was handed to him, but he was chagrined at how early in the contest he had to give it back. Torre said Karstens' velocity was where the Yankees saw it in Spring Training, but he lacked command.
"That was the report coming in: he's probably not as sharp," Torre said. "But in the situation we're in, we just wanted to make sure he's healthy. We felt he had enough different pitches that he could pitch well."
The Yankees pounced on Red Sox starter Josh Beckett for four runs through the first two innings, with Jason Giambi, Robinson Cano and Melky Cabrera collecting RBIs. It went back and forth through four half-frames; New York scores two, Boston scores two, rinse and repeat.
"It was just like a heavyweight battle fight," Alex Rodriguez said. "It seemed like the last man standing was the one that was going to win."
But Beckett settled in as he positioned himself for a perfect 4-0 start to the season. He allowed five runs (four earned) on nine hits over 6 2/3 innings, walking two and striking out seven, and shut New York down from innings three through six.
"He's got great stuff," A-Rod said. "His stuff is pretty electric. It seemed like he calmed down and got his rhythm a little bit. A guy like that, when you've got him on the ropes, you've got to try to knock him out. If not, he's going to get his confidence going."
The Yankees broke their scoring silence in the seventh, when Rodriguez tied a career high set in August 2003 for RBIs in a month, picking up his 31st with a single. Rodriguez went 2-for-4 with a double and has an extra-base hit in all but one of the Yankees' first 16 games.
"As I [can] say, he's in a good place right now," Torre said.
The defeat Saturday sealed the Yankees' series loss in their first meeting with the Red Sox this year, with just a Sunday evening contest left to serve as a salvage operation.
The trip to Boston hasn't been profitable for the Yankees, save perhaps for Rodriguez's individual statistics -- he became the first Bomber to hit safely in the team's first 16 games since Bobby Richardson did so in the first 17 contests of 1962 -- but maybe there was a silver lining in the pitching matchups the Red Sox used.
Coming into the series, the trio of Curt Schilling, Beckett and Daisuke Matsuzaka loomed as threatening, to say the least. But the Yankees have logged 10 runs (nine earned) and 17 hits in 13 2/3 innings against Boston starters over the first two games, with Matsuzaka's effort remaining as the weekend's great unknown.
"You've just got to keep going through it," Rodriguez said. "I think one positive is at least we get to see their best three right off the bat. It's always a great challenge going up against those guys, but I like what we're seeing with our young players. Hopefully those guys will help us down the road, too."
Bryan Hoch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.