Soggy affair ends in sordid fashion

Soggy affair ends in sordid fashion

NEW YORK -- Johnny Damon timed his leap for Kevin Youkilis' deep drive in the third inning, crumpling to the warning track after greeting the blue padded left-field wall at Yankee Stadium.

For an instant back on the infield, Darrell Rasner exhaled. In the dugout, Joe Girardi did the same, waiting for an out signal that never came.

But Damon frantically searched his glove for a missing baseball, and would never have thought to look where it actually was --- sitting motionless, for a few split seconds, on the top of the fence. The bizarre play derailed the Yankees, who watched the Red Sox pull away a little more in a 6-4 defeat on Independence Day in the Bronx.

"It definitely is a letdown that we did not win, especially a team that we're trying to chase," Damon said. "Their lead is growing on us and that means Tampa Bay is growing on us too. We've got an uphill battle going up against two very good teams -- two teams that are possibly more athletic than us."

Returning to work after Girardi closed the clubhouse following Thursday night's game to address the club's inconsistency, the Yankees got to Beckett early, firing out of the gate with three early runs and perhaps a surge of renewed energy. It didn't last for very long.

Rasner struggled in his first career appearance against Boston, allowing six runs on 10 hits in five innings as his troubles continued at the back end of New York's rotation. After beginning the year 3-0, Rasner fell to 1-7 in his past eight starts.

Boston touched the right-hander for three runs in the third, highlighted by the ball-on-the-wall play. Had the Yankee Stadium dimension plans provided Damon with a couple more feet of real estate, the game may have turned out differently.

Instead, Damon slammed his left shoulder into the wall, suffering a contusion and sprain to his AC joint. Youkilis raced around the bases, two runs scored and the ball flipped up to the top of the wall, dropping to the warning track as a fan pointed frantically to Damon through the plexiglass windows.

"I thought he had it," Rasner said. "Then he falls down, and I look up and the ball is on top of the fence. It was kind of a weird play. I've never seen it before."

Youkilis chugged in with a triple and Damon walked off the field, en route to have an MRI performed in Manhattan. He said that there was considerable pain and inflammation in the joint, but luckily no separation, as some originally feared. Either way, he will not play Saturday and perhaps not until after the All-Star break.

"This could be a big trouble spot for us," Damon said. "I know the team would like to have me at the top, but now we have to look to the other guys to take pitches and have quality at-bat after quality at-bat."

Boston opened up the lead in the fifth inning when Lowell crushed a three-run homer, his 13th, over the left-field wall on an inside fastball.

Rasner walked three and struck out two in the start, with his ERA rising to 6.23 over his past eight starts.

"I've been on and off," Rasner said. "I'd like to get some consistency here. That's my whole thing right now. I'd like to get going on that and hopefully hit a hot stretch."

Girardi said that Rasner would make his next turn, and the skipper lamented that Rasner's line could have been better, had the third inning progressed alternately.

"He just got too much of the plate a little bit today," Girardi said of Rasner. "If the ball stays in Johnny's glove, it's a different line there as well. Johnny's effort was unbelievable -- he ran into that wall at full speed.

"It's not a catch that you're probably going to make, but Johnny's effort was unbelievable. Unfortunately, he didn't have another step to the wall to secure it."

In the first-inning outburst, Alex Rodriguez stroked a two-run double to drive in Damon and Bobby Abreu, and Jason Giambi came through with a sacrifice fly -- all the Yankees managed against Beckett. The ace settled in to hurl six strong innings, allowing four hits while walking two and striking out four.

New York got Beckett's pitch count up in the fourth, loading the bases on a hit, walk and hit-by-pitch, but Beckett pitched out of trouble, getting Jose Molina to ground out to end the inning.

The Yankees had another opportunity in the seventh, with Hideki Okajima struggling to find the strike zone. Okajima got Abreu to pop to first base with the bases loaded and one out, and with rain falling more heavily, Manny Delcarmen induced Rodriguez to ground out to third base, ending the inning.

Play halted for one hour and 28 minutes with Boston batting in the eighth, and when Edwar Ramirez held the Red Sox scoreless in a two-inning appearance, the Yankees seemed to find one gasp in the ninth.

Jonathan Papelbon recorded the first two outs, but rookie Brett Gardner -- who entered for Damon after the wall play -- worked a full-count walk. Derek Jeter smashed a sinking line drive to center field that Coco Crisp appeared to catch for the final out, but it was ruled a trap and an RBI single.

Provided new life, Abreu worked the count to 1-2 before hitting a loud fly ball to center field. This one, there was no question about, as Crisp trotted back and secured the ball visibly, sending the Yankees to their fifth loss in their past six games.

"You can't hit the ball much harder than Bobby hit it," Girardi said. "Unfortunately, he hit it to the deepest part of the ballpark."

There was little display of Girardi's anger after this defeat, no contentious exchange with reporters, though he insisted all of the losses have irked him. The effort may be there, but the results are still lacking, and so the flicker of impatience burned on.

"I thought we played hard, and I think we played hard all year," Girardi said. "It didn't seem to go our way today. It's another loss and we need to start winning games."

Bryan Hoch is a reporter for This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.