Red Sox Notes: Yankees’ Bullpen Looks Like Difference-Maker In AL East

BOSTON — Visions of a sweep, a 2 1/2-game deficit in the American League East and momentum continuing right through the All-Star break were replaced by a sudden sense of uneasiness.

The Red Sox’s season-high, four-game winning streak was snapped Friday night, as Boston suffered a 5-1 loss to the New York Yankees in the teams’ series opener at Fenway Park. The Sox also lost starter Clay Buchholz to right elbow tightness, though the extent of his injury is unclear.

It was a tough way for Boston to begin its most important series of the season. The Red Sox enter Saturday sitting 6 1/2 games back of the division-leading Yankees.

Let’s run down notes from Friday.

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— Alex Rodriguez opened the scoring with his 17th home run of the season. The Red Sox are 10-34 when failing to score the game’s first run.

A-Rod’s first-inning homer snapped Buchholz’s career-long stretch of eight consecutive starts without surrendering a home run. Buchholz hadn’t allowed a home run in his previous 60 1/3 innings.

— The Red Sox have lost their last five games against the Yankees, marking their longest skid against the Bronx Bombers since a five-game losing streak in September/October of 2012.

“This group has a good feel to it,” Rodriguez told reporters after the game. “It’s a hard-working group. It competes hard every night, and I think the key for us finishing the first half and also continuing into the second half is to stay hungry and humble.”

— The Yankees are 45-0 when leading after eight innings. Dellin Betances and Andrew Miller have been absolutely lights-out at the back end of New York’s bullpen.

Betances struck out two in a scoreless eighth inning. Miller struck out two in a scoreless ninth inning. The two relievers have combined to strike out 121 of 288 batters faced (42 percent) in 74 innings, which equates to 14.7 strikeouts per nine innings.

— The Red Sox’s bullpen is far less dynamic. Matt Barnes, who once looked like a potential impact power arm, struggled again with his command. He walked a batter and hit a batter upon entering in the eighth.

Robbie Ross Jr. settled down after a shaky fourth inning and Justin Masterson worked a 1-2-3 ninth inning, but the unit as a whole leaves much to be desired. The Red Sox simply can’t match up with the Yankees when it boils down to a battle of bullpens, and that could be huge the rest of this season.

— Buchholz’s injury and departure wasn’t Boston’s only problem in the fourth inning, even if it was the biggest issue. The Red Sox committed two errors in a very sloppy frame that allowed the Yankees to seize control.

Brock Holt botched a ground ball with the bases loaded and two outs. It should have been the end of the inning, but the Yankees instead increased their lead to 2-0 and added two more runs moments later.

“Just a play I should make,” Holt said. “It kicked up on me a little bit and I just wasn’t able to make a play. That gets us out of the inning there with no runs, so that was a big one.”

— Mookie Betts, who hit his 10th home run in the fifth inning, became just the sixth player in Red Sox history to have 10 homers, 20 doubles and five triples before the All-Star break.

He joined Ted Williams, Bobby Doerr, Ellis Burks, Nomar Garciaparra and Troy O’Leary.

— Betts continues to make strides in the outfield, but he also can’t catch a break. His throw home in the seventh inning hit the pitchers’ mound, marking the second time this week he’s drilled the mound.

“I’ve come a long way and I’ve still got a long way to go,” Betts said of his defensive progress. “I’m not going to be perfect out there. I’m happy with it. Obviously, I keep on hitting the mound, which is not the greatest thing. But it’s something that’s a work in progress.”

— Xander Bogaerts, who finished fourth in the American League Final Vote, extended his hit streak to eight games, during which he’s batting .412 (14-for-34).

Thumbnail photo via Bob DeChiara/USA TODAY Sports Images

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