Friday was a tough day for Red Sox Nation. In the start of a highly anticipated five-game series with the Yankees, Sox fans got a reminder of how thin the team’s pitching staff has become.

In game one, the Yanks rapped out 17 hits in a 12-4 dismantling of Boston. It was ugly, as Jason Johnson had trouble from the start (Johnny Damon ripping a lead-off triple to set the tone.) Things didn’t get much better after that as Kyle Snyder, Manny Delcarmen, and Rudy Seanez all struggled in a big way.

The nightcap was just as ugly from a pitching standpoint. John Lester gave up five runs in the second inning of his first-ever start against the New Yorkers, and couldn’t get out of the fourth inning.

Of course, he actually pitched 3.2 innings, and that was longer than Yankees starter Sydney Ponson lasted.

“This has not been a pitching duel, has it?” Donald Trump asked on NESN during the second game on Friday.

The Donald had a good point. Neither team has shown the kind of pitching that wins championships. The Red Sox certainly do have not the kind of pitching you need to start a stretch of baseball in which you face the Yankees five times in 76 hours. The AL East could hang in the balance.

Boston geared up for the showdown with a much-needed win over the Tigers, avoiding the sweep with a 6-4 win. David Wells didn’t pitch a gem (6.2 IP 10 H 4 ER 1 BB 3 K) but he pitched well enough to win. Leaving the game with two outs in the seventh, he got a long standing ovation from the crowd.

Has Red Sox Nation lost its mind? Is a 10-hit, four-run performance over 6-plus innings enough to bring us to our feet?

No. The standing ovation was not for that night’s work, it was for what David Wells represents. In many ways, he represents Boston’s post-season hopes. While Curt Schilling and Josh Beckett are the top-of-the-rotation guys expected to win every time out (although both have been far from automatic), Wells represents the rotational depth needed to compete. With a healthy and competitive Wells, Sox fans can breath a little easier. Lester can move towards the back of the rotation, where a 22-year old should be. And Tim Wakefield can ease back into things, building up endurance for the final weeks of the season.

While we can breathe easier with Wells pitching well, the bullpen can just plain take a breath. Wells has pitched an average of 6.1 innings in his last three starts. Last Friday, he threw seven strong against the Orioles. Remarkably, that was the only seven-inning performance by a Red Sox starter not named Curt Schilling since July 20th.

Think about that. You want to talk about the struggling bullpen? Let’s start with the fact that they’ve been pitching 3-plus innings virtually every night. That’s too much for any bullpen, let along one built on the shoulders of young pitchers.

Now the Sox are testing themselves against the varsity. When they took the game for the nightcap Friday, the Sox and Yankees were 41-41 since the start of 2003 (including 14 post-season games.) That sums up how close things have been.

There are plenty of new faces for this edition of The Rivalry, even some very new faces. Bobby Abreu and Cory Lidle never saw anything like this in Philadelphia. Javy Lopez can forget about his years in Baltimore and Atlanta. Eric Hinske jumped into the fray with three doubles in his first game with the Sox.

Strange things always happen when these teams meet. Think of Gary Sheffield going at it with Fenway fans, Don Zimmer charging Pedro Martinez, A-Rod taking Jason Varitek’s mask in the face, and Doug Mirabelli pulling his Superman routine to get to the ballpark in time.

There were no super-human efforts at Fenway. The Yankees once again exposed Boston’s biggest weakness – a lack of pitching depth. It’s usually a fatal flaw in baseball, and it’s been killing Red Sox fans for weeks.

Lewiston native Tom Caron is a studio host on Red Sox telecasts for NESN.


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