Over the past eight years, Kevin Youkilis had hundreds of significant at-bats for the Red Sox. His first real important at-bat with the Yankees ended with him holding his bat in frustration and lightly slamming his helmet to the ground.
The intense reaction was caused by a fruitless at-bat with two on and two outs in the bottom of the seventh inning.
During the at-bat against Andrew Bailey, Youkilis fell behind 0-2 and on the fifth pitch he ended up chasing a high fastball. And thus a season of lowered expectations began with a thud.
Youkilis’s strikeout was one of 10 accumulated by the Yankees during a season-opening 8-2 loss to the Red Sox Monday afternoon at Yankee Stadium that had many heading for the exits before the conclusion.
The pivotal strikeout was one of three by the Yankees after the inning opened with consecutive walks. It also came after left-handed reliever Andrew Miller showed a willingness to pitch to third-place hitter Robinson Cano and struck out the most potent bat in the Yankee lineup with a 98 mph fastball.
“After two walks that inning where it looked like we might get something going, it ended up with three strikeouts in a row and that probably was the other difference in the game,” manager Joe Girardi said.
Youkilis’s day began with a decent hand in pregame introductions and a few of the “Youk” calls previously heard at Fenway Park. It continued with him leading off the fourth inning by doubling to center to cap an eight-pitch at-bat against Jon Lester.
“It was cool,” Youkilis said. “It was great. Yankee Stadium is a place where people dream to come play at. It was very enjoyable to go out there and it stunk in the end to come up short but this a great place to play. We just didn’t play the best ball possible today to win the game.”
While his first day in a meaningful game against the Red Sox may have been a big deal to fans, it hardly seemed that way to Youkilis.
“I’ve been playing Yankee baseball for over a month now so I think we need to move on past that,” Youkilis said. “I play for the Yankees now. I’ve had the uniform on for six weeks.
“I think we’re making it more than it is. I go out there and play. I don’t sit down and stare at my uniform all game. I don’t look and I don’t say, ‘Oh wow, it’s pinstripes, that’s pretty cool.’ I just go out and play baseball. That’s part of the business.”
Youkilis scored on Francisco Cervelli’s two-run double but that was the primary highlight on a day when the Yankees had six hits, stranded nine and went 2-for-9 with runners in scoring position.
Those not with the Yankees in their season opener a year ago (Youkilis, Vernon Wells, Ben Francisco, Travis Hafner, Ichiro, Jayson Nix, Lyle Overbay and Cervelli) were a combined 4-for-21.
“It’s one game, that’s the conclusion that I draw,” Girardi said. “You don’t make too much of it. Everyone wants to get off to a great start. Everybody wants to go 3-for-4 and drive in a couple of runs but it just doesn’t happen that way.”
Offense was not the only problem as the Yankees lost their first season opener at home since 1982, ending an 11-game winning streak.
The lack of offense by Youkilis and the lineup could not compensate for a laborious start by CC Sabathia. Sabathia allowed four runs — all in the second on his fastball — while laboring through five innings.
Poor starts in season openers are not a new thing for Sabathia, who lasted 4 2/3 innings in his Yankee debut four years ago in Baltimore. It just seemed more noticeable because of what a Yankee lineup missing Derek Jeter, Curtis Granderson, Mark Teixeira and Alex Rodriguez could not do.
“It was not one thing in particular,” Sabathia said. “I just got two outs and couldn’t make any pitch just to get them to hit a ball and hit at somebody. They put some good at-bats together and got some pitches to hit and put some good swings on it.”
Many fans in the crowd did not stick around for the conclusion of an ugly loss in rainy conditions.
“At the end it was ugly on the field and off the field and I don’t blame them for going home,” Wells said.
Follow Yankees beat writer Larry Fleisher on Twitter @LarryFleisher.