One game into 2013, Yankees' season already looks different

Kevin Youkilis reacts after striking out to end

Kevin Youkilis reacts after striking out to end the seventh inning. (April 1, 2013) (Credit: Getty Images)

Jacoby Ellsbury has played more than three dozen games in the Bronx as part of the Yankees-Red Sox rivalry, and this year's Opening Day stood out for two reasons.

The missing Yankees at the start, and then the missing fans at the end.

It began without Derek Jeter, Alex Rodriguez, Mark Teixeira and Curtis Granderson in the Yankees' lineup because of injuries. And then it ended without too many fans in the stands, driven away by the combination of the impending 8-2 loss and the sudden burst of cold, wind and rain.

"It's different when the starting lineups are getting announced and some of the familiar faces are not in the lineup," Ellsbury said. "Those are great players."

Then in the ninth inning, Ellsbury stood in centerfield and took note of the unusual calm setting around him, what with only Red Sox fans -- and a scattered few Yankees supporters -- remaining in Yankee Stadium for the final outs.

Seeing the stadium devoid of Yankee pinstripes in the crowd is something Ellsbury admits he's witnessed "not too often. Usually they sit through the rain. Maybe it got a little cold for them, I don't know."

That made for a surreal scene at Yankee Stadium: a makeshift team in pinstripes on the field playing out a loss before empty seats.

It's obviously way too early to tell whether the emptiness of the Yankees' Opening Day -- both in terms of fans and offensive firepower -- proves to be an anomaly or typical this season. It's only one game out of 162, of course.

But this much is certain: For the first time in a while, the Yankees are entering a regular season in need of a fast start, and this Opening Day loss was anything but.

"Everyone wants to go 3-for-4 and drive in a couple of runs, but it doesn't always happen that way," manager Joe Girardi said. "So we'll come back to work Wednesday night."

When they resume their three-game opening series against the Red Sox then, the Yankees will still be without the injured Jeter, A-Rod, Teixeira and Granderson, and it will stay that way for at least a few more weeks, maybe more.

That means these Yankees have to find new ways to score runs than they have in the past, a mindset that Girardi wants his new-look Yankees lineup to embrace. The days of relying on the home run are in the past -- more than 100 home runs departed in the offseason. Now they must focus on producing runs in more creative ways.

"Yes, we are a different type of lineup, there's no doubt," Girardi said. "We're not a club that is just going to hit home runs. We're going to have to score runs other ways."

And what if they don't small-ball their way to victories? Well, the Yankees witnessed the worst-case scenario in the ninth inning Monday afternoon, playing before a near-empty stadium. Not that anyone on the Yankees' side faults the fans for leaving.

"The crowd was into it until the weather got bad," Kevin Youkilis said. "It was ugly out there weather-wise and that got the crowd out of it. But the crowd, they were cheering for us the whole time."

Girardi also blamed the turn in the weather conditions, and not the home team's performance, for the fans fleeing for the exits. "It got kind of raw in a sense," he said. "It is a school night as well. It started raining. I don't think that's unusual in a sense."

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