BOSTON – Dustin Pedroia sat with teammates Cody Ross, Jarrod Saltalamacchia and Nick Punto in the Red Sox clubhouse before Game 1 of Saturday’s doubleheader against the New York Yankees, talking a little trash.

“These guys (stink),” Pedroia said to reporters, pointing at the trio. “They can’t get in the lineup.”

There were laughs and chuckles, since it was obvious the trio would play in Game 2 of the doubleheader.

Then Pedroia shrugged and looked down, mumbling something about not playing, either.

Pedroia wasn’t in either game, of course, not with a cast on his sprained right thumb.

The reality, all of a sudden, was not so funny.

And then came Game 1, which had no one giggling.

Following a 6-1 defeat to the Yankees, Boston found itself 9 1/2 games behind New York. By winning the second game 9-5, Boston cut the gap to 8 1/2.

This Red Sox team was expected to rebound from last September’s collapse. Remember all those NESN promotions featuring serious-looking players talking how important every game was?

Tough talk. But what Boston has is an average team, at best. That has to be frustrating to the manager.

“I’m not frustrated,” Boston Manager Bobby Valentine insisted. “I think we have a chance to win.”

Is Valentine trying to sound like the brave captain on a sinking ship? Maybe the ship isn’t sinking, but it keeps taking on water and can’t get up to racing speed.

For the moment, Valentine does not have Pedroia (out two weeks, the Red Sox hope), third baseman Will Middlebrooks or pitcher Clay Buchholz (both due back right after the All-Star break). Outfielder Jacoby Ellsbury and Carl Crawford remain out (and Crawford’s rehab was slowed by a tweaked groin muscle).

Challenging circumstances, especially for a team facing a doubleheader.

“Just the stuff that major league teams go through, and we’re going through it,” Valentine said. “Just part of the job. Trying to figure it out as we go.”

Boston’s best hope Saturday afternoon was to outpitch the Yankees. And there was a good chance for that, with hot Franklin Morales (four earned runs in three starts) facing the aging Freddy Garcia.

So what happened?

Morales gave up four first-inning runs and six overall in 3 1/2 innings. He had allowed no home runs in his previous three starts, but gave up four on Saturday.

“His fastball kept tailing back over the plate,” Valentine said.

In other words, why not just place the ball on a tee?

Morales looked pained after the game.

“I tried to throw my pitches and I missed,” he said.

And Garcia, 36, continues to rebound from a horrendous April (12.51 ERA). On Saturday, he put in his longest start (6 2/3 innings) of the year.

‘He was mixing (pitches) and keeping guys off balance,” Boston catcher Kelly Shoppach said. “Give him some credit.”

Shoppach paused.

“But we have to do a better job at the plate,” he said.

By winning Game 2, Boston ended a five-game skid. They had lost five straight and seven of the last nine. In those seven losses, the Red Sox scored two runs or fewer six times.

The pitching has been a season-long problem for Boston. Now the bats are inconsistent.

Meanwhile, the Yankees keep purring. Saturday afternoon’s game was their 30th in a row against a team with a winning record. And New York is 22-8 in those 30 games.

Saturday night’s game did not count in the formula, since the Red Sox dropped to 42-42 after the afternoon loss.

The Red Sox are simply average. And that’s no joke.

Staff Writer Kevin Thomas can be reached at 791-6411 or:

[email protected]

Twitter: ClearTheBases