NEW YORK — Jon Lester was in complete control for seven innings, the bullpen was close to perfect, and Adrian Gonzalez hit an important home run.
Saturday’s 4-1 victory against the Yankees was exactly what the Red Sox envisioned when they gathered for spring training seven months ago.
If only the game meant more than it did.
For the fourth-place Red Sox, it was a satisfying victory against their rivals and a painful reminder of what could have been as it improved their record to only 59-62.
“We need a lot more of this,” said Gonzalez, whose two-run homer in the first inning proved decisive. “A lot more.”
Lester allowed one run on five hits with two walks and four strikeouts. Now 7-10, he has won consecutive decisions for the first time since May 14 and 19.
“He looked like he was a very determined pitcher,” manager Bobby Valentine said.
With rookie Ryan Lavarnway catching, Lester mixed his pitches well and stranded five runners, all in scoring position. But when asked what Lester had going for him against the Yankees, Lavarnway didn’t mention his fastball, cutter, or curveball.
“He had a real good bulldog mentality,” the catcher said. “He went out there and he battled. It wasn’t always easy for him; had some runners on base. But when he needed a big pitch, he made it.”
Lester has allowed two runs in his last 13 innings, dropping his earned run average from 5.36 to 5.03. With approximately eight starts remaining, Lester can erase more of the stain from his season.
“Trying to focus on one pitch at a time. That’s all I’ve gotten back to,” he said. “It sounds like B.S., it sounds like a dumb answer, but that’s all I’ve gotten back to.
“Everything comes back down to good results and winning baseball games.”
Lester shut the Yankees out for three innings, working out of a jam in the first.
Derek Jeter walked and Nick Swisher singled before Lester struck out Robinson Cano, got Andruw Jones on a grounder to third, and struck out Casey McGehee.
“Huge,” Lester said. “Needed to get out of that inning.”
The Yankees scored in the fourth inning when Curtis Granderson, hitting sixth against the lefthander, homered to center field. It was the 32d of the season for Granderson, his 11th against a lefthander.
Lester took a 3-1 lead into the seventh inning. Granderson hit him hard again, lining a double to right field. When Russell Martin grounded to third base, Granderson waited for Nick Punto to make his throw and took off for third.
The return throw from Gonzalez was late. Jayson Nix popped up to shallow right field. Ichiro Suzuki then grounded to first base and Lester beat him to the bag to end the inning.
That left the Yankees 0 for 9 with runners in scoring position.
Andrew Bailey started the bottom of the eighth inning against the top of the Yankees order. It was his first high-leverage opportunity since coming off a seasonlong stay on the disabled list last week.
Bailey struck out Jeter swinging at a fastball before Swisher singled to center field for his third hit.
“Bailey striking out Jeter, I don’t see him strike out that many times in that situation, leading off an inning,” Valentine said.
Valentine dipped into the bullpen again, bringing in lefthander Craig Breslow to face the lefthanded-hitting Cano.
It was the right move. Cano swung at the second pitch, a cutter, and grounded to Gonzalez. As Cano jogged down the line, Gonzalez started a 3-6-3 double play to end the inning.
“I wanted to get him to hit the ball on the ground,” Breslow said. “The double play was a bonus.”
Cano is in a 1-for-23 slump. He is also struggling against the Red Sox this season, going 8 for 46 (.174) with one RBI in 11 games.
Credit the power of intelligence. Breslow and Lavarnway are the first all-Yale battery in the modern era of baseball. Breslow has a degree in molecular biophysics and biochemistry. Lavarnway was a philosophy major.
“I got a lot smarter having them out there, that’s for sure,” Valentine said.
Yale coach John Stuper texted both players after the game.
Alfredo Aceves finished off the Yankees for his 25th save.
David Phelps, a 25-year-old rookie righthander out of Notre Dame, got the start for the Yankees in place of the injured CC Sabathia. He acquitted himself well, allowing three runs on seven hits over 6⅔ innings and striking out seven.
The Sox took a 2-0 lead in the first inning. Carl Crawford, who has swung the bat well this month, singled with one out and stole second. Gonzalez then lined a fastball on the outside corner over the fence in left field for his 14th home run.
The shot gave Gonzalez eight home runs and 39 RBIs in 33 games since the All-Star break.
Pedro Ciriaco, who was 4 for 4, had a one-out single to left field in the fifth inning. Punto followed with a shot to right field that bounced up against the wall.
Ciriaco scored and Punto ended up on third base when Jones fumbled the ball.
The Sox added an insurance run in the ninth. Scott Podsednik led off with a single against Cody Eppley before Ciriaco’s hit-and-run double. With Punto at the plate, a wild pitch scored Podsednik.
The Sox are 4-7 against the Yankees, but have taken three of the five games at Yankee Stadium. They will try to take the series on Sunday night with Josh Beckett on the mound against Hiroki Kuroda.
The potential, as they showed on Saturday, is there.
“We’ve got it,” Valentine said. “We just haven’t it used it as often.”