Slide into second
Yankees seize first place as they drop Red Sox in series opener
The Red Sox already had a two-run lead on the Yankees last night when they loaded the bases in the bottom of the fifth inning, driving starter Bartolo Colon out of the game.
There were two outs but the Sox had their most productive hitter, Adrian Gonzalez, at the plate. The 38,006 fans at Fenway Park resembled spectators at a heavyweight title fight begging for a knockout.
Gonzalez had faced Yankees reliever Boone Logan with the bases loaded and two outs on June 8 in New York and drew a walk to force in a run. But this time he struck out on three pitches, taking a half-swing at a slider low and away. The Yankees had slipped the punch.
Given a chance, the Yankees scored three runs in the next inning and held on to beat the Red Sox, 3-2.
That’s eight straight victories for the Yankees and five losses in the last nine games for the Red Sox. For the first time since July 6, the Sox are in second place, and this afternoon will send John Lackey and his 6.23 earned run average against Yankees ace CC Sabathia.
“We’ve got two months to go,’’ said Gonzalez, who had been a voice of reason during the slump that started the season.
But with 51 games to play, the pennant race is on. The Yankees had lost seven straight against the Red Sox, six of them coming in New York. But they never went away.
“That’s a big win for us,’’ Yankees manager Joe Girardi said.
The Red Sox field the most productive offense in baseball but have scored just 12 runs in the last four games. After a 20-6 July, the Sox are 2-3 in August. One good swing from Gonzalez could have changed that. But Logan kept the Yankees in the game.
Gonzalez, who leads the majors with 91 RBIs, told himself to be patient with Logan. But he fell behind right away when the lefthander threw a fastball over the plate.
“He definitely was looking offspeed,’’ Logan said.
Gonzalez expected another fastball and got a slider that broke over the plate that he swung through. Logan went back to his slider for the final pitch.
“I said if I just throw this next pitch in the dirt, he’s going to swing over it, and he did,’’ Logan said.
The Yankees didn’t miss their opportunity in the next inning as Jon Lester (11-5) gave up three runs.
He took a two-hit shutout into the inning and had struck out seven. But he walked No. 9 hitter Eduardo Nunez after getting ahead, 0 and 2.
“That one obviously hurts,’’ Lester said.
Singles by Derek Jeter and Curtis Granderson cut the Red Sox’ lead to 2-1. Mark Teixeira then drew a walk on five pitches to load the bases. Lester fell behind Robinson Cano, 3 and 1, but worked his way back in the count. Cano then fouled off three full-count pitches before grounding into a double play as Jeter scored. Lester had a chance to escape the inning tied, but Nick Swisher grounded an RBI double down the third base line.
The 35-pitch inning ended the night for Lester.
“I really lost command,’’ he said. “They did a good job of being patient that inning.’’
Lester had won five consecutive starts against the Yankees, including two this season.
Once the Yankees had the lead, their bullpen locked it away as Rafael Soriano, David Robertson, and Mariano Rivera each pitched a scoreless inning.
Carl Crawford raised some hopes with an infield single off Rivera with one out in the ninth. But the Yankees closer overmatched Jarrod Saltalamacchia and Josh Reddick, striking them out looking.
The Red Sox had two hits over the final four innings.
“Their bullpen rose up,’’ Sox manager Terry Francona said.
It was different against Colon. Jacoby Ellsbury had an RBI double in the third inning, his 50th extra-base hit of the season. Ellsbury is the first Red Sox player with at least 50 extra-base hits and 30 stolen bases since Johnny Damon in 2003.
The lead grew to 2-0 with two outs in the fourth when David Ortiz fouled off two two-strike pitches from Colon then hammered a slider over the Red Sox bullpen in right field.
It was the 21st home run of the season for Ortiz and the 370th of his career. That tied him with Gil Hodges for 69th place all time. Ortiz had not hit a home run off a righthanded pitcher since June 12, when he connected against Toronto’s Kyle Drabek.
But the lead did not hold up. The Yankees, beaten down by the Red Sox all season, bounced back.
“Whatever happened in the past is in the past,’’ Rivera said. “Start counting now.’’