Five home runs back Sabathia in 8-4 win

New York Yankees' Alex Rodriguez is congratulated by New York Yankees' Alex Rodriguez is congratulated by teammates after his two-run home run off Boston Red Sox starter Josh Beckett during the fifth inning of a baseball game at Fenway Park in Boston, Sunday. (Aug. 23, 2009) Photo Credit: AP

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BOSTON - The Yankees weren't saying so afterward, focused instead on the irrefutable fact that there's still "a lot of baseball to play."

But almost as irrefutable is this: The Yankees might have delivered a knockout blow to the Red Sox last night as far as the AL East is concerned, doing so in a most surprising way against their rival's top gun and making "0-and-8" seem about as relevant as anything that happened in 2008.

The Yankees hit five home runs off Josh Beckett and scored in each of the first five innings in beating the Red Sox, 8-4, at Fenway Park.

The Yankees (78-46), who started the season 0-8 against the Red Sox, took two of three games in the series after sweeping Boston in a four-game series two weeks ago and left town with a 7½-game lead.

"We were 0-and-8 before all this started, and to be able to win six out of seven is really good," manager Joe Girardi said.

Hideki Matsui hit two home runs and Derek Jeter, Robinson Cano and Alex Rodriguez also homered to account for six of the runs. Jeter homered on Beckett's first pitch of the game and Matsui did the same on Beckett's first pitch of the second inning. Matsui hit four home runs and drove in nine runs in the three-game series.

The five home runs allowed by Beckett was a career high. "When we got pitches to hit,'' Jeter said, "we didn't miss them."

CC Sabathia (15-7) was solid enough, staying away from the major mistakes that plagued Beckett. He allowed four runs (three earned) and eight hits in 62/3 innings, walking none and striking out eight. Beckett (14-5) gave up eight runs and nine hits in eight innings.

Jeter started the attack against Beckett, who allowed seven runs in his previous start against the Blue Jays, by launching the righty's first pitch into the Red Sox bullpen in right-center for his 16th homer.

It was Jeter's 2,700th hit as a Yankee - he added No. 2,701 in the third - and he trails only Lou Gehrig (2,721) in that category. He is 18-for-35 in his last eight games and 27-for-54 in his last 13.

Then Matsui continued his hot stretch since having his left knee drained last week in Seattle, making it 2-0 with his first home run of the night.

"I felt like the concentration level of the team was different," Matsui said through his interpreter, Roger Kahlon. "I think whatever he left in the zone, hittable pitches, everybody was just able to put a good swing on it and hit the ball hard."

In the second, Mike Lowell hit a two-out double high off the Green Monster and Rocco Baldelli singled him home to make it 2-1. Jason Varitek followed with a double down the rightfield line that allowed Baldelli, running on the pitch, to score from first and tie it at 2.

With one out in the third, Jeter, Damon and Teixeira had consecutive singles to make it 3-2 and put runners on second and third, as Teixeira advanced on the throw home. Rodriguez's groundout made it 4-2.

Cano pushed the Yankees' lead to 5-2 in the fourth, smashing Beckett's 2-and-2 pitch to right-center for his 19th homer. But he helped bring the Sox back in the bottom of the fourth.

After Jason Bay singled to start the inning, Sabathia retired Lowell and Baldelli. It appeared as if the inning was about to end when Varitek lofted a pop-up down the rightfield line. Cano called off Teixeira but overran it and dropped the ball, allowing Bay to score to make it 5-3. Alex Gonzalez then skied one behind the bag at second where, with the crowd howling, Cano made the catch for the third out.

Rodriguez ripped Beckett's full-count delivery on a line over the Green Monster for a two-out, two-run homer and a 7-3 lead in the fifth. It was his 22nd.

The Red Sox cut it to 7-4 in the sixth as Kevin Youkilis doubled and scored on Baldelli's sacrifice fly. Matsui's solo shot around Pesky's Pole in the eighth made it 8-4. It was his 23rd homer.

The Yankees have gone 27-9 since the All-Star break to erase a three-game Boston lead and 40-14 since June 23, when they trailed the Red Sox by five games.

"It's hard to say," Rodriguez said when asked the biggest difference between the current version of the Yankees and the one that went 0-8 against Boston. "I wasn't around for the first month and a half or so, so I wasn't around for a lot of those games, but overall, we're pitching better, we're playing better defense - though tonight wasn't a good example of that - and we're getting some good situational hitting."

Since the All-Star break, that's pretty much been the status quo.

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