BOSTON -- With Mariano Rivera and David Robertson unavailable because of recent heavy workloads, Joe Girardi was asked who would close for him Friday night. "That's a great question," he said.
But the manager's quandary didn't end there. He also was without Boone Logan (injury) and Adam Warren (workload) and likely without Phil Hughes and David Huff after they combined to pitch six innings Thursday night.
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Friday night's game was close late, and the predictable happened. With no great options for Girardi to choose from, things imploded.
Rookie Preston Claiborne surrendered a grand slam to Jarrod Saltalamacchia in the bottom of the seventh inning that broke a 4-4 tie and sent the Yankees to an 8-4 loss to the Red Sox at Fenway Park.
"When you don't have those guys, it's difficult," Girardi said of Logan, Robertson and Rivera. "It's bullpen by committee."
Girardi said his plan, had the Yankees led late, was to go with Joba Chamberlain in the eighth and Shawn Kelley in the ninth.
"You make your choices and you live with your choices," Girardi said. "We've had to use our bullpen a lot."
It was a damaging loss, as they all are at this point. The Yankees (79-69) fell two games behind the Rays for the second AL wild-card spot. They also fell a half-game behind the Indians and had their lead over the Orioles cut to a half-game after both won.
The Red Sox (90-59), meanwhile, are coasting to the AL East crown and improved to 11-6 against the Yankees.
"We're just playing hard and trying to bury everybody," David Ortiz said of taking satisfaction in possibly derailing the Yankees' postseason hopes. "Not trying to be picky.''
The bullpen blowup overshadowed a brilliant night at the plate by Robinson Cano, who had three doubles and a single, including a bunt for a double against the overshift in the first inning and a two-out, two-run double in the seventh that tied the score at 4-4. Newcomer Brendan Ryan hit his first homer since July 10.
Hiroki Kuroda somehow managed to give the Yankees six innings-plus after throwing 33 pitches in a four-run first inning highlighted by three opposite-field hits -- Ortiz's double to left, Daniel Nava's two-out RBI single to left and Stephen Drew's two-run double to left. Kuroda said he was "over-cautious" in the first and that his pitches "weren't particularly good," though the Red Sox hitters obviously liked them just fine.
But Kuroda had retired 12 of the last 13 Boston batters entering the bottom of the seventh before Shane Victorino smashed a grounder past third baseman Eduardo Nunez, who failed to get in front of the ball, for a single.
With Kuroda at 101 pitches, Girardi chose to go with lefthanded rookie Cesar Cabral to face Ortiz, a situation in which he would have used Logan if he were healthy.
The strategy wasn't poorly thought out -- Ortiz entered the game 9-for-15 against Kuroda and already had doubled off him -- but Cabral hit Ortiz with his second pitch. That caused a short on-field delay as a fan threw a baseball out of the stands in Cabral's direction and was ejected by stadium security.
In came Claiborne, who in the season's second half (a 6.35 ERA) hasn't come close to matching the success of his first half (2.43 ERA) and had allowed six runs in two-thirds of an inning in his previous two outings against the Red Sox.
He walked pinch hitter Jonny Gomes to load the bases before striking out Nava. Up stepped Saltalamacchia and out went Claiborne's 0-and-1 fastball to rightfield, putting the Red Sox ahead 8-4.
"I was trying to set him up, I made a mistake and he punished me for it," said Claiborne, who attributed his struggles to "mechanical" issues. "It hurts pretty bad. I know I let the guys down. I know this one's on me."
The Yankees might get at least one reinforcement this weekend. David Phelps, who has recovered from a forearm strain, was in the clubhouse and could be activated for Saturday's game.
With Anthony Rieber