BOSTON - The Yankees whacked the Braves over the weekend but failed to pick up ground on the Blue Jays, who swept their own series against the Tigers.
Monday night presented a rare opportunity -- rare in the last month, anyway. The Blue Jays, gasp, lost.
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But the Yankees could not capitalize, as an offense that scored 38 runs in three games in Atlanta went cold in the clutch in a 4-3 loss to the Red Sox in front of 36,148 at Fenway Park.
"We missed an opportunity," Joe Girardi said. "But it's really going to come down to how we play, too. We had a lot of opportunities tonight. Tonight we didn't get the big hit."
The Yankees (72-58), who had 21 hits in Sunday's 20-6 win over Atlanta and went 12-for-21 with runners in scoring position, had 10 hits and eight walks Monday night but stranded 14. They remained 1½ games behind Toronto.
The lone offensive star was Didi Gregorius, who entered his final at-bat 4-for-4, making him 13-for-20 with 11 RBIs in the last five games. With a run home in the ninth, two outs and the bases loaded, he flied out to the warning track in rightfield on closer Jean Machi's 33rd pitch.
"I think any other stadium except this one it probably would have went, but that's like 380 to rightfield," Gregorius said with a rueful smile. "I'm not a strong one like all the other guys."
The Yankees loaded the bases with none out in the first but managed only one run. With a run home in the fourth on an RBI single by Gregorius, the bases loaded and none out, they failed to score again as Brendan Ryan grounded into a 1-2 forceout and Greg Bird was thrown out at the plate on Jacoby Ellsbury's liner to leftfield.
The Yankees loaded the bases with two outs in the fifth but Bird struck out to end the inning. With first and third and one out in the eighth, Ellsbury grounded into a double play.
"I missed a lot myself," Bird said of hits with RISP. "I have to be better. When guys are on base and you're up there, it's tough when you don't."
Bird, who has been solid in the field as Mark Teixeira's replacement, was unable to turn a potential inning-ending double play in the seventh, settling for one out as a run scored to give the Red Sox a 4-2 lead. "I just dropped it," Bird said. "[Chasen] Shreve did his job, I have to do mine."
Ivan Nova (5-7, 4.50) allowed three runs and seven hits in six innings. Two of the hits were homers, a two-run shot by Mookie Betts and a solo blast by David Ortiz that was the 495th homer of his career.
Red Sox rookie lefthander Eduardo Rodriguez (8-5, 4.25) was in trouble all night but allowed only two runs (one earned), seven hits and three walks in five innings.
The Yankees provided plenty of drama in the ninth against Machi. With the Red Sox (61-70) leading 4-2, Stephen Drew singled and Alex Rodriguez walked with none out. After Carlos Beltran, hot of late, was called out on a borderline full-count pitch -- after believing he had walked on the 3-and-1 pitch -- a wild pitch advanced the runners. Brian McCann walked to load the bases for Chase Headley, who walked on four pitches to make it 4-3.
Bird was called out on strikes -- another borderline pitch on the inner half -- bringing up Gregorius. The shortstop jumped on a 1-and-1 changeup and hit a ball more than a few people in the visitor's dugout thought would leave the park.
"You know it's a big ballpark when you start going that way," Girardi said. "I'm not sure how many feet it was from the wall, but I thought it had a chance."