Bartolo Colon delivers a pitch in the first inning against...

Bartolo Colon delivers a pitch in the first inning against the Boston Red Sox at Fenway Park in Boston. (Aug. 5, 2011) Credit: Getty Images

BOSTON

Maybe it's the time lapse that makes it so simple. Fifty-six days had passed since the Yankees and Red Sox last met. At, say, 6 o'clock Friday evening at Fenway Park, you certainly didn't feel the sense that the Yankees cowered in the presence of their rivals.

And sure enough, the Yankees overcame an early departure by Bartolo Colon to defeat Boston and Jon Lester, 3-2, stopping the Bosox's roll of eight wins in nine rivalry games and, more important, grabbing exclusive control of the American League East penthouse.

"Whatever happened in the past is past. You just start counting now," said Mariano Rivera, the Yankees' calmest person ever and, not coincidentally, all-world closer. "That's what we think. We're playing today. We don't think yesterday or tomorrow until it comes."

That's the proper attitude for the players, but management has to contemplate the bigger picture. And while beating the Red Sox can only help the Yankees' collective psyche, there wasn't much reason to doubt the team's mental health in the first place.

So the Yankees should take note of Colon's outing and regard it as another reason to keep all six of their starting pitchers around. To utilize a six-man rotation at least part of the time.

Colon threw 94 pitches and picked up 14 outs, and he seemed fully out of gas on this cool night. That's a testament to the Red Sox lineup, but also probably a question of how much Colon has to give. As it turned out, Joe Girardi intelligently lifted Colon for Boone Logan, who struck out Adrian Gonzalez to escape a bases-loaded, two-out jam in the fifth. The Yankees scored all three runs right after that in the top of the sixth.

"Bart's sort of in uncharted waters, if you look at the last five years," Girardi said before the game. "Freddy [Garcia] is on pace to blow by what he's thrown at any point in the last five years. We just want to make sure that our pitchers are staying strong, and that they're healthy."

Girardi wants to preserve Colon and Garcia as much as he can. He doesn't want to bail yet on A.J. Burnett, who's coming off his worst start of the season.

And then there are the youngsters, Phil Hughes and Ivan Nova, who can be optioned to the minors but who have offered glimpses that they can be part of the postseason solution.

Colon's start finished one round of the six-man rotation, necessitated by a July 30 doubleheader against Baltimore. Girardi, quite out of character, said Friday that Hughes will work out of the bullpen Saturday and Sunday, a concession to the powerful Red Sox offense. If Hughes pitches in relief this weekend, Girardi said, he'll be out of commission for his slated Tuesday night start against the Angels.

That seems like a tactic to buy time. To see if Nova can put up another impressive outing. To see if Burnett can bounce back. And to keep giving Colon and Garcia extra rest.

The primary disincentive for a six-man rotation, as repeatedly stated by the Yankees, is that Burnett and CC Sabathia prefer to pitch on four days' rest.

Well, Burnett has lost the right to dictate the timing of his starts. And Sabathia? Girardi mentioned the possibility of resting certain guys through a turn -- giving Burnett time to work in the bullpen or simply resting Colon and Garcia both make sense -- which would allow Sabathia to keep on his turn. Besides, in 2009, Sabathia made his final four starts of the regular season on at least five days' rest.

To push along the young guys and protect the old guys, the Yankees should stick with six. It's their best chance for outlasting the Red Sox when the stakes are highest.