BOSTON -- The Yankees broke across the de facto first-half finish line exactly the way they wanted. "You want to be sprinting to end that first half. You want to finish strong," Nick Swisher said before the four-game series at Fenway Park. And they did.
Behind a fine bounce-back performance by Ivan Nova and an array of key hits, including Andruw Jones' fourth home run in roughly a 36-hour period, the Yankees took three out of four with a 7-3 win over the Red Sox Sunday night in front of 38,270.
The Yankees (52-33) pull into the break with the best record in the majors despite incurring significant injuries in the bullpen (Mariano Rivera, David Robertson) and rotation (CC Sabathia, Andy Pettitte). They lead the second-place Orioles by seven games and the Red Sox by 91/2.
Said Mark Teixeira, "We've been through a lot this first half. I don't think any of us would say we played our best baseball, and hopefully there's better baseball to be played. That being said, you have to feel good about your position right now."
Helped by a nasty curveball -- a pitch that keeps getting better and better -- Nova (10-3) allowed two runs (one earned) and six hits in six innings. He struck out 10 as the Red Sox fanned 15 times.
Cody Eppley, Clay Rapada -- who got a huge strikeout of David Ortiz with runners at the corners in the seventh -- Robertson and Rafael Soriano allowed one run in the final three innings. Soriano struck out Ortiz, Cody Ross and Jarrod Saltalamacchia in the ninth.
Said Teixeira, "It's crazy. It's like going to the dentist's office. You know you have to do it. It's torture sometimes. These games are so long, but it is what it is, and I'd rather play four-hour games that we win than four-hour games that we lose.''
Nova had a lead before taking the mound, the fourth straight game in the series in which the Yankees' starter was given a quick cushion.
Derek Jeter, who came in second in the AL with 108 hits and went 3-for-5, started the game by dumping a single into right. Jeter, who had a rough night in the field, was battling discomfort in his right shoulder, which Joe Girardi characterized during the ESPN broadcast as a cramp.
Curtis Granderson lined an 0-and-2 pitch to center for a single and Teixeira -- in the middle of a roiling verbal feud with Red Sox reliever Vicente Padilla -- pulled a double down the leftfield line for a 1-0 lead.
After Alex Rodriguez popped to first, Robinson Cano walked to load the bases. Swisher sent a bouncer to third, and Mauro Gomez appeared to have an easy 5-3 double play. But after stepping on third, he threw a two-hopper to first and Adrian Gonzalez couldn't handle it, making it 2-0. That gave the Yankees 14 runs in the first inning in the series -- five, four, three and two.
But Nova couldn't keep the Red Sox off the board, with his shortstop committing the rarest of Jeterian errors -- flat-out dropping a pop-up. Nova struck out Daniel Nava to start the first but Pedro Ciriaco smashed a grounder off the glove of the diving Cano. Ortiz drew a walk, but Nova struck out Gonzalez swinging. He appeared to be out of the inning when Ross skied a pop to Jeter, who drifted back to the outfield grass -- and dropped it. His eighth error made it 2-1.
Jayson Nix led off the second with a double to left-center and scored on Chris Stewart's sacrifice fly to make it 3-1.
With one out in the third, Ciriaco hit a grounder to short that Jeter charged and booted; inexplicably, it was ruled a hit, possibly because of Ciriaco's speed. Ortiz doubled to make it 3-2.
In the fifth, Teixeira singled and A-Rod hit his first triple since April 21, 2010, a drive into the triangle area near the 420-foot sign in center. Ryan Sweeney raced back for it, and as he slid trying to make the catch, he slammed headfirst into the wall. He stayed down for several minutes but remained in the game, and Jones' single made it 5-2. In the seventh, Swisher doubled and Jones homered for a 7-2 lead.