BOSTON — Friday night’s loss was as crushing a defeat as the Yankees have had all season. Their bullpen blew a late three-run lead and, as part of the trickle-down from a three-run loss that dropped them five games behind Boston, Aroldis Chapman lost his closer job.
With Boston ace Chris Sale on deck, Saturday night presented a recipe for ugliness. Instead, the Yankees came through with one of their more inspired efforts.
Behind six strong innings by fresh-off-the-disabled-list CC Sabathia, a three-run homer by Tyler Austin, a solo shot by Todd Frazier and a rickety but ultimately effective performance from a rejiggered bullpen, the Yankees edged the Red Sox, 4-3, in front of 37,274 at Fenway Park.
“This team really fights, and they’ve done a pretty good job of turning the page,” Joe Girardi said. “That’s really important because you’re going to have some tough losses, and I think our guys have handled it well. It says a lot about the guys in that room.”
The Yankees (66-56) pulled within four games of the AL East-leading Red Sox (70-52).
In three previous starts against the Yankees this season, Sale had a 1.19 ERA and struck out 35 in 22 2⁄3 innings. He struck out nine in seven innings this time but fell to 0-2 with two no-decisions against them in 2017.
“We’ve battled him,” said Sabathia, given a 3-0 lead on Austin’s three-run homer onto Lansdowne Street in the second and a 4-2 cushion on Frazier’s blast in the sixth. “But yeah, it’s a big win for us and it’s kind of a big loss for them because they need to win the games when he’s out there.”
Sabathia was forced from his last start, Aug. 8 in Toronto, with severe pain in his right knee and talked afterward like someone who thought his career might be over. But the 37-year-old outpitched the AL Cy Young Award favorite Saturday night, allowing two runs and four hits in six innings.
“I just wasn’t feeling any pain,” Sabathia said. “I was able to go out and finish pitches and I feel like when I’m able to finish my pitches, I have a pretty good chance of helping the team win.”
If such a scenario had been painted for Sabathia in Toronto, would he have believed it?
“No way,” he said. “Everything’s worked out, and hopefully I can continue going out there and helping the team.”
If there was one downside to the night, Aaron Judge extended his strikeout streak to 36 consecutive games, giving him the major-league record for both position players and pitchers. He fanned three times, giving him 62 in 127 at-bats in that span, but Girardi said he has no plans to lower him in the order. “I’m not going to move him,” he said.
That was not the case with Chapman, demoted earlier in the day, with Girardi saying “matchups” would dictate his late-inning use of relievers.
Adam Warren and David Robertson served as a bridge to Dellin Betances. Warren allowed a solo homer by 20-year-old rookie Rafael Devers, the newest Yankee-killer, that made it 4-3 in the seventh. Robertson, who earned the nickname “Houdini” during his first go-round with the Yankees, struck out Xander Bogaerts swinging to escape a bases-loaded jam in the eighth.
Betances earned his ninth save, but it wasn’t easy. It rarely is here. He struck out Devers and Sandy Leon, but on the latter strikeout, the curveball got away from Gary Sanchez for a wild pitch — the second time a Boston batter reached first on a strikeout/wild pitch in two innings. But Sanchez gunned down pinch runner Brock Holt when he tried to steal second and Jackie Bradley Jr. flied to left to end it.
“That was unbelievable,” Betances said of Sanchez’s throw. “I’m slow to the plate, so that was probably like a 1.7 to second. That was an unbelievable throw.”