BOSTON -- Twenty games left. Still all tied up. And the forecast isn't for much breathing room the rest of the way.
"It's playoff baseball, you're playing in the playoffs right now," Joe Girardi said after the Yankees escaped Fenway Park Wednesday night with a 5-4 victory over the Red Sox. "Basically, it's a good test for us."
The game, which kept the Yankees tied atop the AL East with the Orioles at 80-62, nearly produced news equal to the victory.
Derek Jeter pulled up lame trying to beat the throw to first on a 4-6-3 double play that ended the eighth inning. After trying to talk Girardi into keeping him in the game, he was replaced at short by Jayson Nix.
"I'll be playing tomorrow," said Jeter, who had two hits to run his total to 194, the most in both leagues. "I don't talk about injuries. You either play or you don't. I'm playing, so it's not an issue. At this point in the season, I'm sure there's a lot of guys that have some things bothering them."
Girardi called it a "bone bruise" in Jeter's left ankle. The shortstop would not call it that, though he did allow that it was an aggravation of something he tweaked last week at Tampa. He said then it was "not a big deal" and missed no time and, again, doesn't expect to.
The Yankees nearly coughed up a 5-1 lead but Rafael Soriano, called on for a four-out save, was able to notch his 37th. He allowed Jarrod Saltalamacchia's 24th homer to lead off the ninth and committed an error that allowed Mike Aviles to reach with two outs, but he retired Jacoby Ellsbury on a comebacker to end it.
"They're fun games," said Alex Rodriguez, who went 1-for-5 with a run. "It's exactly the type of games we play here all the time. I wouldn't say they're draining, I'd just say they're more fun."
Of a race showing signs of producing nothing but stomach ulcers for fans, A-Rod shrugged.
"It's not going to [let up]," he said. "You can count on this going down the stretch."
Rookie David Phelps, likely making his final start because Andy Pettitte looks ready to return to the rotation, was coming off two unimpressive efforts. On Sept. 1 against the Orioles, he couldn't find the strike zone, and last Thursday in Baltimore he threw too many pitches in the middle of it.
Last night he shrugged off whatever pressure he might have felt, allowing one run and five hits in 52/3 innings. Phelps failed to complete five innings in each of his two previous starts.
"I wanted to go out there and prove to myself I could pitch in September," Phelps said. "Last two starts prior to this one I was behind in a lot of counts and I wasn't really pounding the strike zone early. I went out there and tried to get ahead in the count."
Said Jeter of Phelps: "He did exactly what we needed him to do."
The Yankees were 0-for-13 with runners in scoring position, but they got two homers from Curtis Granderson. A solo shot in the fourth put them on the board against Aaron Cook, and a two-run homer off former Yankee Alfredo Aceves in the seventh made it 5-1. Robinson Cano's two-run homer in the fourth produced a 3-0 lead. It was his 30th, establishing a career high.
Cook (3-10) allowed three runs and seven hits in five innings.
The Red Sox scored twice in the seventh off Cody Eppley and Boone Logan to pull to 5-3.
"You have to focus on your own game," Jeter said of the Rays/Orioles series. "I'm a firm believer in that the position we're in, the bottom line is, if we win our games, we'll be fine."