BOSTON — The long and the short of it Saturday night: Isiah Kiner-Falefa almost singlehandedly beat the Red Sox.
The shortstop stunned just about everyone in the ballpark — including himself, probably — with his first homer as a Yankee, a tying two-run shot off Kutter Crawford in the fifth inning.
Then, with the score tied in the ninth, one out and runners at the corners, Kiner-Falefa went short, perfectly executing a safety-squeeze bunt that drove in the go-ahead run in a 3-2 win.
Kiner-Falefa even played a role in the bottom of the ninth as the Yankees barely held on. One-out singles by Reese McGuire and Tommy Pham off Scott Effross put runners on first and second, and Effross fell behind dangerous Rafael Devers 2-and-0. Devers hit a dribbler in front of the plate, and when Jose Trevino fired to second, Kiner-Falefa stretched and grabbed the low throw for the second out. Xander Bogaerts then hit a high pop in front of the plate, and when Anthony Rizzo made the catch, the Yankees had a hard-fought win.
“It was just a gutsy play,’’ Aaron Boone said of Trevino’s throw to second, which kept the winning run out of scoring position. “I think he saw an opportunity to go there. it’s the winning run, but we’re not going to play sitting on our hands. We’re going to go try and make plays. It was a guy that’s confident back there that said, ‘I’m going to go make a play.’ ”
The Yankees (72-42) had lost eight of their last nine and 19 of their last 29. Five of their previous six losses were by one run, and they moved to 8-14 in one-run games since June 19.
“Nothing’s easy for us right now,’’ Boone said. “We’re going through it, but that’s kind of one of those gut-check wins. A lot of people did a lot of good things.”
With one out in the top of the ninth, Andrew Benintendi doubled high off the Green Monster in center, barely missing a home run, and went to third on Trevino’s infield single. On the first pitch from John Schreiber, Kiner-Falefa pushed a bunt to the first-base side of the mound. Schreiber had no play on Benintendi at the plate and Kiner-Falefa wound up with a hit.
“It was a great call,’’ Kiner-Falefa said. “Boonie’s a great manager and he put me in a situation to succeed right there. I was going to try and spray something, but once I saw that [the sign], it was just get the job done.”
Aroldis Chapman preceded Effross to the mound and made it nine straight scoreless outings, striking out two in 1 1⁄3 innings and catching Bogaerts trying to steal third to end the seventh.
Frankie Montas, making his second start as a Yankee, allowed two runs, five hits and two walks in five innings in which he struck out four. It was a marked improvement from his Yankees debut last Sunday in St. Louis in which he allowed six runs, including five in the second inning.
“I felt like [my release point] was a lot better today for sure,'' Montas said. "I was more into the moment, I was delivering the ball pretty good. I threw really good pitches today. My fastball was good, splitter was really good too today.”
The Yankees got their first hit — and first runner in scoring position — in the fourth. Rizzo worked a two-out walk and Josh Donaldson singled to right-center. Gleyber Torres put a charge into one, slashing a drive to deep right, but Alex Verdugo made a terrific running catch for the third out.
In the bottom of the inning, Verdugo walked and went to second on J.D. Martinez’s groundout. Eric Hosmer dumped a single to center, putting runners at the corners, and Montas walked Christian Arroyo to load the bases. Jarren Duran was hit in the right knee by a cutter to force home a run and McGuire lifted a sacrifice fly to center.
Benintendi led off the fifth with a walk and with one out, Kiner-Falefa roped a 1-and-1 cutter into the Monster Seats in left for his first homer since last Oct. 1 for the Rangers, a span of 357 at-bats (347 with the Yankees).
Kiner-Falefa sprinted around the bases and was greeted by an empty Yankees dugout before his teammates poured back in to congratulate him on his first homer for the team he rooted for while growing up in Honolulu.
“It was fun,’’ he said of the silent treatment. “Cool that it was in a big moment. It was much needed.”
He added, “It’s been an up-and-down roller-coaster for me. It’s definitely an adjustment. But this is where I want to be. This is my dream team. This is everything I’ve ever wanted in my life. So to get the opportunity to come through tonight feels good. But we have a long ways to go. I’m just hoping I can keep this momentum going.”
Said Boone, “It’s the kind of player he is. He’s a gritty, tough, winning player. Sometimes playing for this team at that position, it can be heavy. And he wears that and he cares about it and it matters to him. But one thing he’s shown over and over this year is a grittiness and a toughness to be able to continue to bounce back. Just happy he was able to have that kind of performance when we’re fighting hard right now.”