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Yankees suffer ugly loss to Red Sox in series opener

The Yankees' CC Sabathia pauses after walking in

The Yankees' CC Sabathia pauses after walking in a run during the second inning of the a game against the Red Sox in Boston on Thursday. Credit: AP / Michael Dwyer

BOSTON — A couple of more like this and the Yankees can shift their season focus solely to securing home-field advantage for the American League wild-card game.

The AL East title certainly won’t be within reach.

With CC Sabathia demonstrating little command and Jonathan Holder taking a flame thrower to things in an eight-run fourth inning that ranks among the worst innings played by the Yankees in recent memory, an early four-run lead quickly dissipated into a muggy New England Thursday night.

By night’s end that early surge by the Yankees was merely a side note to an unsightly 15-7 loss to the Red Sox at Fenway Park that dropped them 6 ½ games behind their first-place rivals.

“Something like this is a little tough to just forget about,” Brett Gardner said. “But one loss is one loss. Doesn’t matter if it’s 5-4 or 2-1 or 20-3.”

It certainly felt like that latter score for the Yankees (68-39) who were outhit, 19-8. The Red Sox (76-34) got three homers from former Yankee Steve Pearce, and added seven doubles.

Holder (1-2), who came in with an 0.88 ERA since being recalled on April 21, did not retire any of the seven batters he faced, allowing seven runs and five hits, which pushed his season ERA to 3.50 from 2.06.

“It got out of hand,” Holder said of the inning.

Didi Gregorius hit the first of his two homers, a three-run shot in the first off Brian Johnson, to give Sabathia a 3-0 lead. Aaron Hicks’ solo blast in the second made it 4-0 but, as Gardner put it, “from there, they just kept pounding the baseball.”

Sabathia, after a scoreless first, labored through a 36-pitch second in which he was fortunate to give up one run, on a bases-loaded walk. A 23-pitch third was his last inning, one in which Pearce hit the first of his homers, reducing the Red Sox’s deficit to 4-2. Sabathia allowed two runs and three hits in three innings in which he threw 77 pitches. He was hit in the midsection on a liner in the third but said he was OK after the game,

“I was all over the place,” said Sabathia, who came into the night 6-0 with a 1.83 ERA in his previous seven starts vs. Boston. “My fastball, my slider, my changeup, my command was off.”

Holder came on in the fourth and walked Jackie Bradley Jr. to start the inning, one in which Boston sent 13 to the plate. Mookie Betts (4-for-4, two walks) doubled off the wall to put runners at second and third. Andrew Benintendi (three hits) bounced one back to Holder, who made two mistakes that contributed to the huge inning

Rather than run straight at Bradley, who had broken for home, Holder threw behind the runner, to third baseman Miguel Andujar, who wasn’t quick in releasing the ball after catching it. The speedy Bradley raced for home and his acrobatic head-first slide allowed him to touch home just before Austin Romine’s sweep tag. That made it only 4-3 but the onslaught had begun.

The 35-year-old Pearce, playing for his seventh big-league team (he was with the Yankees briefly in 2012), crushed a 2-and-1 cutter to left, the three-run homer giving Boston a 6-4 lead. By the time the frame was over, it was 10-4. Luis Cessa allowed Pearce’s third homer, a two-run shot in the sixth, which made it 14-5.

“We have to do a better job, play a cleaner brand of baseball,” said Aaron Boone, whose team turned in a second straight sloppy game. “When you’re up against a real good opponent, we’ve got to play clean.”

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