By Maureen Mullen
CSNNE.com Follow @maureenamullen
BOSTON That the Red Sox and Yankees will play in the postseason is virtually a given. That they will face each other is almost a foregone conclusion in certain quadrants, anyway. After 110 games and more than four months of play, the Sox and Yankees entered Friday nights game at Fenway Park with identical 68-42 records.
Head-to-head, though, the Sox had easily thumped their only legitimate challenger for American League East supremacy. Holding an 8-1 edge, they had not lost to the Yankees since their second meeting of the season, on April 9, sweeping two three-game series in the Bronx and May and June.
Sox starter Jon Lester had been just as dominant against the Yankees. He entered the game with a record of 2-0 in two starts this season, going 5-0 in his last five starts with a 2.51 ERA since May 9, 2010.
The odds appeared to favor the Sox. But the Yankees entered the game winners of seven straight. Since the two teams last met, the Yankees had gone 35-15, a .700 winning percentage, best in the AL in that time. It could only be a matter of time before the Yankees added to their win total against the Red Sox.
That time was Friday night, as the Yankees beat the Red Sox, 3-2, handing Lester his fifth loss of the season. With the win, the Yankees regained sole possession of first place in the division, knocking the Sox to second place for the first time since July 6. It is the seventh time this season the two teams have exchanged the division lead this season.
But it is only one win. Or is it?
its important because weve had some troubles pitching to this club, said Yankees manager Joe Girardi. Theyve scored some runs off us. To be able to make some pitches like we did tonight, I thought it was important for our club.
We dont care what weve done before this, said Derek Jeter. It has no bearing. Percentages are probably on our side to win a game, right? But we cant worry about how we played against them earlier in the season. We feel as though were playing well, were pitching well. Yeah, its a big win because we want to continue to play well but no one in here has talked about what happened earlier in the year.
The Yankees who had just five hits in the game -- got to Lester for three runs in the sixth inning, sending seven batters to the plate, with the first four reaching base. No. 9 batter Eduardo Nunez led off with a walk, followed by a Jeter single, Curtis Grandersons single scoring Nunez, and Mark Teixeiras walk to load the bases. Robinson Cano grounded into a double play, scoring Jeter, and Nick Swisher hit a ground-rule double, scoring Granderson, before Andruw Jones grounded out to end the inning.
Lester, who needed just 11 pitches to get through the first inning, threw 35 pitches in the sixth.
I was aware we were having good at-bats, Jeter said. I think thats the key. I dont think anyone was looking at his pitch count. But we were having good at-bats, starting with Nunie getting that walk, and after that we strung together some good ABs. But Lesters a handful and we were fortunate to get those runs off him.
Lester (11-5, 3.23 ERA) went six innings, giving up three runs on five hits and four walks with seven strikeouts. He threw 108 pitches, 64 strikes. The four walks were one shy of his season-high. He has allowed five walks twice this season, the last time in a May 30 loss to the White Sox.
The key to the sixth inning was Nunezs at-bat, said Granderson. The fact that he was able to draw a 3-2 walk after fouling off some really tough pitches. I think he threw pretty much any and everything at him. Derek got his first hit of the ball game. I got my first hit. Nunez read it really well and was able to go ahead and score and then Tex drew a walk after that and then I think the thing that sealed the deal was Swishers two-out hit right there. You could easily go ahead and say, OK, we got two there and tied it, lets see if we can score some more. But Swishers been swinging the bat well and delivers the ball right out of the reach of Kevin Youkilis that allowed me to score.
The way weve been playing, it did provide a lot of confidence for us.
Boone Logan (3-2, 3.07) picked up the win. He went one scoreless inning, giving up a hit with two strikeouts. Entering the game with two outs, the bases loaded, and the Yankees trailing, 2-0, in the fifth, he virtually delivered the win, striking out Adrian Gonzalez (whose 11 RBI against the Yankees this season are the most by any opposing hitter) on three pitches, minimizing his teams deficit.
A lefties a lefty and thats a big situation, no matter whos at the palte. Logan said. You cant think of it like its Gonzalez at the dish. if you do, thats when you can probably get in trouble.
The inning he gave us was huge, Girardi said. That strikeout of Gonzalez, who has been a great hitter all year and for a long time, was huge. There were bases loaded. There was no room for error on Boones part. He was aggressive and he expanded the zone when he had the chance.
With the win, the Yankees are atop the AL East by themselves, with the best record in the league. The two teams play eight more games before the end of the season.
You take these two titans and clash them up every day, it's a lot of fun to be a part of, said Swisher.
I think it's still early right now. It is a good accomplishment for where we have been and the things we have dealt with. We've had guys banged up with all season long. Guys have stepped in and did a tremendous job.
And what does first place mean?
Its better to be in first than to be in second, third, or fourth, Jeter said. But we just want to continue to play well.
Maureen Mullen is on Twitter at http:twitter.commaureenamullen