Ellsbury finished with six RBIs, doubling his previous career high. Carl Crawford provided four hits and three runs scored.
On paper, which is where these games are never played, Saturday's contest looked like a convenient matchup for the Yankees. Sabathia's previous three losses to Boston this season had come in games in which he was matched against Josh Beckett. On Saturday, here was Sabathia -- coming in at 16-5 with a 2.55 ERA -- against John Lackey, 9-8 with a 6.23 ERA. The problem with that superficial glance is that Sabathia's work against Boston doesn't resemble his work against the rest of the baseball world. And against the imposing Yankees lineup, Lackey produced a workmanlike quality start. But he was quick to credit his teammates with the bats.
"I can't say enough about our offense, man," Lackey said. "Especially Carl and Jacoby against a tough left-hander like CC, that's pretty impressive."
Apart from his four losses to Boston, Sabathia has been a model of both consistency and excellence this season. He lost a May start at Detroit in which he was only modestly roughed up, allowing four runs over seven innings, and he lost a July start at Tampa Bay that he deserved to win, giving up only two runs over eight innings. Not only did Sabathia have a substantial season record, but he was on a roll, having given up just seven earned runs over his last eight starts prior to Saturday.
But the Red Sox aren't the rest of baseball when it comes to run production. They lead the Major Leagues in runs scored with 5.48 per game. The Yankees are in the same neighborhood, but second at 5.37.
"This is a lineup that can hit anyone," Yankees manager Joe Girardi said of the Red Sox. "That's the bottom line."
In Sabathia's first start against Boston this year, he gave up one earned run in 5 2/3 innings, but lost anyway. Since then, the Red Sox have hit him for at least six earned runs in each of his starts against them.
Sabathia gave the Red Sox due credit for their success against him.
"It's a good ballclub and they have a great lineup, like today," Sabathia said. "They weren't aggressive and swinging early, and it made me throw a lot of pitches. They got into some good counts and put some good swings on balls."
But Sabathia, when asked if he was worried that he might have to face the Red Sox in the postseason, responded directly: "No. When I'm right, I can beat anybody."
The Red Sox, wisely enough, were not inclined to boast about their success against Sabathia.
"He's good; he's really good," Red Sox manager Terry Francona said. "Believe me -- it's not like we see him and we say, 'We're going to lunch up on this guy.' He's had his way with a lot of teams."
Francona was willing to go as far as attributing his team's success against Sabathia to "very good at-bats." Beyond that, there is obvious encouragement for the Red Sox at several levels; beating the Yankees, beating the ace of the Yankees' rotation and beating one of the best pitchers in baseball for the fourth time this season.
No matter how well a team's offense is performing, if it has championship aspirations, it has to demonstrate the ability to beat the best.
"At some point, you have to beat pitchers like that," Francona said. For the Red Sox, "some point" has been reached four times against Sabathia.
Boston's victory once again brought these two clubs into a tie for the lead in the American League East, setting up the necessary dramatics for Sunday night's finale. The Red Sox have a 9-2 edge over the Yankees in the 2011 season series, but with seven meetings remaining, Sabathia and the Yankees will have chances for redemption.
For now, the teams are tied in the standings, but having a 4-0 edge against the ace of the Yankees' rotation represents a tangible edge for the Boston side of the argument.