BOSTON -- The Yankees needed this one, and they would have played all night to get it.
Didi Gregorius' RBI single was the go-ahead hit for the Bombers in a thrilling 4-1, 16-inning victory over the Red Sox on Saturday at Fenway Park. Seven innings earlier, Matt Holliday forced extras with a game-tying homer off Craig Kimbrel -- the first Fenway blown save in 31 career opportunities for the Boston closer.
"The winning is the best part," Gregorius said. "You play a long game and you win, that means you never give up. Everybody is there, battling and playing the right way until the last out. That's what we did today."
The game was the longest in the storied rivalry at Fenway Park in terms of time (five hours and 50 minutes), topping the epic Game 5 of the 2004 American League Championship Series by one minute.
Instead of falling 5 1/2 games back in the American League East, the Yankees closed to within 3 1/2 of their first-place rivals while winning for just the eighth time in 27 games since June 13.
After Gregorius put the Yankees in front for the first time all day, Austin Romine added an insurance RBI single and Gary Sanchez lofted a sacrifice fly. All of the damage came against Red Sox right-hander Doug Fister, who is scheduled to start on Tuesday night but pitched 2 2/3 innings in this one when Boston ran out of arms.
"It's a good feeling. Our guys were really good at tacking on," Yankees manager Joe Girardi said. "I thought it was important. Our whole pitching staff did a tremendous job tonight. I don't know what it means for tomorrow, but that's a long, grueling game."
Holliday, a central figure in this one, gave the Yankees life when he bashed his shot off Kimbrel to lead off the top of the ninth. Holliday's equalizer had a projected distance of 443 feet, according to Statcast™.
"To win that game was really big," Holliday said. "We needed that game, like we need every time we play teams in front of us. It feels good to help the team win and to come up with a hit like that against a pitcher like Kimbrel."
Holliday was involved in a bizarre play in the top of the 11th that prompted Red Sox manager John Farrell to inform the umpires he was playing the rest of the game under protest. Holliday slid back into first base on a fielder's-choice grounder to first baseman Mitch Moreland.
With Boston attempting to complete the double play, Xander Bogaerts' throw clipped Ellsbury in the left leg. Farrell asked crew chief Gary Cederstrom if there had been interference; the subsequent reviews and explanations took four minutes and 59 seconds before the ruling was that the play stands.
"I was confused what had happened," Holliday said. "I didn't know that he didn't touch the base. That was just one of those things where, in my mind, with Ells running, he's going to touch first base and get the tag at second."
Ace Chris Sale was again magnificent for the Red Sox, holding the Yankees to three hits and no runs over 7 2/3 innings while walking two and striking out 13. The performance ended with a strikeout of Sanchez on a nasty 1-2 slider on Sale's 118th pitch of the day, his season high. The lefty departed with a 1-0 lead, and Farrell brought Kimbrel on in the eighth inning with one on. Initially, it paid off, as the closer got superstar rookie Aaron Judge to fly out to right to cap off an entertaining 10-pitch at-bat.
Luis Severino nearly matched Sale, allowing one run over seven strong innings. The only run in the first eight innings was a sacrifice fly by Moreland in the bottom of the third that put Boston ahead. The Red Sox didn't have an extra-base hit in the game.
"A lot of opportunities, a lot of missed opportunities," said Farrell. "A lot of very good pitching over the majority of today. Chris Sale was outstanding once again. A rare non-converted save for Craig today, and then some opportunities following where a base-hit with a man in scoring position just wasn't there today."
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED Kimbrel's early entrance:For the first time since June 6, Farrell brought Kimbrel in during the eighth inning. The situation was a dramatic one, with the tying run on first and dangerous rookie slugger Judge at the plate. Though Kimbrel got the best of that 10-pitch battle by inducing Judge to fly out to right to end the inning, it might have taken something out of the closer for the at-bat with Holliday to start the ninth.
"He hit a fastball down the middle. That's part of the life of a reliever," said Kimbrel. "Sometimes one pitch can be the outcome of the entire game. It seemed like that was kind of it today."
Yankees escape: It was a stellar day for Girardi's bullpen, particularly the escape in the bottom of the 10th when the Red Sox seemed close to walking off for the second straight day. Andrew Benintendi led off with a single to left-center and Jackie Bradley Jr. hit a single to right. Benintendi chose not to risk going from first to third and testing Judge's arm.
Adam Warren came on and struck out pinch-hitter Chris Young, got Tzu-Wei Lin to line out and ended the inning by getting the dangerous Mookie Betts on a flyout to right. In all, the Yankees got nine shutout innings from the 'pen.
"I show up every day ready for the ball whenever it's asked. During the game they asked if I could go for it, and I said yes. I felt it was a great situation for it. I got Judge in the eighth, and it was just one pitch in the ninth inning, and we played a lot more innings after that." -- Kimbrel, on pitching in the eighth
SOUND SMART WITH YOUR FRIENDS
This was the longest game in terms of innings for the Red Sox since they beat the Yankees in 19 frames on April 10, 2015. It was Boston's longest game at Fenway since a 17-inning loss to the Orioles on May 6, 2012. It was the longest game by innings at Fenway between the Red Sox and Yankees since a 16-inning game on June 4, 1966.
In a stirring pregame ceremony, the Red Sox invited over 1,000 veterans and family members in recognition of the 50th anniversary of the Vietnam War. A moment of silence and the playing of the national anthem concluded the pregame ceremony, along with the flyover of four F-15 jets. In the middle of the third inning, members of the sellout crowd, along with Yankees and Red Sox players and coaches, held out placards displaying the name of a veteran that they wished to honor.
"With such a significant milestone anniversary, we thought it was important to recognize the veterans who served during the Vietnam War," Red Sox chairman Tom Werner said.
UPON FURTHER REVIEW
The Red Sox unsuccessfully challenged a call at second base in the eighth inning as Lin was thrown out stealing by Sanchez, with second baseman Starlin Castro applying the tag. After a review of 28 seconds, the call on the field was confirmed.
A crew-chief review in the top of the ninth ruled that the call of Ellsbury's steal of second base stands. The time of that review was 48 seconds.
WHAT'S NEXT Yankees:CC Sabathia was moved up to start the first game of Sunday's twin bill at 1:05 p.m. ET after Saturday's 16-inning affair. Sabathia will be making his second start since returning from a left hamstring strain. He lasted just 2 2/3 innings on July 4 against the Blue Jays, allowing four runs on three hits. Masahiro Tanaka (7-8, 5.47 ERA) is scheduled to pitch the nightcap at 8:05 p.m. He has won two of his last three starts after going winless in his previous eight.
Red Sox: The rivals will play two to wrap up the series, as right-hander Rick Porcello will try to continue the momentum he generated prior to the All-Star break in Sunday's Game 1. Lefty David Price, who has struggled against the Yankees since joining the Red Sox, looks to reverse that trend in the night game.