But this defeat dropped Boston a season-high 8 1/2 games back of the first-place Yankees in the American League East, which made for a mostly terse home clubhouse.
"We lost," said Red Sox first baseman Adrian Gonzalez.
The Red Sox know this is no time for moral victories. They are in a hole, and the only way to climb out of it is to win.
"We're still in July," Gonzalez said, when asked how big the deficit in the division seems.
There was no hint in this game that these were two teams separated by so many games in the standings.
After rallying back from a 5-0 deficit in the top of the first, the Red Sox led, 7-6, after six.
But the normally reliable Boston bullpen faltered in a big way in the seventh, as the Yankees stormed back to take the lead. Andrew Miller opened the inning by walking Curtis Granderson and giving up a single to Alex Rodriguez. With one out, Red Sox manager Bobby Valentine went to Vicente Padilla.
The righty had been masterful when inheriting baserunners this season, but not this time. Mark Teixeira unloaded for a two-run triple to center to make it 8-7 Yankees. Raul Ibanez got Teixeira home with a double, and Eric Chavez greeted Scott Atchison with an RBI single.
"Seems like it's the same story every time we come here," said Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter. "No lead ever seems like it's safe. As the game goes on, it gets closer and closer. Anything can happen."
Cody Ross got the Sox back within two in the bottom of the seventh, unloading for a solo shot over the Green Monster. That inning could have been even more fruitful for Boston if not for a magnificent play by -- yes -- Jeter.
With runners on first and second and one out, Mike Aviles hit one to the hole. Jeter ranged to get it and made the only play he really had, firing to third from a tough angle to nail Gonzalez.
"Huge," said Yankees manager Joe Girardi. "You're looking at the bases loaded with one out. It just changed the complexion of the game."
Again, though, the Red Sox put a scare into the Yankees in the eighth. With two on and two outs, Girardi brought on closer Rafael Soriano to face Gonzalez. When Boston's lefty slugger worked the count to 3-1, Fenway developed a buzz. But Soriano threw a nasty pitch, and Gonzalez grounded to first.
It was a tough way for the Red Sox to start a critical series against their rivals. However, they can answer quickly during Saturday's day-night doubleheader, two of the 15 meetings left between the teams this regular season.
"When you're against the wall, you just have to come back and try to play the game," said Red Sox slugger David Ortiz. "That's all we did tonight. Come back and play tomorrow. That's all you can do. Come back and be ready to play tomorrow."
The way the game started, the Red Sox were worried if Josh Beckett could even make it through the first inning. He wound up throwing 33 pitches and giving up five runs in the frame, but despite that shaky opening, Beckett managed to last five innings, giving up eight hits and six runs. He walked two and struck out five.
"It was tough, just rhythm-wise," said Beckett. "I was battling myself, especially in the first inning. I kind of sped up my mechanics there in the middle innings, and at least out of the windup, it made a difference. The stretch was [still] pretty tough."
In fact, when the Red Sox took their first lead in the fifth on Mauro Gomez's RBI single, Beckett was actually in line to get the win.
"To our offense's credit, he gave up five in the first and one in the second and we had their closer in the game at the end of the game," Valentine said. "That's a good job. It really kind of put us climbing uphill the whole game."
After that forgetful first by Beckett, the Red Sox came roaring back in their half of the inning against Yankees righty Hiroki Kuroda. Daniel Nava led off with a double off the Monster and moved to third on a wild pitch. Ryan Kalish lifted a sacrifice fly to right to put the Sox on the board. Ortiz lined a single to left and Ross reached on a throwing error by Chavez, the third baseman. Gonzalez's double off the Monster made it 5-2.
The big hit of the inning was delivered by Jarrod Saltalamacchia, who walloped a game-tying three-run homer.
"The guys did a great job today," Beckett said. "When you score eight runs, you're supposed to win the game. I just left too many outs out there. You can't go five innings and expect to compete every time in this league. The offense deserves a lot of credit, and the defense, they played great behind me."