NEW YORK -- Winning two out of three games in Yankee Stadium can't be seen as a negative, even though the current circumstances seem to make a sweep much more possible than usual.
After two convincing victories, the Red Sox lost to the Yankees, 4-2, on Thursday night, thus missing an exceedingly rare opportunity. The last time Boston began the season by beating the Bombers three in a row in New York was 1912.
That was so long ago that the games predated any sort of Yankee Stadium, old or new, and were, in fact, played at Hilltop Park in the Washington Heights neighborhood. The Yankees were not even the Yankees in 1912. That was their last season as the New York Highlanders.
The 2013 opportunity for starting with three straight victories over the Yankees was created by reasons coming from both directions. The Red Sox had put themselves in this position with two winning performances from starting pitchers. Jon Lester was solid on Opening Day. Clay Buchholz was very good in the second game. Add to that timely hitting and spotless defense and it was no surprise that the Red Sox outscored the Yankees, 15-6, in the first two games of this series.
The other half of the sweep equation was the injury-plagued state of the opposition. The Yankees had Derek Jeter, Alex Rodriguez, Curtis Granderson and Mark Teixeira on the disabled list. Their lineup, the Bronx Bombers in the past, appears now in some cases to be more patchwork than threatening.
Still, some key injuries do not mean that the Yankees are disappearing from the face of the planet.
"You know they've been a little depleted with some of their big horses out of the lineup," catcher David Ross said, "but they still put up good at-bats. That's indicative of the kind of team they are."
The pitching matchup for the series finale was Ryan Dempster vs. Andy Pettitte. Dempster was all right. Pettitte was very good.
"Just got outpitched by the guy on the other side of the field," Dempster said in summation.
Even here, the Red Sox came close to the sweep. Down, 3-1, in the seventh with a man on, Ross hit a drive to the wall that was pulled in by center fielder Brett Gardner.
In the ninth, against the game's greatest closer, Mariano Rivera, the Sox scored a run and brought the tying run to the plate, before Rivera shut the evening down with a called strikeout of rookie Jackie Bradley Jr.
The Red Sox were gracious in defeat, particularly in their discussion of Pettitte's work. And why not? Pettite is 19-10 in 38 career starts against Boston. Nearing age 41, in the midst of another comeback, he is a justifiably respected figure throughout the game.
"He's such a hard worker," Dempster said. "He's a guy you should look up to because of the way he goes about it."
For the Red Sox, there was no sweep, but there was the knowledge that they had played well in Yankee Stadium and had produced a sound start to the 2013 season.
"I think we played a good series overall," manager John Farrell said. "Just a solid three games played here in New York. "
The Red Sox haven't been hit by the kind of injury epidemic that has hit the Yankees, but they are without injured designated hitter David Ortiz. Not at all coincidentally, Boston hasn't hit a home run this season. The temperatures in the Bronx the last two nights, more suitable for Thanksgiving season than April, were not optimal for power hitting, but the Bombers managed four homers in the series.
But this is about the American League East standings, not Home Run Derby. The Red Sox didn't get the hoped for sweep, but they did achieve the necessary series victory.
Farrell's adjective of solid was a perfect description of his club's work here. There were stellar performances by two starting pitchers representing an absolutely necessary turnaround from last season. There was errorless defense. Jose Iglesias may not emerge as the regular shortstop this season, but his play in the field is extremely impressive. Ross may be officially the backup catcher, but he was 2-for-2 throwing out would-be basestealers Thursday night.
And the Red Sox, any time they weren't facing Andy Pettitte, were able to bunch hits and score more than enough runs.
For all the talk about intangible shortcomings with the Boston teams of the last two seasons, Farrell is fond of this team for what he sees as its strength in the very same areas. Among the attributes of these players, he said Thursday were "their willingness to work, their focus and their energy. They get fun out of executing and winning games. I think that speaks more to the type of people that they are, in addition to the talents that they possess."
The Red Sox could not quite come up with the rare 3-0 start in New York, but for the purposes of their fresh start as a team, 2-1 would do.
Mike Bauman is a national columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.