Red Sox ace Jon Lester has given his team plenty of big performances in similar situations over the years, but this one was a bit of a battle for the lefty, who gave up six hits and four runs over 6 1/3 innings, walking four and striking out five.
"Just bad pitches -- behind in the count, not commanding the baseball, the list goes on," said Lester. "It just wasn't a good night for me. It's another one of those grinders. The biggest thing was to just try to get as deep in the game as I could and try to save the bullpen. It wasn't good for me with really anything tonight."
On a night Sabathia was vintage (7 1/3 innings, one run, no walks, 10 strikeouts), the Yankees were able to snap a five-game losing streak that included a four-game sweep in the Subway Series with the Mets.
"You don't really expect anything less from him," Lester said. "I know he hasn't really pitched well -- or probably up to his standards -- the past couple, so you knew coming in with us being here he was going to step it up and throw a good game, and he did that tonight. He threw the hell out of the ball tonight."
With the loss, the Red Sox saw their lead in the American League East slimmed to one game.
The Red Sox, playing without Jacoby Ellsbury (groin, day to day), didn't have much life offensively for most of this game.
In the ninth, however, they did make things interesting against the man most consider to be the best closer of all-time.
Dustin Pedroia, who didn't have a hit against Mariano Rivera in 13 career plate appearances, finally ended that drought with a one-out single up the middle.
"Not too many people get hits off him," said Pedroia. "It was pretty tough, a 99-hopper up the middle. I'll take it."
David Ortiz followed with a single to right and the Red Sox suddenly brought the tying run to the plate.
Rivera then reverted back to form. He struck out Mike Napoli on three pitches. Stephen Drew was Boston's last hope, but he ended the game with a little tapper back toward the mound.
"As far as the closer role, he sets the bar by which all are compared," said manager John Farrell. "And even over the course of time, if you see stuff diminish, it's still that one pitch that's so dominant and can be dominant. I thought we put some good swings on him in the ninth and created one of the few opportunities that we did have tonight. Unfortunately we came up on the short end."
The Yankees produced their first rally in the second. Mark Teixeira, taking his first at-bat of the season, led off with a walk. Vernon Wells followed with a double to left. That set up Jayson Nix for an RBI single to left. Ichiro Suzuki made it 2-0 when he placed a single into left.
"That's how you draw it up, really," said Teixeira. "When you have two aces on the mound, you want to give your ace a couple runs early. It was just a great game."
While Sabathia was masterful all night, the Yankees tacked on against Lester in the fifth when Kevin Youkilis laced a two-out RBI single to left.
"Delivery felt fine," said Lester. "Arm felt fine. For whatever reason, maybe [I] was trying to be too fine with a cutter in or trying to hit the black on the outside corner or trying to throw too good of a curveball. You have those nights where you're just not, for whatever reason, clicking right at the end. I felt great getting to landing, but for whatever reason, the release wasn't good on anything."
It wasn't until the seventh that the Red Sox could make any kind of impact against Sabathia. Pedroia led off with his second double of the night. With one out, Napoli cranked an RBI double to the opposite field in right and it was a 3-1 game.
"I mean, he's pretty darned good all the time," said Pedroia of Sabathia. "There's a reason why he's one of the best in baseball for a long period of time. Sometimes you've got to tip your cap, come back and play again tomorrow."
Lester came back out for the seventh, but he came out after back-to-back, one-out singles by Suzuki and Chris Stewart. Andrew Miller came on in relief, and Brett Gardner greeted him with an RBI single that gave New York a three-run lead.