As the seventh inning started at Fenway Park Friday night, the Red Sox were nine outs from what would have been their signature victory of the season.
Down by five runs in the first inning against the Yankees, the determined Sox overcame a terrible start by Josh Beckett to take a one-run lead. Manager Bobby Valentine also had his best relievers lined up just the way he wanted them.
“We thought we could squeak it out,” Valentine said.
But perseverance could not overcome another round of poor pitching. The Yankees scored four runs in the seventh inning and beat the Sox, 10-8, in a wild game played before 38,066.
That’s four losses in a row for the Red Sox, who trail the first-place Yankees by 8½ games in the division. It’s their largest deficit of the season.
“It’s only July,” Adrian Gonzalez said, dismissing the idea that the Red Sox are falling out of the race.
But the Sox are winless in three games against the Yankees this season, giving up 31 runs. With three more games this weekend, the rivalry is all in New York’s favor so far.
“We showed a lot of character coming back,” shortstop Mike Aviles said. “But we needed to find a way to win it.”
The first inning took 42 minutes as 68 pitches were thrown. By the time it was over, each team scored five runs and everyone at Fenway Park was buckling in for a long night of baseball.
The first five Yankees reached off Beckett, who nearly didn’t finish the inning.
“I was really struggling. In the first inning I just wanted to throw a strike. I didn’t care where they hit it. I was really battling myself,” he said.
Derek Jeter flicked the first pitch of the game into center field for a single. Curtis Granderson singled to right before a curveball brushed Alex Rodriguez to load the bases.
Beckett walked Robinson Cano to force in a run. Mark Teixeira then singled to center to drive in two more. A sacrifice fly by Nick Swisher gave the Yankees a 4-0 lead.
Teixeira took third on a single by Raul Ibanez and scored on a sacrifice fly by Eric Chavez.
The Red Sox roared back against Hiroki Kuroda, also sending nine men to the plate.
Daniel Nava led off with a double off the wall, advanced to third on a wild pitch, and scored on a sacrifice fly by Ryan Kalish.
David Ortiz singled to left, beating the shift. After Cody Ross reached on an error, Gonzalez doubled off the wall in left-center to drive in Ortiz and extend his hit streak to 16 games.
Jarrod Saltalamacchia drove a belt-high fastball on the inner half of the plate into the stands in right field and the Sox had answered a devastating punch with one of their own.
It was the 17th home run of the season for Saltalamacchia, one more than he had all last season.
Beckett was shaky in the second inning as Granderson tripled to the gap in right and scored on a ground out by Rodriguez. The Sox bounced back again as Ortiz’s RBI single in the second made it 6-6.
Beckett got tough after the second inning and did not allow another run before leaving the game after five innings and 90 pitches.
Not that Valentine was impressed.
“He kind of put us climbing uphill the whole game,” the manager said. “Six innings [would have been] perfect, but I just didn’t see him having it in him.”
Said Beckett: “The guys did a great job today. 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 Red Sox took the lead in the bottom of the fifth inning. Gonzalez singled to center, moved up on Kuroda’s second wild pitch, and scored on a single by rookie third baseman Mauro Gomez.
The Sox took a 7-6 lead into the seventh inning. But the bullpen could not hold it.
Andrew Miller, reliable all season, started the inning by walking Granderson. Rodriguez then singled. With two outs, Valentine called in Vicente Padilla.
The righthander had stranded 18 of 19 runners he inherited this season and Teixeira was 2 for 10 against him. But Teixeira worked the count full and belted a two-run triple to the triangle in center to give the Yankees the lead.
Ibanez delivered an RBI double and Chavez had an RBI single off Scott Atchison as the Yankees built the lead to 10-7.
The Red Sox cut into the deficit in the bottom of the inning when Ross homered to left off Boone Logan. Gonzalez followed with a single.
Gomez singled with one out off Cody Eppley. But the Yankees snuffed out the rally. When Aviles grounded deep into the hole at shortstop, Jeter ranged to his right and made the throw to third to force Gonzalez. David Robertson came in and struck out Nick Punto.
Gonzalez came up in the eighth inning with two on and two outs. He got ahead of Rafael Soriano, 3 and 1, but tapped a sinker to first base.
“I thought we were going to at least tie it up,” Valentine said.
Gonzalez, who was 3 for 5, said Soriano made a good pitch.
“It had late sink and I topped it,” he said. “I wish I would have gotten underneath that. It would have been a double.”
Soriano retired the side in order in the ninth for his 20th save.
The Sox face another long day of baseball on Saturday.
“When you’re against the wall you come back and try to play the game,” Ortiz said. “That’s what we did tonight. Come back and play tomorrow now. That’s all you can do. Be ready to play tomorrow.”Peter Abraham can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @PeteAbe.