NEW YORK — Jon Lester was in complete control for seven innings, the bullpen was close to perfect, and the Red Sox picked up a bunch of clutch hits.
Saturday’s 4-1 victory against the Yankees was exactly what the Red Sox envisioned when they gathered for spring training seven months ago. If only the game meant more than it did.
For the fourth-place Red Sox, it was a satisfying victory against their rivals and a painful reminder of what could have been as it improved their record to only 59-62.
Lester allowed one run on five hits with two walks and four strikeouts. Now 7-10, Lester has won consecutive decisions for the first time since May 14 and 19.
Adrian Gonzalez hit a two-run homer, one of 10 hits by the Sox. Pedro Ciriaco was 4 for 4 with two stolen bases.
The Sox are 4-7 against the Yankees this season but have taken three of the five games at Yankee Stadium. They will try to take the series Sunday night with Josh Beckett on the mound against Hiroki Kuroda.
David Phelps, a 25-year-old rookie righthander out of Notre Dame, got the start for New York in place of the injured CC Sabathia.
Sabathia, who is on the disabled list with a sore elbow, is expected back next Friday. But Phelps (3-4) acquitted himself well against the Red Sox, allowing three runs on seven hits over 6⅔ innings. He walked none and struck out seven.
The Sox took a 2-0 lead in the first inning. Carl Crawford, who has swung the bat well this month, singled with one out and stole second. Dustin Pedroia popped to left field before Gonzalez lined a fastball on the outside corner over the fence in left field for his 14th home run.
The shot gave Gonzalez eight home runs and 39 RBIs in 33 games since the All-Star break.
The Sox scored again in the fifth inning thanks to the bottom of their order. Ciriaco, who is 15 for 29 against the Yankees this season, had a one-out single to left field. Nick Punto followed with a blast to right field that bounced up against the wall, evading the grasp of Andruw Jones.
Ciriaco, running hard all the way, scored from first base. Punto ended up on third base. He was credited with an RBI double and Jones was assessed with an error.
Punto was stranded at third base as Jacoby Ellsbury and Crawford both grounded to first.
Ciriaco had his third hit of the game with one out in the seventh, a bunt single. After Punto grounded to first, lefthander Boone Logan replaced Phelps and struck out Ellsbury.
The Sox threatened again in the eighth inning. Pedroia extended his hitting streak to 13 games with a double to right field. Yankees manager Joe Girardi ordered Gonzalez intentionally walked then called in side-arming righthander Cody Eppley.
Cody Ross struck out for the fourth time in the game. Ryan Lavarnway, who has not hit well since being called up Aug. 1, grounded to second base to end the inning, Robinson Cano running to the bag to force Gonzalez.
The Sox added an insurance run in the top of the ninth inning. Scott Podsednik led off with a single against Eppley before Ciriaco doubled. With Punto at the plate, a wild pitch scored Podsednik.
Ciriaco was thrown out at the plate when Crawford grounded to second. But the Sox had all the runs they needed.
Lester shut out the Yankees for the first three innings, working out of a jam in the first.
Derek Jeter walked and Nick Swisher singled before Lester struck out Cano, got Jones on a grounder to third, and struck out Casey McGehee.
The Yankees finally scored in the fourth inning when Curtis Granderson, hitting sixth against the lefthander, homered to center field. It was the 31st of the season for Granderson, his 11th against a lefthander.
Lester took a 3-1 lead into the seventh inning. Granderson hit him hard again, lining a double to right field. When Russell Martin grounded to third base, Granderson waited for Punto to make his throw and took off for third.
The return throw from Gonzalez was too late. Jayson Nix had a chance to drive in the run without a hit but popped up to shallow right field. Ichiro Suzuki then grounded to first base and Lester beat him to the bag to end the inning.
That left the Yankees 0 for 9 with runners in scoring position.
Suzuki was the final batter for Lester, who finished with 105 pitches. He has dropped his earned run average from 5.36 to 5.03 in his last two starts.
Andrew Bailey started the bottom of the eighth inning against the top of the Yankees order. It was his first high-leverage opportunity since coming off a season-long stay on the disabled list last week.
Bailey struck out Jeter swinging at a fastball before Swisher singled to center field for his third hit of the game.
Valentine dipped into the bullpen again, bringing in lefthander Craig Breslow to face the lefthanded-hitting Cano.
It was the right move. Cano swung at the second pitch, a slider, and grounded to Gonzalez. As Cano jogged down the line, Gonzalez started a 3-6-3 double play to end the inning.
Cano is in a 1-for-23 slump. He is also slumping against the Red Sox this season, going 8 for 46 (.174) without an RBI in 11 games.
Credit the power of intelligence. Breslow-to-Lavarnway was the first all-Yale battery in the modern era of baseball.
Alfredo Aceves finished off the Yankees for his 25th save.Peter Abraham can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @PeteAbe.