The Red Sox have been playing with uncommon confidence all season, if not a certain swagger. But what they pulled off in the fourth inning against the Yankees on Sunday night went beyond that.
Jarrod Saltalamacchia, a catcher with three career stolen bases, stole home, sneaking down the line before the Yankees realized what was happening.
It was part of another celebration at Fenway Park as the Sox beat their rivals, 9-2, before a sold-out crowd of 37,137.
The Sox paid tribute to a respected opponent before the game, honoring Mariano Rivera with a series of gifts. Then they made sure that New York’s closer didn’t get to pitch.
Mike Napoli hit a mammoth home run in the first inning and Daniel Nava had four hits for the Sox. With Tampa Bay losing at Minnesota, the Sox now have a 9½-game lead in the American League East. Their magic number to clinch the division is down to 4.
With six games left on their homestand, champagne will soon be readied. The Sox are 11-3 in September.
“We’ve been in a good run for a while here,” manager John Farrell said. “To see the production up and down the lineup, it’s a deep lineup. Confidence continues to grow. This group believes in itself.”
The Sox finished the regular season 13-6 against the Yankees and outscored their rivals, 120-85. It was the most wins for the Red Sox against the Yankees in a season since the 1973 team went 14-4 against New York.
The Yankees trail by three games in the American League wild-card race with 12 to play. Losing six of seven games against the Sox over an 11-day period could prove fatal to their postseason hopes.
“Boston has done an absolute number on us. They’ve basically whipped our [butts],” Alex Rodriguez said.
The steal of home was an example of that. With Saltalamacchia on third and two outs in the inning, rookie Xander Bogaerts took off for second, then hesitated.
Catcher Chris Stewart came up throwing and Saltalamacchia scored without a play.
“It’s definitely something I never thought would happen,” Saltalamacchia said. “I want to thank all the little people who made it happen.”
Those types of plays are preparation for the postseason — and give advance scouts for other teams something to think about.
“We’re focused on every aspect of the game and making sure we’re pretty locked in,” Saltalamacchia said. “Any type of runs we can get are good.”
Saltalamacchia then laughed at what he had done.
“My speed, it took over,” he said. “Jackie Robinson, [Jacoby] Ellsbury, I’m in a pretty elite category.”
The offense was otherwise conventional. Nava doubled with one out off Yankees starter Ivan Nova in the first inning and scored when David Ortiz beat the defensive shift with a groundball to left field right where the shortstop would have been stationed.
With two outs, Napoli hit a towering home run to center field, the ball disappearing behind the camera platform.
Of Napoli’s 22 home runs this season, seven have come against the Yankees. Not since Jimmie Foxx had eight in 1936 has a Red Sox player had more in a season against the Yankees.
Dustin Pedroia walked in the fifth inning and went to third when Nava lined a ground-rule double to right field. The Yankees then intentionally walked Ortiz to load the bases for Mike Carp.
Intentionally walking Ortiz has often backfired on opponents this season and did again as Carp was hit by a pitch to force in a run.
The Sox kept scoring in the sixth inning. Bogaerts doubled to the gap in right field, the ball eluding the once golden glove of Ichiro Suzuki. Pedroia walked with one out before Nava singled to center field to drive in Bogaerts.
With Ortiz at the plate, the Yankees called in rookie lefthander Cesar Cabral. He threw a wild pitch that nearly hit Ortiz. Big Papi paid Cabral back with a sharp single to center field.
The inning ended when Napoli was called out on strikes by umpire Ron Kulpa and was ejected for the first time in his career.
It was the 178th strikeout for Napoli, a team record. Mark Bellhorn set the old record of 177 during the 2004 season.
Pedroia added a two-run double in the seventh.
Farrell said before the game that it would be a successful night for Clay Buchholz if he could get through six innings in his second start since a three-month stay on the disabled list.
On cue, Buchholz went six innings to improve to 11-0.
Buchholz allowed one unearned run on two hits. But it was a bit of an uneven performance as he matched his season high with four walks, struck out only three, and threw a wild pitch.
“Not as sharp as his last time out,” Farrell said. “But he has such an ability to manipulate the baseball and make a pitch in key spots.”
The run came in the first inning. Curtis Granderson walked and went to third when Buchholz threw away a pickoff throw.
Granderson scored when Rodriguez grounded to shortstop. Rodriguez, who was 0 for 7 in the series and booed vociferously throughout, later left the game with a tight right calf muscle.
Buchholz threw 91 pitches, 53 for strikes. He has gone 11 innings in his two starts since returning, allowing one unearned run on five hits with five walks and nine strikeouts.
“It’s fun to play ball when everything’s going right. That’s sort of how this team’s been all year,” Buchholz said.Peter Abraham can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @PeteAbe.