It is something special any time the Red Sox play the Yankees. But Tuesday night at Fenway Park was more than just another chapter of the rivalry.
Jacoby Ellsbury made his return to Boston as a member of the first-place Yankees, blithely saying before the game he had not pondered what sort of reception he would receive.
The Sox were pitching their ace, Jon Lester, against Japanese sensation Masahiro Tanaka. That Derek Jeter was playing at Fenway for the first time since 2012 was just a footnote.
What should have been great theater turned into a mess for the increasingly worrisome Sox as the Yankees rolled to a 9-3 win with Ellsbury and Tanaka playing leading roles.
Ellsbury had a hand in four of the runs while Tanaka went a strong 7⅓ innings, thoroughly outpitching Lester. Two other high-priced free agents also aided the rebuilt Yankees. Carlos Beltran was 2 for 5 with a home run and two RBIs and Brian McCann 3 for 4 with a walk and one run driven in.
The Red Sox made two errors that led to five unearned runs and for the third consecutive day fell behind early in the game.
A sellout crowd of 37,041 that delighted in booing Ellsbury was booing the Red Sox before the night was over.
The 9-12 Red Sox are 3½ games behind the Yankees and fell to 1-4 against New York this season. The Yankees have won seven of their last nine.
“I don’t know if concern is the right word,” said Lester, who allowed eight runs (three earned) on 11 hits over 4⅔ innings. “I know everybody here is busting their butt to do their best to get on a good run and put a full game together, whether it be pitching, defense, or offense.
“I hate saying it, but we’ve got a long ways to go. We’re going to figure it out on both sides of the baseball and we’ll be there.”
Lester was the latest Red Sox starter to fail. In the last five games, Sox starters have allowed 22 earned runs over 24⅔ innings and put 63 runners on base.
The bullpen is so taxed the Red Sox are planning to call up a pitcher from Triple A Pawtucket for Wednesday’s game. Outfielder Daniel Nava, who met with manager John Farrell and general manager Ben Cherington after the game, could be optioned to the minors or placed on the disabled list.
“This turn through the rotation, it’s been less than we’ve shown in the past,’’ Farrell said. “It’s been less than expected. For us to play with consistency we need our starting rotation to lead us through that, and we’re not getting that.”
The crowd booed Ellsbury as he came to the plate in the first inning, then cheered when Lester fired two strikes to jump ahead in the count.
But the third pitch was a two-seam fastball that stayed up and over the plate and Ellsbury hammered it to straightaway center field. The ball smacked into the wall, just inches from a home run.
A fan, who was ejected, interfered with the ball and Ellsbury was awarded a triple. He scored on the next pitch when Jeter grounded a single up the middle.
Jeter took second on a passed ball and kept going to third when catcher A.J. Pierzynski threw the ball into center field. A single by Beltran made it 2-0.
It was the start of a big night for Ellsbury, who was 2 for 5 with two RBIs and two runs. He is 7 of 19 against the Red Sox this season.
The Sox played a brief highlight video of Ellsbury’s seven seasons in Boston after the first inning and the crowd cheered before returning to booing his subsequent at-bats.
“I thought the fans were great. I thought the reception was nice. The tribute the Red Sox gave on the videoboard was unexpected. I thought it was very classy of them to do that,” Ellsbury said.
Lester was hit hard again in the third inning.
Alfonso Soriano led off with a double to center field. Jackie Bradley Jr. was at the wall when the ball hit but he missed on a leaping catch. Mark Teixeira followed with a bloop double over first base. McCann’s double to the gap in left was a play Jonny Gomes couldn’t make and the Yankees led, 4-0.
Tanaka shut out the Red Sox for the first three innings. Two batters he struck out in the first inning figured him out in the fourth.
David Ortiz got ahead, 3 and 1, and drove a fastball to right-center, the ball sailing over the Red Sox bullpen and deep into the stands. ESPN, which tracks home run distance, had the ball going 485 feet.
Mike Napoli followed with a home run to left field, the ball leaving a dent in the Monster Seats. It was a new game as the fifth inning started, but that didn’t last. Neither did Lester.
With two outs and two on, Lester seemed to be out of the inning when Brian Roberts lined to first base.
But Napoli, screened by a runner, let the ball go off his glove and a run scored.
“It’s a play I need to make. It’s a big situation in the game,” Napoli said.
Ellsbury capitalized further on the error with a two-run double to left-center, and Farrell came to get Lester. Ellsbury pointed at his teammates as he stood at second, having delivered another shot to his former team.
Lester, who was terrific in his first four starts, had some angry looks at umpire Quinn Walcott throughout the game. But his mistakes and those of his teammates in the field were a bigger problem than borderline calls.
The Red Sox haven’t had their full lineup together yet and their mistakes are correctable. But it’s been a season of false starts.
“We played at a championship level all last year and that’s hard to duplicate,” Gomes said. “But we’re better than this.”