NEW YORK — The one thing the downtrodden Red Sox excelled at this season was holding the lead late in games. That they lacked a closer became an advantage with how deftly manager Alex Cora deployed his relief pitchers.
But even that deserted them on Wednesday night.
Brandon Workman loaded the bases in the seventh inning then Ryan Brasier served up a grand slam to Brett Gardner as the Yankees came back to beat the Sox, 5-3, before a crowd of 44,106 at Yankee Stadium.
The 6-13 Sox have lost three straight and are somehow 8½ games out of first place already. They are off Thursday and start a three-game series at first-place Tampa Bay on Friday.
“It seems crazy to say this in April, but that’s an important series,” Steve Pearce said. “We have to get something going pretty soon.”
The Sox also may have lost second baseman Dustin Pedroia for an extended period, perhaps the entire season. He left the game in the second inning because of pain in his surgically repaired left knee.
Pedroia, 35, is scheduled to see a doctor in Manhattan on Thursday. He was not available to reporters after the game because of what the team claimed was illness.
Pedroia told Cora he “felt something weird” in his knee when he flied out to right field in the second inning.
“I was surprised that he came up to me and told me that. But at least he was honest,” the manager said. “So, we’ll see what happens. I really don’t know. He was a down. I haven’t seen him like that. Hopefully it’s nothing serious.”
Cora acknowledged the Sox would likely make a roster move to add a second baseman before Friday’s game.
Pedroia has appeared in six games and is 2 for 20 without an extra-base hit. He has played only 28 innings in the field since being activated from the injured list on April 9.
Pedroia had cartilage restoration surgery on his knee on Oct. 27, 2017. He played only three games last season, from May 26-29, before returning to the injured list. He then had a second surgery in July.
Pedroia was limited throughout spring training, opened the year on the injured list, then was activated after playing only three games for Single A Greenville.
Pedroia is signed through the 2021 season. Counting this season, he is owed $40 million.
The Sox had a 3-0 lead when Pedroia left the game. Nathan Eovaldi allowed one run over six innings before the bullpen gave the rest of the lead away.
Workman, who had not allowed a run in eight appearances, inherited a 3-1 lead. Clint Frazier singled, Mike Tauchman walked, and Austin Romine walked with one out.
In came Brasier. He got ahead of Gardner, 0 and 2, with two sliders then threw a fastball down the middle. Gardner lined it over the fence in right field for his 100th career home run and pumped his right fist in the air as he rounded first base.
It was the first blown save of the season for the Sox.
“I had a plan to get after him, got him where I wanted to get him, and didn’t execute the pitch,” said Brasier, who intended to throw the fastball higher. “Bad pitch on a good count.”
The Sox loaded the bases with two outs in the eighth inning against Adam Ottavino when J.D. Martinez and Pearce singled, and Mitch Moreland walked. But Eduardo Nunez swung at the first pitch he saw and flied out to right field.
Aroldis Chapman handled the ninth inning for his third save as the Yankees locked away the two-game sweep.
The Sox have scored 13 runs in their last five games and on the season have been outscored by 42 runs, the most for a defending World Series champion after 19 games.
“It’s going to take everybody to get out of this,” Cora said.
Eovaldi was facing the Yankees for the first time since Game 3 of the American League Division Series last Oct. 8.
The Red Sox won that game, 16-1. But Eovaldi had as much to do with it as the offense, holding the Yankees to one run on five hits over seven innings.
His performance on Wednesday was similar as the righthander went six innings and allowed one unearned run on three hits. He walked one and struck out six.
Eovaldi averaged 97 miles per hour and was precise with his location.
“I felt like I was attacking the strike zone for the most part. I was moving the fastball around the zone,” he said. “My splitter felt really good tonight.”
The only run the Yankees scored against Eovaldi was the result of poor defense.
After Luke Voit drew a leadoff walk in the fourth inning, Gleyber Torres grounded to shortstop. Nunez, who replaced Pedroia, dropped the feed from Xander Bogaerts.
Eovaldi struck out DJ LeMahieu, but Frazier doubled down the line in left to drive in a run. With runners on second and third, Eovaldi struck out Tauchman. Gio Urshela followed with a sharply hit grounder to the right side.
Pearce saved at least one run and probably two with a diving stop and made an accurate throw to Eovaldi to end the inning. Eovaldi retired the final eight batters he faced.
Yankees starter J.A. Happ allowed three runs in the first two innings.
Martinez, who has hit safely in 18 of the 19 games, homered to center field in the first inning, a shot to center off a fastball. Christian Vazquez then hit a two-out home run in the second inning, a Yankee Stadium special to right field.
Counting the postseason, Vazquez has 14 career home runs in the majors. The only two the righthanded hitter has hit to right field have come at Yankee Stadium. The first was in Game 4 of the Division Series last season.