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PETER ABRAHAM | ON BASEBALL

Against the Yankees, Andrew Cashner showed why he’s here

Andrew Cashner’s introduction to the Red Sox-Yankees rivalry was something to smile about.
Andrew Cashner’s introduction to the Red Sox-Yankees rivalry was something to smile about.John Tlumacki/Globe Staff/Globe Staff

On a night Mookie Betts went 4 for 5 with three home runs, a double, and five RBIs against the Yankees, is it possible a heavily bearded, 32-year-old journeyman righthander with an ’80s mullet had the most important performance for the Red Sox?

It well could be. Welcome to the Red Sox-Yankees rivalry, Andrew Cashner.

Cashner gave the Red Sox exactly what they needed on Friday night, going 6⅔ innings and allowing three runs. He had a four-hit shutout going through five.

The Red Sox were on their way to a 10-5 victory by then and it didn’t matter.

Cashner was obtained from the Baltimore Orioles on July 13 for games like this. Until his arrival, the Sox had been patching together the No. 5 spot in the rotation with Hector Velazquez, Ryan Weber, and Josh Smith.

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That all three are now in Triple A should tell you how that worked. The hole required a trade to fill it and Dave Dombrowski made it.

Cashner was not particularly impressive in his first two starts, allowing nine earned runs, 14 hits, and four walks in 11 innings. The Sox lost both, to the Blue Jays and the Orioles.

So Cashner’s start against the Yankees was an important one for several reasons. Chief among them was showing he could handle the pressure of baseball’s best rivalry.

“It was awesome. The fans, you feel locked in every pitch. It was pretty loud, it was fun,” he said. “[The Yankees] are one of my favorite teams to face.”

Cashner is from Texas. So why does he love facing the Yankees?

“Everybody grows up hating the Yankees, right?” said Cashner, who suddenly has lot of new friends in Boston.

Cashner is 10-5 with a 4.18 earned run average in 20 starts this season, so that he pitched well should not come as surprise. But pitching well in anonymity for the last-place Orioles is not the same as pitching well for a Red Sox team fighting to make the playoffs.

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“He had good fastball command. The slider was good; the changeup was good, too,” manager Alex Cora said. “His velocity was up. He was excited about this one.”

The first inning proved to be the most important one for Cashner.

DJ LeMahieu led off with a single, then Cashner fell behind Aaron Judge 2 and 0. But he came back to strike out Judge swinging at a slider. Cashner then fanned Edwin Encarnacion with a changeup, and Christian Vazquez threw out LeMahieu trying to steal second to end the inning.

“Continue to slow the game down and keep making pitches,” Cashner said. “Anybody in that lineup, you have to keep making pitches.”

When Betts hit a homer to start the game and J.D. Martinez added a two-run shot in the bottom of the inning, Cashner had a lead to work with; he retired 11 of the next 12 Yankees.

“Once you get the lead, you just want to throw more strikes than anything. Don’t nibble,” he said.

Cashner allowed three consecutive singles with two outs in the sixth inning, giving the Yankees their first run. Two more came across in the seventh, and the sellout crowd cheered when Cora came to the mound to take the starter out.

The volume of the cheering increased as Cashner approached the dugout and touched the brim of his cap to acknowledge the fans.

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“It was cool. Alex told me to enjoy it,” Cashner said.

Cashner made his debut with the Cubs in 2010 after being a first-round pick in 2008, and played for the Padres, Marlins, Rangers, and Orioles before coming to the Red Sox. He has yet to play for a team that finished above .500.

The Red Sox represent his best chance to have a career that veers out of the ordinary.

“It think it would be huge,” Cashner said. “Over the course of my career I haven’t had a lot of run support. It’s been nice to see this team open up and I’ve been able to pitch deep into games.”

Before Friday, No. 5 starters were 2-9 with a 5.75 ERA. If Cashner is able to work into the sixth inning and give the offense a chance to work, the Sox are going to pick up victories they missed in the first half.

Now, the Sox have Eduardo Rodriguez and Chris Sale for the final two games of the series, and a chance for what would be a statement-making sweep.

“It feel like we’re finding that groove now pitching-wise,” Cora said. “It was a great one for Cash.”


Peter Abraham can be reached at pabraham@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @PeteAbe.