BOSTON — The Boston Red Sox worked the count against CC Sabathia, pushing his pitch count up quickly.
They also got 10 hits against him over six innings.
But the Sox could not beat the big left-hander Tuesday night, dropping a 5-2 decision to the New York Yankees in the opener of a three-game series at Fenway Park.
Much was made of Boston’s success against Sabathia this year. He was 17-3 with a 2.40 ERA against the rest of the league but 0-4 with a 7.20 ERA against the Red Sox.
“It feels good we have hit this guy in the past,” Red Sox catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia said before the game. “But he’s a great pitcher.
“He had great stuff before. We were just able to get some runs off him.”
This time, they only got two.
Sabathia actually gave up one more hit than the last time he faced Boston — a 10-4 Red Sox rout on Aug. 6. In that loss, he allowed seven runs on nine hits.
But Boston got big hits that game, including a two-out, three-run homer by Jacoby Ellsbury in the fourth inning.
On Tuesday, Ellsbury came to the plate with two outs and the bases loaded in the second inning. Boston had Sabathia in trouble. His pitch count was already up to 48 pitches.
Ellsbury took a slider for a strike before grounding a fastball to second base for the out.
Sabathia also got Ellsbury looking at a third strike with two runners on in the fourth.
Sabathia struck out Saltalamacchia twice with two runners on, but his third strikeout, with one out and the bases loaded in the seventh, was the worst of the three.
Boston stranded 10 runners against Sabathia, seven in scoring position.
“We certainly respect how good (Sabathia) is and what he can do,” Red Sox Manager Terry Francona said before the game. “We’ve done pretty well against him. When he’s made mistakes, we’ve made him pay for it. We’ve made him work really hard.
“Saying that, I don’t think everyone woke up (Tuesday) morning and said ‘Oh yeah, we get to face CC’“
To face New York’s ace, Boston brought out John Lackey, its No. 3 starter (or No. 4, depending on your opinion).
Lackey came in with a 5.98 ERA but was 7-1 in his last nine starts.
“The last nine or 10 (starts) have been kind of what we thought (Lackey) would be,” Francona said. “Again, it’s not enough to make the ERA look like what everybody wants it (to be). But he’s still pitching like we need (him to). He keeps us in every game. He’s been very consistent.”
Lackey was the winning pitcher in that Aug. 6 game. He gave up three runs on six hits and two walks in six innings.
On Tuesday, Lackey went seven innings. He gave up five runs, four earned, on seven hits and four walks.
He kept Boston in the game.
Lackey’s presence is important to Boston.
Clay Buchholz remains on the disabled list with a stress fracture in his lower back. Buchholz began throwing Tuesday – soft toss from 60 feet – but the Red Sox are still unsure whether he will throw off a mound again this season.
Erik Bedard was acquired to strengthen the rotation. He is a left-hander with good stuff but no postseason experience.
As for Tuesday’s game, a Sabathia-Lackey matchup normally is going to favor the Yankees, despite Sabathia’s earlier struggles this season.
Boston’s strength against New York is its rotation depth. Tonight, Josh Beckett (11-5, 2.43 ERA) faces Phil Hughes (4-4, 6.46). On Thursday, Jon Lester (14-6, 3.09) opposes A.J. Burnett (9-11, 5.31).
The Red Sox still lead the AL East by a half-game, although they’re tied in the loss column.
When the Yankees leave town Thursday night, Boston should still be in first place.
Staff Writer Kevin Thomas can be contacted at 791-6411 or at: firstname.lastname@example.org