NEW YORK — Andy Pettitte pitched the Yankees to their first win of the season and Mariano Rivera made a successful return to the mound in New York’s 4-2 victory over the Boston Red Sox on Thursday night.
Brett Gardner and Francisco Cervelli homered for the Yankees, providing some unexpected power to a depleted lineup missing the “sore four” – Derek Jeter, Alex Rodriguez, Mark Teixeira and Curtis Granderson. All those All-Stars are on the disabled list, and without them New York dropped its first two games at home to the rival Red Sox.
Gardner and Cervelli each hit a solo shot, the first homer for both since they went back-to-back off Baltimore’s Tommy Hunter on Sept. 6, 2011. Neither player spent much time on the active big league roster last season.
Lyle Overbay had a two-run single off Ryan Dempster (0-1), who struck out eight in his Boston debut but needed 101 pitches to get through five innings. The two-time All-Star signed a $26.5 million, two-year contract in December after spending last season with the Cubs and Rangers.
Pettitte (1-0) tossed eight sharp innings on a chilly night and Rivera entered to a standing ovation from those left in the bundled-up crowd of 40,611 as the familiar chords of Metallica’s “Enter Sandman” blared over the Yankee Stadium speakers.
Baseball’s career saves leader, set to retire after this season, missed most of last year after tearing a knee ligament May 3 while shagging flies during batting practice in Kansas City.
Rivera issued a leadoff walk to Dustin Pedroia and gave up a one-out double to Jonny Gomes before Will Middlebrooks drove in a run with a groundout. But the right-hander threw a called third strike past rookie Jackie Bradley Jr. for his 609th save and first since April 30 last year at Baltimore.
It was the 69th time Rivera has saved a win by Pettitte, a major league record. And by appearing in his 19th Yankees season, Rivera broke a tie with Yogi Berra, Mickey Mantle and Jeter to set the franchise mark. Jeter will match Rivera again when the captain makes his season debut.
With fans chanting his name, Pettitte got through the eighth inning and pumped his fist before heading into the dugout for good.
Backed by three double plays — one that he started himself — the 40-year-old lefty allowed one only run and eight hits. He threw 94 efficient pitches and gave the New York pitching staff a huge boost after Hiroki Kuroda was pulled in the second inning Wednesday night with a bruised middle finger.
Looking for their first season-opening sweep at Yankee Stadium, the Red Sox managed only Bradley’s run-scoring double in the seventh.
Pettitte, beginning his 15th season with the Yankees, earned his 246th career win and improved to 19-10 in 38 starts against Boston. He missed almost three months last season with a broken left ankle and finished 5-4 with a 2.87 ERA.
Eduardo Nunez, often a defensive liability, turned two double plays at shortstop and made a leaping grab to rob Shane Victorino of a leadoff hit in the fourth. Nunez also had two hits, including a key double.
Pettitte looked perfectly comfortable out there on a 43-degree night. He blew on his pitching hand to warm it up, but never struggled to throw strikes and had a good enough grip to command his breaking ball.
Pettitte has practically made a career of righting the ship for the Yankees. The team said he is 18-3 with an ERA below 3.00 in 27 starts with New York trying to avoid a regular-season sweep, according to research by the Elias Sports Bureau.
He was working on a five-hit shutout when Middlebrooks smacked a two-out single in the seventh and scored on a double by Bradley. David Ross made a bid for a tying homer with a long drive to left-center that was caught by Gardner just in front of the fence, near the 399-foot sign.
Cervelli greeted Clayton Mortensen with a leadoff homer in the seventh that made it 4-1.
Victorino tried to score from second base on Pettitte’s wild pitch in the first inning. Cervelli was slow and a little nonchalant in retrieving the ball, then scrambled back to the plate in time to tag Victorino as both players dove headfirst.
Victorino appeared shaken up but remained in the game.
NOTES: Ross singled in his first Red Sox plate appearance. … Boston opened the 1912 season with a three-game sweep at New York on the way to its second World Series championship. Back then, the Yankees were known as the Highlanders and played at Hilltop Park. … Looking to split up his left-handed hitters, Yankees manager Joe Girardi moved Robinson Cano up to the No. 2 spot in the lineup for the first time since Sept. 13, 2010. Kevin Youkilis batted third and Ichiro Suzuki hit sixth for the first time in his career, according to STATS. … New York sent RHP Ivan Nova to Detroit early so he could rest up for his 1:05 p.m. start Friday against RHP Doug Fister. … The Yankees released RHP David Aardsma.