BOSTON – Jacoby Ellsbury started off the second half for the Boston Red Sox in the best possible way.
Ellsbury hit Andy Pettitte’s second pitch of the game over the right-field bullpen, and Jonny Gomes added a two-run shot in the second inning Friday night to help the Red Sox return from the All-Star break with a 4-2 victory against the depleted New York Yankees.
“It seems like he’s been hitting .700,” Red Sox Manager John Farrell said. “His timing has been much more Jacoby-like. And his ability to get on base speaks for itself with the havoc he can create.”
Felix Doubront outpitched Pettitte in the opener of the three-game series to help AL East-leading Boston maintain a 2½-game lead over Tampa Bay in the division and open a seven-game cushion over its fourth-place rivals from New York.
“You can’t take too much of it but obviously this is an important stretch we’re in,” Yankees Manager Joe Girardi said. “We understand that. The next three teams we play are all in front of us. We need to play well.”
Ellsbury also singled in the third inning and reached on a walk in the seventh to support Doubront (7-3), who allowed three or fewer earned runs for the 12th straight start. Doubront has six quality starts against the Yankees in six tries.
The last Red Sox pitcher to open his career with as many quality starts — six innings pitched and three or fewer runs allowed — against the Yankees was Dutch Leonard in 1913-15.
“Look at the last two months. He’s pitched extremely well since the end of May,” Girardi said. “And he’s tough on us.”
Ellsbury hit .360 in June and is batting .370 in July, putting together a 19-game hitting streak that was snapped before the break. He had three hits in the first-half finale, then went 2 for 3 Friday to lift his average to .308.
“Not the way you want to start the second half, first batter of the game hitting a home run off you,” Pettitte said. “Can’t keep going out there and giving up 2-3-4 runs in the first or second inning. The long ball hurt me.”
Doubront held a Yankees lineup without Derek Jeter and a handful of other regulars hitless until Lyle Overbay doubled to lead off the fifth. Doubront gave up two runs, one earned, on three hits and three walks, striking out five in 61/3 innings.
Koji Uehara pitched the ninth for his ninth save.
Pettitte (7-7) gave up four runs on six hits and a walk, striking out four in 61/3 innings.
The Yankees’ lineup was further depleted when left fielder Zoilo Almonte came out in the fifth with a left ankle sprain; X-rays were negative. And center fielder Brett Gardner took himself out when, after being called out on a 3-2 pitch to end the top of the fifth, slammed his helmet on the ground and was ejected by plate umpire Mike Everitt.
“I have to have better control of my emotions. I put us in a bad spot and caused guys to play out of position,” Gardner said. “I was frustrated. I let the team down and I’m sorry for that.”