BOSTON – The Boston Red Sox said goodbye to Mariano Rivera, and then they finished off the New York Yankees in the AL East.
Shortly after a pregame ceremony to honor the longtime Yankees closer, Mike Napoli homered in a three-run first inning to help Clay Buchholz coast to a 9-2 victory over New York on Sunday night. Daniel Nava added four hits for Boston, which eliminated the two-time defending East champions from the division race.
Buchholz pitched six innings of two-hit ball to complete the three-game sweep and give the Red Sox six wins in seven games against the Yankees in 11 days. Boston has won 10 of its last 12 to expand its lead in the AL East over second-place Tampa Bay to 9½ games.
“It’s not just one team,” said Red Sox catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia, who singled and scored a run on a double steal. “It’s how we play. We want to win every game. We never settle for what (the lead) is. It’s ‘Go for the next one.”‘
Boston has a magic number of four to clinch its second division title since 1995. The Yankees trail Boston by 12½ games with 12 games to play and trail the Rays and Texas Rangers by three in the wild-card standings, with Cleveland and Baltimore also ahead of them in the race.
The Yankees had won the last two division titles and 13 of the last 17.
“I don’t stop believing,” Yankees manager Joe Girardi said. “We still have a great opportunity. Sure, we have to win a lot of games, but the opportunity’s right in front of us.”
In his second start since coming off the disabled list, Buchholz (11-0) walked four and struck out three and allowed only one unearned run. He gave up four walks and an unearned run while striking out three.
“It’s fun to play ball when things are going right. That’s how this team’s been all year,” said Buchholz, who spent three months on the disabled list with a strained neck. “To run back out there two starts in a row, that’s what I want to do. That’s where I want to be.”
Since coming off the DL, Buchholz has allowed five hits and zero earned runs in 11 innings to lower his ERA to 1.51. He is the first Red Sox pitcher to win his first 11 decisions since Roger Clemens started 14-0 in 1986.
“He started out one of the best pitchers in baseball and unfortunately his season was interrupted with the three months’ down time,” Farrell said. “Our confidence continues to grow. … This group believes in itself and it continues to show up between the lines.”
Shortly after a pregame ceremony to honor Rivera in his last scheduled trip to Fenway Park, Napoli hit a two-run homer off Ivan Nova (8-5) to make it 3-1 in the first inning.
The Red Sox scored another in the fourth on a double steal and chased Nova in the fifth, making it 5-1 when he hit Mike Carp with the bases loaded and nobody out. In all, Nova allowed five runs – four earned – on six hits and four walks and a hit batter, striking out two in four-plus innings.
Boston added two more in the sixth and two in the seventh.
NOTES: Alex Rodriguez left the game in the fifth inning with a strained right calf. “We’ll see what he says Tuesday,” Girardi said. … Napoli was ejected by home plate umpire Ron Kulpa for arguing a called third strike in the sixth inning. It was the first ejection of Napoli’s career. The strikeout, his second of the game and 178th of the season, broke Mark Bellhorn’s franchise record for a season. … The Red Sox are the first team to beat the Yankees 13 times in a season since the Baltimore Orioles went 13-5 against them in 1976. … Yankees RHP Jim Miller, who was outrighted to Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre on Saturday, accepted the assignment on Sunday. … New York OF Alfonso Soriano was back in lineup after missing one game with a sprained right thumb and being scratched from Saturday’s game.