BOSTON – After C.C. Sabathia dispatched the Boston Red Sox on seven pitches in the first inning, Saturday looked to be a pitchers’ delight with Sabathia matching left-handed fastballs with Boston’s Jon Lester.

But then the Red Sox chipped away, dropping in hits and dropping down bunts, working walks and managing at-bats.

Boston bested Sabathia and the New York Yankees 5-1 before a comfortable, sold-out crowd of 37,510 at Fenway Park.

The Red Sox improved to 91-59 moved a step closer to clinching the AL East title.

The Yankees dropped to 79-70.

While Boston bounced Sabathia out of the game after six innings (nine hits, five runs), Lester cruised.

Starting with three perfect innings, Lester (14-8) lasted eight frames, limiting the Yankees to one run on three hits.

“He’s a horse,” catcher David Ross said. “He’s powerful and he comes right at you.”

The eight-inning effort magnified Lester’s workhorse reputation. He now has 2011/3 innings this year, his fifth season of 200-plus innings.

“Above and beyond that, it’s been outstanding innings pitched throughout his career,” Red Sox Manager John Farrell said.

“Velocity in the mid-90s more consistently. Makes the cutter that much more effective because hitters have to commit early.”

Lester kept to a fastball-cutter mix through most of the game, trying one or two curveballs an inning and not introducing his change-up until the sixth. He wanted to be aggressive.

“The game plan going into today was ‘here it comes’ ” said Lester, who threw 79 strikes among his 115 pitches, walking only two.

Meanwhile, Sabathia (13-13, 4.90 ERA) continued with a so-so season. He mixed in fastballs and sliders but was in constant trouble after the first inning.

“Maybe it’s just one of those years for him,” Napoli said. “In years past, he threw a lot harder.”

After the first inning, the Red Sox scored in the next four innings for a 5-1 lead. They made Sabathia work (110 pitches, four walks).

Mike Napoli and Jonny Gomes both reached base four times — 2 for 2 with two walks. Gomes, Daniel Nava, Will Middlebrooks, David Ortiz and Shane Victorino each knocked in a run.

Napoli led off the second inning with an infield hit, then advanced to second on a throwing error by third baseman Mark Reynolds.

After a walk to Gomes, Nava bunted both runners over. Napoli scored on Middlebrooks’ groundout to shortstop.

In the third, Dustin Pedroia led off with a single. Victorino bunted him over and Pedroia scored on Ortiz’s double to left. Napoli singled home Ortiz for a 3-0 lead.

Curtis Granderson ended Lester’s perfection in the fourth with a triple to deep center. He scored on Robinson Cano’s groundout.

Boston quickly added insurance, however. Victorino singled home David Ross in the fourth, and Napoli scored on Nava’s lineout to center in the fifth.

NOTES: Yankees outfielder Alfonso Soriano was a late scratch because of a sprained thumb. Farrell said Felix Doubront will get a start next weekend against the Blue Jays. Doubront was temporarily removed from the rotation when Clay Buchholz came back.

Kevin Thomas can be reached at 791-6411 or:

[email protected]

Twitter: @ClearTheBases

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