BOSTON — This could have done it. It would have been another devastating loss for the Yankees and convinced them that they are no longer contenders.

But Matt Holliday spoiled that, along with a Boston Red Sox offense that disappears at the wrong times.

Holliday’s homer off Craig Kimbrel in the ninth inning sent Saturday afternoon’s game into the night.

It took 16 innings, 5 hours and 50 minutes, plus every reliever available, and then some.

The Yankees beat Boston 4-1 despite another dominating Chris Sale performance.

Sale showed his stuff in the first inning with strikeouts of the Yankees’ dangerous duo of Gary Sanchez and Aaron Judge.

Sale, at 6-foot-6, 180-pounds, gives up 100 pounds to Judge (6-7, 282), but neutralized him with high 97 mph fastballs and sliders. It was a slider that Judge couldn’t check his swing on, striking out in the third. Judge, the mammoth rookie with 30 home runs, later flied out against Sale.

Before Sale could face Judge a fourth time, his tag-team power arm, Kimbrel, entered. In an epic 10-pitch battle, Judge finally lined out to right.

That preserved Sale’s line at 72/3 innings, three hits, no runs, two walks and 13 strikeouts.

Sale dominated Judge and the Yankees.

Unfortunately, Sale again didn’t get enough backing from his teammates. Boston supported him with only one run, and then Kimbrel had an unheard-of blown save at Fenway.

Sale is 11-4. He didn’t factor in Saturday’s decision. Here are the runs Boston has scored in Sale’s four losses: one, zero, zero and one.

In Sale’s non-decisions, the run support has been zero, one, two and the one Saturday.

Still, Sale gets applause, not only for another big-time performance, but to produce such an effort against the New Yorkers.

Sale has a 1.17 career ERA against the Yankees, the best of any pitcher against New York with at least 50 innings pitched, ever.

The Fenway Park crowd approved. When Sale struck out Sanchez in the eighth, ending his day, fans were quickly on their feet, applauding.

This is a key reason why Dave Dombrowski raided the Red Sox farm system and traded for Sale – to perform in clutch games, especially against the Yankees.

This rivalry is on the way back. It has been a while since both teams have been in contention – the last time both reached the playoffs was in 2009. But this weekend, Fenway Park has been electric with the Yankees in town.

“It’s noticeable even in the dugout, the atmosphere, the energy in the ballpark. You feel it,” Red Sox Manager John Farrell said. “That’s all part of what this rivalry is. There is a stage that these series are put on.”

Asked if his players got more fired up for the Yankees, Farrell said no – i.e., his players get fired up for everyone – but he added, “we know who we’re playing.”

New York, in a quasi-rebuilding year, wasn’t expected to contend. Yet the Yankees broke away at the start with a 38-23 record.

Then came the skid. Even with Saturday’s win, New York is 8-19 in its last 27 games. With the trade deadline approaching, General Manager Brian Cashman is talking about being a “careful buyer.”

It would probably make it easier on Cashman if the Yankees just folded. Their pitching rotation is thin, and Michael Pineda’s elbow problems – with a second opinion pending – is only making it worse.

But the Yankees are still around, making this rivalry serious again.

“While the page may be turned with the rosters – you’re starting to get younger players that hopefully are going to be competing against one another for years to come,” Farrell said. “And that’s only going to enrich and intensify as you go along.”

The Yankees have Judge, Sanchez and Saturday’s starter, Luis Severino.

Boston, of course, is already prospering with its youth moment – Mookie Betts, Andrew Benintendi, Jackie Bradley Jr., etc.

But it’s not all kids. Dombrowski knows this team will go as far as its arms. Enter Sale.

He was the man Saturday.

If only Boston can find some offense to back him, he could be the pitcher to lead the Red Sox far into October.

Kevin Thomas can be reached at 791-6411 or:

[email protected]

Twitter: @ClearTheBases

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