NEW YORK — Matt Holliday made a smashing return to the Yankees’ lineup Saturday after being sidelined a month, launching a three-run homer that led Masahiro Tanaka and New York over the Boston Red Sox, 5-1.

“We’ve missed that,” Yankees Manager Joe Girardi said.

The Yankees, already holding the top spot in the wild-card race, pulled within 41/2 games of Boston. The rivals close their season series Sunday night.

Holliday has hit two big home runs against the Red Sox this season. His link to Boston Manager John Farrell goes back a lot further.

When Holliday was 3 or 4 years old, his dad was the pitching coach at Oklahoma State – the school where Farrell pitched. And occasionally Farrell babysat for the future big leaguer.

“I’ve known him a long time,” Holliday said.

Not that anyone would have expected the connection would someday lead to Holliday connecting like this.

“That’s part of life, I guess,” Farrell said.

Holliday hadn’t played in the majors since going on the disabled list in early August with a back injury. He was activated Friday from his second DL stint this year but sat out a 4-1 loss.

“I’m just glad to be part of the team, back on the field,” Holliday said. “I mean, these are big games. I want to be part of it.”

It was 1-1 in the sixth inning when Holliday hit a drive to left off Drew Pomeranz (14-5) estimated at 443 feet. Holliday pointed toward the Yankees’ dugout on his way toward first base after his 17th home run – his previous homer was July 15, a tying shot in the ninth off Red Sox closer Craig Kimbrel at Fenway Park in a game New York won in the 16th.

“I beat him in there a few times,” Pomeranz said. “I think it was a pretty good pitch but I think it was what he was looking for. He put the right swing on it.”

Chase Headley also homered, getting three hits as the Yankees ended Pomeranz’s career-best eight-game win streak.

Tanaka (11-10) gave up five hits and one run, which scored on his wild pitch. He left after a leadoff single in the eighth.

The Yankees have won 2 of 3 in the series, holding Boston to 0 for 15 with runners in scoring position.

Jacoby Ellsbury tripled and scored on a single by Gary Sanchez in the Yankees’ seventh. Ellsbury entered after center fielder Aaron Hicks left with tightness in his left oblique.

NOTES: The first big weekend of college football brought out the Bama in relievers Craig Kimbrel of Boston and David Robertson of the Yankees. Kimbrel, born in Huntsville, wore an Alabama football jersey in the clubhouse while Robertson, who went to Paul W. Bryant High School in Tuscaloosa and pitched for the Crimson Tide, had a Bama shirt. Top-ranked Alabama opened Saturday night against No. 3 Florida State …

No word yet from Major League Baseball on the appeals by Yankees catchers Gary Sanchez (four games) and Austin Romine (two games) of their suspensions from recent brawls in Detroit. They had their hearings Friday. …

Red Sox second baseman Dustin Pedroia didn’t play, a day after he went seven innings in his first game off the disabled list. Farrell said Pedroia’s knee showed no ill effects. Pedroia is expected to play Sunday night. Tzu-Wei Lin was recalled from Triple-A Pawtucket and got to Yankee Stadium about a half-hour before gametime. He started at second and made two nice stops. … Center fielder Jackie Bradley Jr. (sprained left thumb) was activated from the DL and went 1 for 3. … Slumping shortstop Xander Bogaerts didn’t start for the second straight day. … Left-hander David Price (elbow inflammation) is set for another bullpen session Monday.