Red Sox 3, Yankees 2

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NEW YORK (AP)—The way the Boston Red Sox are playing these days, nothing seems to be able to stop them. Not even Mariano Rivera.

Orlando Cabrera and Johnny Damon hit RBI singles in the ninth inning off the majors’ top reliever, and the Red Sox stormed past New York 3-2 Friday night to cut the Yankees’ AL East lead to 2 1/2 games.

“Without question, it was definitely a blow to their ego,” Boston pitcher Bronson Arroyo said. “We start getting a little closer, they start doubting themselves a little bit more.”

Damon homered and had the go-ahead single as the Red Sox improved to 25-5 since trailing their longtime rivals by 10 1/2 games on Aug. 15. Boston has two more games at Yankee Stadium, highlighted by Pedro Martinez vs. Mike Mussina on Sunday, and three against New York next weekend at Fenway Park.

Rivera took over in the ninth with a 2-1 edge, poised to earn his career high-tying 50th save. But with a boisterous crowd standing and stomping, Boston had other ideas, especially after Damon’s bloop single fell in front of center fielder Kenny Lofton, starting in place of slumping Bernie Williams.

“If I made my pitches, I wouldn’t have had a problem,” Rivera said. “The guys gave me a tremendous opportunity, but I blew it.

Trot Nixon drew a leadoff walk on a full-count pitch and pinch-runner Dave Roberts stole second as Jason Varitek struck out. Rivera hit Kevin Millar with a pitch and then Cabrera, playing in his first Red Sox-Yankees game, grounded a tying single to right.

After Kevin Youkilis struck out, Damon—who called Rivera “the best closer in the history of the game”—looped a soft single.

Rivera (4-2) appeared to mouth the words “Catch the ball” after it fell in front of Lofton, who had pulled up.

After the game, however, Rivera softened that stance.

“If he had a chance, I guarantee you he would have caught it,” he said.

Explained Lofton: “I was playing in left-center field. I’m coming a long way. I didn’t think I had a chance.”

Both of Rivera’s losses have come against Boston. He leads the majors with 49 saves and has blown only four save chances, two to the Red Sox—they beat him back on July 24, the game punctuated by Varitek shoving his catcher’s mitt in Alex Rodriguez’s face.

“Anytime you send Mo out with a one-run lead and don’t come back in with a victory, you’re shocked,” Yankees manager Joe Torre said.

Added Damon: “If you can pull out a victory against Rivera, you’ve done something special.”

“Don’t count on us doing that every time. It starts with luck,” he said.

Keith Foulke pitched the ninth for his 30th save in 35 chances, completing the combined four-hitter. Mike Timlin (5-4) pitched one inning for the win.

Until the ninth, it was a game of home runs—and home runs that were taken away.

A sellout crowd of 55,128 began cheering the moment Orlando Hernandez came out to take his warmup pitches, and players from both sides were hanging on the top railing of the dugout at the start.

Boston slugger Manny Ramirez got the fans riled up right away when he circled the bases on an apparent two-run homer in the first inning, only to have umpires reverse themselves and call it a foul ball.

“I had a good look at it, and it was a foul ball,” said second base ump Bruce Froemming, the crew chief.

Later, Ramirez made a spectacular catch to rob an incredulous Miguel Cairo, who was already near the dugout when he learned he was out.

A pair of rain delays dampened spirits somewhat in the middle innings, but the crowd roaring again by the ninth.

Yankees reliever Tanyon Sturtze came on to start the fourth after a 66-minute rain delay with the Red Sox leading 1-0 on Damon’s upper-deck home run. Sturtze blanked the Red Sox on one single for 3 2-3 innings, striking out five.

Sturtze left the field beaming, rather than bloodied. The last time he faced the Red Sox, he got beat up in a bench-clearing brawl that started after Rodriguez was hit by a pitch from Arroyo and tangled with Varitek.

The Yankees made it 1-all in the fourth against Arroyo on Jorge Posada’s RBI groundout and John Olerud hit his eighth homer the next inning deep into the right-center field stands.

Notes

Boston is 9-5 against the Yankees this season, including wins in all four starts by Arroyo, who didn’t have a decision in any of them. The teams play three times at Fenway Park next weekend. … New York SS Derek Jeter did not get on base. He had gotten a hit and scored a run in 11 straight games. … Jason Giambi was hitless in four at-bats. He’s in a career-long 0-for-32 rut, including 0-for-11 since returning to the Yankees from his illness. … Plate umpire Hunter Wendelstedt warned both benches after Millar was hit in the ninth inning. Wendelstedt said he was merely following Major League Baseball guidelines. “All it does is create more paperwork for us,” he said.

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