NEW YORK — Daniel Bard trotted in from the bullpen in the seventh inning knowing he was facing a most sticky situation — and it had nothing to do with the sultry weather.
Worse. The bases were loaded, Derek Jeter was the batter and the Boston Red Sox were clinging to a two-run lead over the New York Yankees.
“You don’t want to be the guy that gives it up,” Bard said. “Also you want to see where your stuff takes you.”
Bard’s stuff was stellar.
He needed only six overpowering pitches to strike out Jeter and Nick Swisher to get out of that jam, and the Red Sox went on to a 2-1 victory Monday over the Yankees that ended Jon Lester’s career-worst four-game skid.
“Exciting,” Lester said. “He did a great job executing pitches that inning.”
Closer Jonathan Papelbon struck out three in 1 1-3 innings for the save and Jacoby Ellsbury tied a team record with four steals as Boston took the finale of the wraparound series that had four different start times because of national TV demands.
The win locked up a split of the series and ensured the third-place Red Sox remained six games behind AL East-leading New York, their standing when the set began.
“A lot of good things happened today or we don’t win that game,” manager Terry Francona said. “That was one of the funnest days of baseball.”
Especially for Ellsbury. He got his first hit in 17 at-bats since coming off the disabled list on Aug. 4. Dropped to the ninth spot in the order after leading off in his first 13 games this season, he had one of three straight singles in a two-run second and matched the single-game Red Sox record for stolen bases set by Jerry Remy.
“When I’m on base good things are going to happen,” Ellsbury said.
Lester (12-7) didn’t give up a hit until Austin Kearns singled with one out in the fifth inning, and was lifted for Bard with the bases loaded and one out in the seventh.
Bard pumped six pitches past the Yankees Nos. 1 and 2 hitters, reaching 99 mph several times while striking them out.
“I think he showed us a lot of guts and determination,” Papelbon said about Bard.
Mark Teixeira hit one of those fastballs from Bard in the eighth inning into the second deck for his 26th home run and Alex Rodriguez followed with a single to awaken the crowd of 49,476. But after an out and a walk to Jorge Posada, Bard got pinch-hitter Lance Berkman on a popup to shallow left.
Papelbon came on and silenced the harsh Bronx reception by inducing Kearns into a groundout to second base.
“Give them credit because they made the big pitch when they needed to,” Teixeira said. “It was kind of a bend but we don’t break attitude for them today, and we just couldn’t come up with the big hit.”
Papelbon walked Jeter with one out in the ninth, and the Yankees captain stole second. But the Boston closer struck out Swisher and Teixeira — he’s 0 for 9 against Papelbon — for his 28th save in 33 chances, preserving a crucial win for the Red Sox.
“I’d say that would be one of the better days I’ve felt this year,” Papelbon said. “It was pretty stellar.”
The Yankees went 3-4 on their homestand. They head to Texas for a showdown between first-place teams.
“It’s not exactly what we wanted but you move on, we’ve got a game tomorrow,” Yankees manager Joe Girardi said.
Lester had not won since July 9, and the Red Sox scored just five runs while he was in the game in his last five starts, including Monday. Two runs were enough on the hot, sticky day because Lester gave up just four hits and three walks in 6 1-3 innings. He struck out six.
“I thought he was tremendous,” Francona said. “He pitched well with men on base. He made pitches down and had movement. He was great.”
The Red Sox scored against Phil Hughes (13-5) without hitting the ball hard. After Swisher made a sliding catch down the right-field line on Mike Lowell’s fly ball, Ryan Kalish singled, stole second and advanced to third on catcher Posada’s errant throw. Bill Hall drove him in with an infield single and Ellsbury singled just out of the reach of a leaping Jeter and stole second.
Marco Scutaro walked to load the bases and J.D. Drew hit an RBI groundout that second baseman Robinson Cano lunged to grab in the hole between first and second.
Hughes was as tough as Lester after that, limiting the Red Sox to just one more hit in his six innings. Hughes gave up six hits, walked one and struck out three.
NOTES: Yankees RHP A.J. Burnett (back) said he was feeling much better and is confident he’ll start Tuesday at Texas. … Yankees LHP Andy Pettitte (left groin) threw 20 pitches in the bullpen. “I felt good. I pushed it. I’m going to throw a simulated game in Tampa Thursday or Friday.”