BOSTON — Daniel Nava stroked four hits, Mike Napoli hit a long two-run homer, and the Boston Red Sox completed a three-game sweep of the fading New York Yankees with a 9-2 rout Sunday night.
With the Tampa Bay Rays losing to the Twins at Minnesota earlier in the day, Boston reduced its magic number for clinching its first American League East title since 2007 to four.
New York was officially eliminated from the division title race on the night the Red Sox honored retiring closer Mariano Rivera.
The battered Yankees, who have 12 games left, remain three games behind both Tampa Bay and the Texas Rangers in the race for the two AL wild cards.
Clay Buchholz pitched six strong innings in his second start off the disabled list, and David Ortiz added two RBI singles. Boston won the season series 13-6 from its rivals (6-1 the last two weekends, scoring 59 runs on 82 hits in the seven games).
The Red Sox outscored New York 22-7 in the series.
Yankees starter Ivan Nova (8-5) suffered his first loss since July 27. Nova, 4-0 with four no-decisions in his previous eight starts, left his outing last week in Baltimore with forearm tightness, and he lasted just four-plus innings Sunday. He gave up five runs (four earned) on six hits and four walks.
Buchholz (11-0, 1.51 ERA) limited the Yankees to two hits, four walks and one first-inning run, which was unearned because of his own error on a pickoff throw.
Napoli homered (No. 22) in the first inning and struck out twice later, earning his first career ejection (from Ron Culpa) after throwing his helmet down and arguing after the second whiff. That one gave him 178 strikeouts for the season, breaking Mark Bellhorn’s single-season franchise record, set in 2004.
The Red Sox, 18-4 in their last 22 games as they close in on their first postseason berth since 2009, pulled a double steal in the fourth inning. Rookie Xander Bogaerts (two hits) swiped second (his first career steal) as a bad throw allowed Jarrod Saltalamacchia to steal home.
Dustin Pedroia ripped a two-run double in the seventh inning.
The Yankees had eight hits in the last two games of the series.
The Rivera ceremony began with a detailed look at the great closer’s disastrous ninth inning in Game 4 of the 2004 AL Championship Series, including interviews with Kevin Millar, Dave Roberts and Bill Mueller. They were the three Red Sox who combined to keep their team alive before the greatest comeback/collapse in baseball postseason history.
Then, the message board read the words, “But seriously …” and the real tribute started, Rivera receiving several gifts, including the No. 42 used on the manual scoreboard at Fenway, with all of the current Red Sox having signed it.
The Yankees then parlayed Buchholz’s throwing error on a pickoff attempt into their first lead of the series, Alex Rodriguez driving in the first-inning run with a groundout.
The Red Sox quickly answered with their three in the bottom of the first; then made it 4-1 on the double steal in the fourth. Nova was gone after he hit Mike Carp with the bases loaded and none out in the fifth, but Adam Warren relieved and avoided further damage.
NOTES: Rodriguez was actually cheered by the Boston crowd when it was announced Vernon Wells was hitting for him in the fifth inning. Rodriguez has been DHing because of hamstring issue, but he left with a right calf injury. … OF Shane Victorino (hamstring, back) was rested by Boston, while 3B Will Middlebrooks (in an 0-for-17 slump) was out due to flu-like symptoms. … Both teams are off Monday. The Yankees send LHP Andy Pettitte to face the Blue Jays in Toronto on Tuesday, while RHP Ryan Dempster opens Boston’s three-game series against the Baltimore Orioles the same night. Pettitte is 3-0 against Toronto this season, 25-13 lifetime.
On Saturday, Boston lefthander Jon Lester allowed just three hits over eight brilliant innings and the Red Sox continued their September surge with a 5-1 victory over the Yankees.
“We can sit here and rattle a bunch of things off, but I’m not thinking about two months ago. I’m thinking about today,” said Lester, who surpassed 200 innings in a season for the fifth time in his career. “I’ll take today as a positive and move onto five days. Hopefully by then we’ve got this magic number down to nothing and we can celebrate.”
They’ve certainly done plenty of that lately.
Shane Victorino, Mike Napoli and Jonny Gomes each had two hits for the first-place Red Sox, who jumped out to an early 3-0.
Lester continued his recent run of dominance, allowing just one run while retiring nine of the final 10 batters he faced. He didn’t allow a hit until the fourth inning, and finished with five strikeouts and two walks to improve to 4-1 with a 1.81 ERA in his past six starts.
“It’s not uncommon for power pitchers to really hit their stride in the second half of the season, and he’s an example of that,” said Boston manager John Farrell. “His delivery becomes that much more efficient and he repeats it more consistently and with that rhythm comes power.
“What he’s done since the All-Star break has been consistent with how he started the season, and that’s a well above-average pitcher, a front-line starter. That’s who Jon Lester is.”
He continues to look more and more like the pitcher who started the season 6-0 in his first nine outings than the guy who took the mound between May 20 and Aug. 14. During that rough stretch, a span of 16 starts, Lester was just 4-7 with a 5.29 ERA.
“I knew going through what I went through in the middle of the year that it’s just a matter of time,” he said, “just keep running out there and things will take care of themselves.”
Catcher David Ross credited Boston’s starters for putting the team in the comfortable position it’s currently in.
“That’s why we haven’t gone on that long losing streak is because of the quality starting pitching that we have,” he said.
Meanwhile, fellow southpaw CC Sabathia still can’t solve the Red Sox.
Sabathia yielded five runs on nine hits over six innings, striking out five and walking four in falling to 10-11 with a 4.72 ERA in 27 career starts against Boston.
“I just felt like the command was off,” Sabathia said. “With a team like they have, when you get behind and in a hitter’s count you’re going to give up some hard-hit balls.”
Napoli opened the second inning with a single and advanced to second on a throwing error by third baseman Mark Reynolds. After a walk to Gomes, Napoli moved to third on a sacrifice and scored on a groundout by Will Middlebrooks.
The hottest team in baseball didn’t stop there, though.
Dustin Pedroia singled to lead off the third and scored on a double by David Ortiz. Napoli then continued his sizzling September with a single to left and trotted home on a base hit by Gomes.
Lester retired the first nine batters he faced before Curtis Granderson led off the fourth with a triple to deep center. Robinson Cano drove him in with a groundout to cut the deficit to 3-1.
Boston’s blistering offense answered in the fourth when Ross singled and later scored on a base hit by Victorino. A sacrifice fly by Daniel Nava in the fifth made it 5-1.
“I think just early on we were able to execute pitches,” Lester said. “You’re either going to get me or I’m going to get you.
“I don’t ever take my foot off the throttle. I’m trying to get you out with every pitch.”