NEW YORK — Don’t let DJ LeMahieu’s professional demeanor fool you.
“He’s out there to rip your heart out,” New York Yankees manager Aaron Boone said, “and he plays with an edge.”
A pumped-up LeMahieu homered and hit an RBI double off the wall against Chris Sale, sending the surging Yankees to a 4-1 victory over the Boston Red Sox on Friday night.
Aaron Hicks broke a third-inning tie with a two-run single , and J.A. Happ (5-3) pitched well against Boston again to win his fourth consecutive decision overall. New York got four shutout innings from its deep and dominant bullpen, handing the defending World Series champions their third loss in a row.
“A really good, clean game and probably a game you need to play when you’re up against Sale and the Red Sox,” Boone said.
Despite a rash of injuries, the Yankees hold a 1½-game lead in the AL East over Tampa Bay — and a widening gap on the Red Sox. New York has won all three meetings between the longtime rivals this season, beating Sale (1-7) twice and outscoring Boston 17-4.
Rafael Devers homered early for the third-place Red Sox (29-28), who fell 8½ games back in the division. That’s the furthest they’ve been behind the Yankees since finishing the 2015 season nine games in the dust.
“As much as you can point a finger at anybody in this clubhouse, you can point them at me, too,” Sale said. “We’ve got to find a way to start winning games, get some zip back in us and rolling some wins out.
“We just have to find that something. Whatever it is, where it is — change of socks, frozen pizza, I don’t know.”
New York has won 14 of 17 and is 31-10 since a 6-9 start.
After the teams were rained out Thursday night, the Yankees tagged Sale for four runs and seven hits in six innings. The left-hander struck out 10 for a sixth double-digit strikeout game in his past eight starts, but pounded his fist into his glove in frustration after LeMahieu’s opposite-field homer in the fifth.
Batting leadoff, LeMahieu also doubled off the right-center wall in the third and clapped at second base after driving in New York’s first run following singles by Gio Urshela and Brett Gardner.
“The way the fans are in it, it feels pretty close to the playoffs and you don’t get that in too many places,” said LeMahieu, who made a sprawling defensive play at second base as well. “It’s a big game. Just the atmosphere out there, the rivalry. Just excited.”
A two-time All-Star, 2016 NL batting champion and winner of three Gold Gloves, LeMahieu left Colorado to sign a $24 million, two-year contract with the Yankees last winter.
“I think he does loving playing in this environment,” Boone said. “Good to see him go out there and kind of set the tone for us.”
The 30-year-old Sale entered with a 1.87 ERA versus the Yankees, the lowest mark in the live ball era for any pitcher with at least 100 innings against New York.
But after signing a $160 million, six-year contract in March, he’s tied for the major league lead in losses.
“It’s not where we want to be. It’s not where I want to be. It’s not who I am. It’s not who I’ve ever been,” Sale said. “I’ve got to find a way to be better.”
Happ gave up one run and three hits with five strikeouts in five innings , improving to 9-4 with a 3.00 ERA against Boston.
Adam Ottavino, Tommy Kahnle, Zack Britton and Aroldis Chapman each worked an inning to finish the five-hitter. Chapman struck out two in a perfect ninth for his 16th save in 17 chances.
“That’s the way they drew it up in the offseason and so far, it’s working,” Red Sox manager Alex Cora said. “I know they don’t have their big guys, but what they have right now is good. … They’re playing great baseball.”
With two runners on and Andrew Benintendi up, Eduardo Núñez was picked off second base by catcher Gary Sánchez to end the fifth.
“He knows that can’t happen. Seems like the last seven, eight days, we’ve regressed back to being sloppy around the bases,” Cora said. “It was a big play in the game.”
Best of the east
New York is 17-4 versus AL East opponents, the best mark for any team against its own division.
Red Sox: RHP Nathan Eovaldi threw 22 pitches to teammates Brock Holt and Michael Chavis in a simulated game, the first hitters Eovaldi has faced since April 23 surgery to remove a loose body from his right elbow. His next step will be determined Saturday. … 1B Steve Pearce, the 2018 World Series MVP, was pulled in the second inning with back spasms and replaced by Chavis. Pearce is day to day. … LHP Eduardo Rodríguez was available out of the bullpen after being rescheduled to start Tuesday in Kansas City. Prior to Thursday night’s rainout, Rodríguez (5-3, 5.04 ERA) was slated to start Friday, but the Red Sox simply pushed back Sale instead.
Yankees: CC Sabathia (right knee inflammation) is set to come off the injured list and start the series finale Sunday night against LHP David Price. … RHP Dellin Betances (right shoulder impingement) played long toss and said his arm felt good following Thursday’s bullpen. His third bullpen is scheduled for Sunday and if that goes well, the next step could be facing hitters. … Didi Gregorius (Tommy John surgery) went 0 for 5 and played all nine innings at shortstop in a rehab game with Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. … OF Giancarlo Stanton, sidelined since March 31, is getting close to facing pitching and starting a rehab assignment, Boone said.
Red Sox: RHP Rick Porcello (4-4, 4.41 ERA) is 4-1 with a 2.94 ERA in his last eight starts, and Boston has won seven of them. The 2016 AL Cy Young Award winner, from nearby New Jersey, is 10-8 with a 3.11 ERA in 22 games versus the Yankees. He went 2-0 with a 2.31 ERA in four starts against them last year — and also won a playoff series clincher at Yankee Stadium.
Yankees: RHP Domingo Germán (9-1, 3.43) leads the majors in wins. He won six straight starts before getting hammered for a career-high seven runs and nine hits, including four homers, over five innings Sunday in a no-decision at Kansas City.