BOSTON -- The at-bat ended like so many others against CC Sabathia on Sunday night, and so many others this season. The pitch was supposed to be down, Sabathia left it up and it was hammered out of Fenway Park by Jonny Gomes.
The homer was the 23rd allowed by Sabathia this season, a new career high with two-plus months still to play. But when the third game of this wild series between the royal rivals of the American League East was all over, Sabathia's start was forgettable.
The Yankees battled back from a four-run deficit, escaped a based-loaded, one-out jam in the eighth inning and forced extras. Mike Napoli, however, delivered the final blow, a monster shot in the 11th inning that gave the Red Sox an 8-7 win early Monday morning.
Once the Yankees' ace, Sabathia has hardly been worthy of a face card in 2013, with Sunday's start pushing his ERA to 4.37. He allowed seven runs in five-plus innings and didn't have much to celebrate as he walked off the mound on his 33rd birthday.
"I wish I had an excuse or something," Sabathia said.
"He's been so good for so long," manager Joe Girardi said. "To see him struggle a little bit is kind of strange. It's not something that we're used to seeing."
While Sabathia is out of sync, the Red Sox have had similar issues with their starting rotation. And through this series, one thing became clear: These two rivals appear to be virtually even, despite the fact that New York trails first-place Boston by seven games.
In three games, the Yankees scored 14 runs, and the Red Sox scored 14.
"Yeah, approaching five hours [on Sunday] -- a lot of action," said Red Sox manager John Farrell.
Perhaps most impressively, the Yankees scored all of their runs in the series without hitting a home run. Quickness on the basepaths, solid defense and scrappy at-bats have become the new recipe in the Bronx.
Yankees pitchers needed 459 pitches to get through the long weekend against a team that sees more pitches per plate appearance (4.04) than any other in baseball. And the Yankees' offense was equally scrappy, forcing the Red Sox to throw 452 pitches.
Brett Gardner, who reached base five times on Sunday, became just the second player this season to push a plate appearance as long as 15 pitches, ultimately earning a walk against Junichi Tazawa in a seventh-inning battle that left the largest crowd at Fenway Park this season laughing with each foul ball. The plate appearance lasted nine minutes.
Gardner was at the front of the Yankees' offensive surge, leading off the first inning with a single before doing damage on the bases, eventually scoring when Ichiro Suzuki stole second and a throw from Jarrod Saltalmacchia sailed into the outfield. The Yankees put up three runs over the first two innings and gave Sabathia a lead with which to work.
The big lefty looked fine through two innings before the house of cards came crashing down. He allowed a leadoff double to Jacoby Ellsbury, who was sacrificed to third. Dustin Pedroia and David Ortiz hit back-to-back singles before Napoli fell behind in the count, 1-2.
Sabathia couldn't put Napoli away, instead missing with his location yet again and watching the first baseman crush a fastball over the Green Monster for a three-run homer.
"It's embarrassing," Sabathia said of his performance. "I'll just try to get through it, figure something out and try to stop hurting this team and [start] helping."
Sabathia showed his age with diminishing velocity and little mobility. Three times the Red Sox tried bunting to Sabathia's left side, since he falls off the mound toward the right, and Jose Iglesias was able to work a single that started a no-out rally during the fourth inning, when the Red Sox tacked on two more runs. Sabathia worked into the sixth inning but walked Ellsbury on four pitches and was promptly removed.
"He's a superstar pitcher," said catcher Chris Stewart. "And any time he goes out there and only goes five innings when we're used to him going eight or nine innings for us, to not get out of the sixth is something we're not used to."
The Yankees added two in the seventh to even the score at 7 and handed the ball to reliable setup man David Robertson to pitch the eighth.
Robertson loaded the bases, and with one out, Napoli came to the plate. But Robertson, also known as "Houdini" for his ability to escape jams, induced a ground ball to short for a 6-4-3 double play. Robertson has faced 53 career batters with the bases loaded and allowed seven hits.
Shawn Kelly pitched two dominant innings to give the Yankees a chance in the 11th, but Eduardo Nunez was called out in an attempt to steal second to end the rally, although replays showed that Nunez beat Saltalamacchia's throw.
"Oh yeah," Girardi said when asked if he thought Nunez was safe. "I could see it from 150 feet."
Napoli's final drive came off Adam Warren, who was charged with his first loss of the season.
Stewart said Warren was trying to go down with a fastball but missed his location.
It was a common theme all game. With a few pitches executed differently, the Yankees could've left Fenway Park happy.
That's how close this series was.