NEW YORK -- The Yankees are not downplaying the importance of this weekend as they continue to chase the Red Sox for the top spot in the American League East, and their hopes for a meaningful September race remained alive with a 6-2 victory on Thursday evening at Yankee Stadium.
As the rivals opened a four-game set that marks their final meeting of the season, New York closed within 4 1/2 games of the top spot in the division as CC Sabathia continued his season-long dominance of the Sox with six innings of one-run, four-hit ball, improving to 4-0 with a 1.04 ERA in four starts against them this season.
"I don't think it's a coincidence," manager Joe Girardi said. "I think it's who he is and it's what's made him so great for so long. It's a guy that you've been able to count on most of his career after tough losses. There's been a number of them we've had this year and he's been the guy that pitched and got us back on track."
Gary Sanchez and Greg Bird each homered and drove in a pair of runs against Red Sox starter Eduardo Rodriguez, who permitted five runs and 10 hits over five-plus innings. Rodriguez is winless in nine starts since returning from the disabled list for a right knee injury.
"You try every start to do better," said Rodriguez. "That's all I'm thinking. I'm not thinking about any game in the past, I'm thinking every time I get the ball, just get on the mound and try to put the team in position to win the game."
Sanchez's third-inning homer was his 12th in the month of August and the sixth he has hit this season off Red Sox pitching, while Bird cracked a two-run shot as part of a three-run sixth inning.
"Every game is important," said Red Sox manager John Farrell. "We've got to go out and continue to play this series. I don't think we've added any greater emphasis on this. We've got to go out and execute."
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED Momentum killer: Benintendi short-circuited a third-inning rally as the rookie attempted to stretch a single and was cut down on a strong throw from center fielder Aaron Hicks after review. Though Boston grabbed a run later in the frame on a Xander Bogaerts groundout that was also reviewed, Benintendi has been thrown out on the bases 11 times this season, which is tied with Cleveland's Jose Ramirez for the Major League lead.
"Hicks was going away from second base," said Benintendi. "He had to backhand it so I thought it was a good risk to take. Obviously he has a good arm. I thought I got in there and I guess the replay said no."
Have you not heard? After losing most of the season to a right ankle injury, Bird's power stroke may be coming around just in time to help the Yankees in their playoff push. The left-handed slugger homered for the second consecutive game as part of a three-RBI performance, marking just his third homer of the season.
"I don't think you can expect anything," Bird said. "I feel like you've just got to roll with what you've got. That's something that I feel like I've learned, especially the last year and a half, two years. You can just work and go out there and play. Now it's great that I'm able to play again and be a part of this team."
SOUND SMART WITH YOUR FRIENDS
It has been a tale of two different seasons for Rodriguez. In 10 starts before going on the disabled list with a right knee injury, the lefty was 4-2 with a 3.54 ERA. In nine starts since his return, Rodriguez is 0-3 with a 5.47 ERA. More >>
Sabathia is 5-0 with a 1.08 ERA in his last five starts against Boston, joining Mike Mussina (5-0 in 2001-02) as the only Yankees pitchers to win five consecutive starts against the Red Sox in the Divisional Era (since 1969).
WHAT'S NEXT Red Sox: Right-hander Doug Fister will pitch at Yankee Stadium for the first time since he fired 6 1/3 shutout innings for the Tigers in Game 1 of the 2012 American League Championship Series, as he starts the second game of a four-game series at 7:05 p.m. ET. Fister has pitched well since filling in for the injured David Price, going 3-2 with a 3.41 ERA in five starts.
Yankees: Right-hander Sonny Gray will face the Red Sox for the second time in three starts on Friday as the teams continue their four-game series. Gray held Boston to two runs and seven hits in five innings on Aug. 20 at Fenway Park, but did not strike out a batter for the first time in his career. He is 2-3 with a 2.70 ERA in five starts as a Yankee.