BOSTON -- The Yankees thought Phil Hughes showed improvement on Wednesday against a potent lineup, but it still may not be enough for the right-hander to hold onto a spot in the starting rotation.
Hanging a five-spot on Josh Beckett wasn't enough to get New York back into first place, as Jacoby Ellsbury belted a two-run homer in the sixth inning and the Red Sox pulled away with a 9-5 victory at Fenway Park.
Ellsbury's homer cleared the Green Monster off Boone Logan, who relieved Hughes in a three-run Boston sixth -- a return punch after the Yankees rallied for four runs off Beckett in the top half of the inning.
"They're strong up and down," Hughes said. "They're kind of like us. They're going to wear you down and make you battle. Any given night, they'll jump on any mistake you make."
The Red Sox restored their lead in the American League East to 1 1/2 games. Boston hadn't won 11 of its first 14 against the Yankees since 1973, the first year of George M. Steinbrenner's ownership.
Bouncing back from a terrible start against the Athletics, the Yankees painted Hughes' outing as progress, with manager Joe Girardi saying that the right-hander pitched better than his line indicates.
"I thought he threw the ball pretty good," Girardi said. "You're going to look up and he's going to give up six runs, but I thought he pitched better than that."
Yet 5 2/3 innings of eight-hit ball may not be enough to keep Hughes in the rotation. Girardi was non-committal about Hughes' next start, putting him in question along with Thursday's starter, A.J. Burnett.
"I thought [Hughes] got back on track, but this is a dangerous offense," Girardi said. "We'll make our decision when we have to."
One point in Hughes' favor might be his improved velocity, which ticked as high as 95 mph. Yet the Yankees' encouraging vibes faded as Boston clawed back, though Hughes said he isn't worried about his spot.
"I can't really control what happens," Hughes said. "It's something that, in the past, I haven't thought about, and I'm not going to start now. I'm going to come here [on Thursday] and do everything I can to get better."
After permitting two runs in the third inning on Dustin Pedroia's groundout and Jed Lowrie's RBI single, Hughes served up a long two-run David Ortiz homer to straightaway center in the fifth inning.
In the sixth, Jason Varitek cued a fluke game-tying double down the left-field line that scooted along the top of the low wall before rolling into the corner.
"I was talking with the third-base umpire, [Ed Rapuano] -- I don't think I've ever seen that one, where the ball stays on top of the wall," shortstop Derek Jeter said. "It was a hit-and-run; Jason did a good job keeping it fair, and it was a big hit for them."
The odder moment may have come a batter earlier, though. Girardi said that with a 3-2 count to Josh Reddick, a moth flapped into one of Hughes' eyes, no doubt contributing to the walk he issued.
"I really didn't want to tell you guys that," Hughes said.
Logan served up Ellsbury's opposite-field homer to put Boston ahead, and Varitek turned back the clock with a long two-run homer off Luis Ayala in the eighth.
The pounding spoiled a night when the Yankees were able to claim some measure of success against Beckett, who was hit for five runs (four earned) in seven innings.
"I don't know if you can say we figured him out," Jeter said. "We didn't get too many hits [six] off him, but we were able to score those five runs. It just wasn't enough."
Jeter singled home Eduardo Nunez with a sinking third-inning liner to center field for New York's first run, adding a fifth-inning single to mark the captain's 3,061st career hit, moving him past Craig Biggio for sole possession of 20th place on baseball's all-time list.
Beckett permitted four runs in an uncharacteristic sixth inning that nudged New York ahead, albeit briefly.
"I was just trying to make pitches," Beckett said. "You're going through their lineup. You know it's going to be tough."
Robinson Cano contributed an RBI double with Mark Teixeira aboard and, after a walk, Eric Chavez ripped a run-scoring double to right field that Reddick misplayed for an error, letting Cano and Nick Swisher score.
"I thought our guys were patient; we looked for pitches to hit and hit some balls hard tonight," Girardi said. "I thought the approach was good."
Nunez added a sacrifice fly for the fifth Yankees run, but if the Bombers want to head back to New York with a winning road trip, they'll have to get a good start from Burnett and break through against Jon Lester on Thursday.
"We've got a chance to win a series tomorrow," Jeter said. "It doesn't get any easier."