BOSTON -- Russell Martin slammed his hands together after a hard slide into third base as his teammates spilled out of the visiting dugout, celebrating a hit that felt like a tease of the month to come.
As the rivals begin their September push toward the playoffs, Martin's two-run double off Daniel Bard highlighted a three-run seventh inning as the Yankees bested the Red Sox, 4-2, on Thursday at Fenway Park.
The victory gave New York its first series victory of the year against Boston, winning for just the fourth time in 15 head-to-head meetings but inching within a half-game of the lead in the American League East.
"I got in a situation where he didn't want to walk me, so he threw me a strike," said Martin, who took third as the Red Sox tried to cut down the go-ahead run at the plate. "He threw me a fastball up and over, and I put a good swing on it."
By the time Martin was dirtying his uniform with infield clay, A.J. Burnett was out of the game and wouldn't figure in the decision, but his performance was all the Yankees wanted to talk about.
Eagerly starting a new month after posting an 11.91 August ERA, Burnett may have saved his place in the rotation, limiting the potent Sox lineup to just Dustin Pedroia's two-run homer over 5 1/3 innings.
"It feels good to keep my team in it," Burnett said. "Obviously I'd want to go deeper, but to bounce back after the homer and go as long as I could go, to leave it all out there is all I could do."
After Pedroia's fourth-inning blast to center field, Burnett worked into the sixth, leaving two on with one out for left-hander Boone Logan, who recorded a strikeout.
Curtis Granderson then turned in a sparkling defensive play to take away a hit from Jed Lowrie, chewing up the center-field turf to save a ball hit off eventual winning pitcher Cory Wade.
"I got a good jump right away; I knew the only way I was going to have a chance to catch it was by diving," Granderson said. "The good thing in that situation ... it wasn't going to go ahead and shoot far away and cause too much damage."
Granderson actually hung around after the inning to replace the divot he left in center field, giving the Yankees extra time to admire his handiwork.
"It's a huge play," manager Joe Girardi said. "There were a lot of good defensive plays tonight; our guys played outstanding all around. Grandy, that's why I talk about him for MVP. It's not just his numbers at the plate. It's his defense, too."
Still, the Yankees found themselves down a run, but they glimpsed hope with left-hander Jon Lester out of the game after five innings -- and 114 pitches -- of one-run, seven-hit ball.
Andruw Jones started the surge by working a one-out, 14-pitch walk from Alfredo Aceves, and top prospect Jesus Montero -- called up from Triple-A earlier in the day -- reached base for the first time as a pitch brushed the front of his jersey.
Martin then connected with a full-count fastball from Bard, belting it up the gap in right-center. Eric Chavez followed with a pinch-hit RBI single to right field, knocking in New York's fourth run.
"They played better than us," Pedroia said. "Long games -- we're all tired. Tonight, we just didn't swing the bats that well. We move on and try to win tomorrow."
It made a winner of Wade, but the happiest Yankee was likely still Burnett, who is encouraged that he may have found something to help him prove that he belongs among the team's best five starters.
"It's good for him to throw that well against a really good lineup," Martin said. "You have to pitch well to get these guys out. From top to bottom, there's no freebies. You have to pitch, and he did that."
Some of the adjustment is thanks to pitching coach Larry Rothschild, who suggested that Burnett change where his hands start in both the windup and the stretch while also making less of a turn with his hips.
"It's definitely something I can work with," said Burnett, who walked two and struck out four. "I've only really been working on that for three days and I've been pitching the same way for 11 years, so it's a big change. But as the game went on, I felt more comfortable."
The Yankees had to sweat a little in the ninth, as Mariano Rivera loaded the bases with two outs, but he froze Adrian Gonzalez looking at a called third strike to nail down career save No. 595.
"It's wonderful," Rivera said. "That's what it's all about, that's why you play the game of baseball. Anything can happen -- until the last minute, anything can happen."
Gonzalez didn't seem to feel it was quite so wonderful.
"That pitch was down," Gonzalez said. "I should still be hitting. It's a 2-2 count."
But it isn't, and now the difficult decisions begin.
The Yankees aim to reduce their rotation from six starters to five after this series, and with Phil Hughes on the bubble to go to the bullpen, Girardi left Fenway with something to chew on.
"We'll talk about it. As I've said, I don't have to make a decision yet," Girardi said. "We'll talk about it and see what we decide as a group. We'll try to enjoy this one tonight."