Clemens stifles Sox; Yanks pull closer
No-hitter lost in sixth inning; AL East deficit down to six games
NEW YORK -- Strange as it may seem, the upper-deck home run that David Ortiz slugged to break up Roger Clemens' no-hit bid in the sixth inning on Wednesday may have been a relief.
With the Rocket's stylish reintroduction to the Red Sox requiring a hearty pitch count, Ortiz's delivered souvenir actually wound up saving the Yankees a difficult decision in the later innings of New York's 4-3 win over Boston.
Instead of having to ask Clemens to push in search of his first career no-hitter -- one of the few achievements the 45-year-old right-hander still has yet to experience -- the Yankees settled for six innings of one-run ball. Alex Rodriguez homered, and Mariano Rivera's four-out save capped the effort to secure New York's second win of the homestand.
"He knows what's more important than a no-hitter," said Yankees manager Joe Torre. "It's the fact that he's got to come out in five days and do it again."
Clemens had not pitched against the Red Sox since his 2003 postseason in pinstripes, and it was evident early that he had some of his better stuff. So, too, did the Yankees, who have rebounded from a trying 2-5 road trip to take two games in the first meeting between the storied rivals since early June.
"It's good baseball and it's fun," Clemens said. "It's why you do all the work -- to have challenges like this. It's going to be a grind for me -- I'm asking my body to be 25 again. That's what I'm trying to do."
As in his previous start, at Detroit, Clemens struggled with control, issuing a season-high five walks. The only difference was that he didn't give up nearly as many hits to the Red Sox, for whom he pitched for 13 seasons before leaving via free agency after the 1996 season.
With Boston hitless, Clemens opened the sixth inning by getting Dustin Pedroia to fly out to center field. Ortiz ended the bid with a towering shot to right, spurring a smattering of boos for Ortiz and cheers for Clemens.
The deep drive, Ortiz's 25th, pulled Boston to within two runs. It didn't diminish Big Papi's respect for the big right-hander.
"I'll tell you what -- at that age, I'll be cutting grass in my backyard," Ortiz said. "You have to give a lot of credit to that guy. To be pitching at that point of his career, that's a lot of preparation. It's hard, bro. In this game, when you turn 30, your body starts changing. You have to start working."
Clemens worked into and out of further trouble, walking Kevin Youkilis and allowing a single to J.D. Drew before getting Jason Varitek to ground out, ending the inning and completing Clemens' night after 98 pitches. He struck out two in a one-run, two-hit effort, hitting a batter.
"He's got a plan and he knows what he wants to do," Torre said. "He's pitching at 45 years old because it's still fun for him to work through it. That's a piece of history you're watching out there."
While Clemens proved stingy, Boston starter Josh Beckett surrendered a career-high 13 hits. Beckett's frustration was evident, especially in the early innings, as he voiced his displeasure. But by the end of the night, the Yankees were surprised to look up at the matrix scoreboard in left-center field and see such a barrage.
"He had a lot better stuff than that, I thought," Rodriguez said.
The Yankees touched Beckett for three runs in the second inning. After Jorge Posada singled and Robinson Cano walked, Melky Cabrera came through with a run-scoring single to center, one of his three hits.
Tuesday's hero, Johnny Damon, followed with a grounded single through the left side that brought home two runs and continued a resurgence for the leadoff hitter. Playing in place of ailing outfielder Hideki Matsui, who served as a DH and went 2-for-4 with a triple, Damon manned left field and helped the Yankees improve to 14-2 in games when he plays that position.
"We just happen to find a way that day," Damon said. "Hopefully, they don't give me too many tough balls to track down or too many balls in the lights. It's just a coincidence."
Rodriguez helped hit his 44th home run on Beckett's 113th and final pitch of the evening in the seventh. A-Rod's 508th career home run tied him with Frank Thomas for 20th place all-time and prompted Boston manager Terry Francona to turn the game over to the bullpen.
"You don't want to leave it up to chance," Rodriguez said of his home run. "That's a great team over there."
The Yankees managed nothing further. Luis Vizcaino -- whom Clemens called "my MVP" -- pitched a scoreless seventh, but Youkilis closed the advantage to one run in the eighth. Youkilis' career-high 14th home run -- a two-run shot -- came off reliever Kyle Farnsworth, who snapped a string of seven straight scoreless outings.
Rivera relieved Farnsworth with two outs in the eighth to lock his 22nd save in 25 chances and second in two games against the Red Sox this week, showcasing some athleticism to seal Clemens' win at a spry 37 years of age.
With Pedroia trying to leg out an infield tapper, Rivera bounced off the mound and threw a dart to first baseman Andy Phillips, who later remarked to Torre that it was the best cutter Rivera threw all night.
"Mo's unbelievable," Rodriguez said. "We know he's the greatest closer of all time, but the way he fields the ball off that mound, I've never seen anything like it. He gets the ball and throws an absolute rocket to almost break Phillips' hand. Pretty impressive."
Just like the Yankees' statement this week, bouncing back from the worst road shutout loss in franchise history to post two wins over the Red Sox. The Yankees can try for the sweep in a Thursday matinee, and Torre spoke of restored confidence as he addressed the possibility.
"We'd like to get a little greedy," Torre said.
Bryan Hoch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.