Tim Wakefield's knuckleball was doing more of a slow waltz than any kind of dance, and the Yankees pounced, putting the Red Sox in a quick hole which they could never dig out of.
"I didn't have the feel that I had in my first seven starts," said Wakefield, who has seen his ERA go from 1.79 to 3.14 in a span of two starts. "Tonight was one of those nights I just tried to grind it out the best I could. Five walks is a lot. I never like to do that, give them opportunities to score runs."
In addition to the five walks Wakefield mentioned, he also gave up nine hits and six runs while throwing 109 pitches in five innings.
"I know talking to the guys coming out of the bullpen, he had a real good [knuckleball] down there," said Red Sox manager Terry Francona. "A lot of pitches, a lot of deep counts. You give them that many looks, and it gets tougher."
And on the other side, Chien-Ming Wang provided just the type of effort the Yankees needed, scattering seven hits and two runs over 6 1/3 innings. He sturck out five. One telling stat is that the Sox didn't get the leadoff man on in any of their nine at-bats. This, on a night they stranded 12 runners.
The best, last gasp the Red Sox had was in the eighth inning, when they had the bases loaded with two outs. But Scott Proctor got Julio Lugo -- the potential tying run -- on a ground out to get out of trouble.
The Red Sox saw their lead in the American League East sliced to 9 1/2 games by the Yankees, who vaulted past the Orioles and into sole possession of second place.
Sox slugger David Ortiz made it clear that the unusual gap in the standings between the rivals did nothing to diminish anyone's focus.
"You've got to play to win," said Ortiz. "We tried tonight. Things just went their way. It doesn't mean because you have a 10-game lead that you're not going to play the game the way you have to play."
It was clear early that Wakefield's knuckleball was far flatter than normal. In fact, Alex Rodriguez flattened one for a mammoth two-run homer with two outs in the bottom of the first inning. Jason Giambi swatted a solo shot into the upper deck in right field in the second. And later in that inning, Derek Jeter delivered a two-out, RBI single to left to make it 4-0.
"I never got comfortable all night," said Wakefield. "The ball stayed up; it wasn't diving at the end, as you could tell by the two home runs I gave up -- one to Alex, one to Jason. Other than that, I tried my best to grind it out. I didn't have great stuff tonight. They took advantage of not only the walks, but the ball staying up in the zone."
Wang tamed the Boston bats early, but the Red Sox finally put something together in the fifth. Kevin Youkilis slammed a double into the gap in left-center field to extend his hitting streak to 14 games, and Ortiz broke up Wang's shutout bid with a double to right. With Ortiz on second and one out, Wang minimized the damage by getting Manny Ramirez on a grounder to short and J.D. Drew on a flyout to center.
Wakefield handed back whatever slight momentum the Red Sox had gained. Robinson Cano roped a two-run triple to center, and just like that, the Yankees had extended their lead to 6-1.
Francona admitted that he contemplated going to one of his left-handed relievers against Cano, but he opted to stick with Wakefield.
"We got into the fifth, and because we had used our bullpen so much and Wake's almost been our left-on-left guy, I was hesitant," Francona said. "I thought he could get Cano, and he didn't. I was kind of fighting that one a little bit."
From there, Wang did the rest.
"A couple of years ago, I think he threw 26 [sinkers] in a row," Francona said of Wang. "Tonight, he threw some good changeups, some good sliders and some two-seamers with velocity. I just think that's the evolvement of a young pitcher becoming a better pitcher."
And as one-sided as the standings might be at this hour, Ortiz reminded everyone to look at the calendar.
"They have a good team," Ortiz said. "They're just going through a tough time right now. It doesn't mean that because they're going through a tough time, it's over. You have to keep on playing. If they pull themselves together, they can do some damage."
Ian Browne is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.