In Sunday night's rubber match of this three-game set against the Yankees, the Red Sox rode an early batch of offense to an 8-5 victory.
They did it without David Ortiz, who was given the night off to try to rejuvenate from one of the worst slumps of his career. They did it without their two top relief pitchers in Jonathan Papelbon and Hideki Okajima, both of whom were getting a respite from their recent heavy workloads. And they did it against their biggest rivals, who they will see again Wednesday night in New York.
"For us, it was good for us just to win this game and get out of here with a win, with such a late flight," said Red Sox first baseman Kevin Youkilis. "Again, we won the series, and that's our goal all the time, just to win a series."
Let the record show that Daisuke Matsuzaka was the winning pitcher. However, even Matsuzaka acknowledged that he was extremely fortunate. Battling with his control all night, Matsuzaka threw 116 pitches over his five taxing innings of work. He gave up five hits, six walks and four runs, striking out two.
"There were some long innings when we were hitting and it was cold and his command wasn't very good," said Red Sox manager Terry Francona. "It was a struggle to get him through five. We were getting to the point where we were getting kind of antsy about pitch counts going up in a hurry. He gave it everything he had. There wasn't a lot of command there. He'd make a pitch, then he wouldn't follow it up. Against that team, pitch count goes up. They don't swing at a lot of balls."
Nonetheless, Matsuzaka ran his record to 3-0 on a night his ERA jumped to 2.70.
"Early on, my teammates got us that big lead," Matsuzaka said through interpreter Masa Hoshino. "I'm disappointed that I was only able to pitch like I did tonight. For the fact that we won, I have to thank my teammates. For me, it was a stressful performance from the outset."
The Yankees continued to chip away, first against Matsuzaka, and then against Mike Timlin. Jason Giambi took the latter deep for the second time this weekend in the top of the eighth, making it a two-run game. The Yankees followed that homer with back-to-back hits and had two on and nobody out with Johnny Damon at the plate. Lefty reliever Javier Lopez came on in place of Timlin and induced the former Boston center fielder into a 4-3 double play. With the tying run 90 feet away, Lopez got Robinson Cano on a grounder to second to put out the fire.
"Getting Johnny to hit that ball to [Dustin Pedroia] and having [Pedroia] have the wherewithal to make that play was a huge part of that game," said Francona.
By far, this was the most impressive performance of the year for Lopez, who pitched 1 1/3 scoreless innings. David Aardsma also came up big, throwing two shutout innings. Manny Delcarmen finished it by getting the final two outs, including a strikeout of Alex Rodriguez.
"We had to piece it together," said Sox catcher Jason Varitek. "They did an excellent job. They came out and gave us some innings. We were in a grey area that we hadn't seen yet."
Yankees starter Phil Hughes -- the phenom of the organization -- looked even more ordinary than Matsuzaka in this one. The right-hander lasted two-plus innings, giving up six hits and seven runs (six earned).
"I don't make too much of it," said Yankees manager Joe Girardi. "Obviously it's not where we want him to be. He'll get better. He'll get where he needs to be."
Hughes set the tone for the type of game it would be on both sides with a sloppy bottom of the first. After a pair of walks, Manny Ramirez raked an RBI single to right-center. Youkilis followed with a sacrifice fly to center and Sean Casey added an RBI double to right, and just like that, the Sox had a 3-0 lead. Hughes threw 39 pitches in the inning.
The Yankees got one of those runs back in the top of the third, when Bobby Abreu lifted a double off the scoreboard in left to score Damon. But the Red Sox came roaring back against the shaky Hughes in the bottom of the third. With two on and none out, Youkilis ripped an RBI single.
Casey came through for the second time in as many at-bats, belting a single that scored Ramirez.
With Casey swinging a hot bat, the sting of Mike Lowell being on the disabled list has been lessened.
"He's just a good hitter," Francona said of Casey. "He gives you a professional at-bat and plays with enthusiasm."
The hit by Casey finished Hughes. Reliever Ross Ohlendorf surrendered two more runs -- both charged to Hughes -- with a wild pitch and an RBI single to right off the bat of Jacoby Ellsbury. The Sox had a seemingly safe 7-1 lead.
However, this was a night where nothing was easy for either side. Matsuzaka was all over the place in the fourth, throwing 32 pitches. The Yankees whittled the deficit to 7-4, thanks to Jose Molina (RBI double), Alberto Gonzalez (RBI single) and Damon (sacrifice fly).
"He just couldn't get a feel for his pitches," said Varitek.
But by morning -- the game ended a few minutes after midnight -- the Red Sox were in the winner's circle.
"I thought our whole ballclub, on a night it's miserable out there, played with a lot of enthusiasm and stayed at it," Francona said. "I thought we did a good job. We turned a long, cold night into a long, cold good night."
Ian Browne is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.