But there is a feeling hard to escape that the division could once again come down to that most familiar tandem of Boston and New York.
The Yankees have won eight in a row coming out of the All-Star break.
"I don't think we're concerned -- I think we've just got to play better baseball," said Red Sox third baseman Mike Lowell. "I think if we play the way we're capable of playing, we'll be fine. But it's not really early. There's two months left of the season. We want to play better and fall into a good rhythm. Maybe we can get on a roll -- that's what we're looking for."
This one turned into a romp in the late innings, with the Yankees scoring four in the seventh and three more in the eighth. Relievers Justin Masterson and Craig Hansen endured the brunt of the damage.
"I don't think we ever want to lose at home," said Lowell. "We got ... [beaten] today pretty good. Hopefully, we can put that behind us and do better tomorrow."
For just the third time this season, the Red Sox have lost a series at home, as the Yankees joined the Angels and Cardinals as the only three teams to pull off the rare feat. The Sox have a chance to salvage the finale on Sunday night when Jon Lester faces Sidney Ponson.
"We just have to come back tomorrow and forget about what happened today and yesterday and play the game," said Red Sox designated hitter David Ortiz, who had an RBI single in his second game back from the disabled list. "It happens."
Veteran knuckleballer Tim Wakefield turned in his shakiest outing in a while, giving up eight hits and six runs over 5 1/3 innings, walking four and striking out three.
"I didn't have great stuff today," said Wakefield, who is 6-8 despite a 3.94 ERA. "I was inconsistent and obviously left a lot of balls up. They didn't have great finish to them and the hits I gave up were costly."
Winning pitcher Andy Pettitte turned in a strong performance for New York, yielding five hits and three runs -- just one earned -- over six innings. Pettitte (12-7, 3.76) walked three and struck out seven.
"We didn't score a lot of runs," said J.D. Drew, who provided one of the few highlights, a solo homer to right in the sixth. "They did. Unfortunately, we can't win ballgames like that."
The Red Sox took a 2-0 lead in the first on an RBI single by Ortiz and a fielder's-choice grounder by Manny Ramirez, who was back in the lineup after missing two games with what the club termed as right knee soreness. Alex Rodriguez helped set up that rally by booting Dustin Pedroia's leadoff grounder at third.
Just like that, the Red Sox -- with the exception of Drew's long ball -- were silenced for the rest of the day.
With Ortiz and Ramirez both in the lineup for the first time since May 31, Sox manager Terry Francona realigned his order. What Francona hoped was that the on-base combo of Pedroia and Kevin Youkilis in the 1-2 spots would revive an offense that has struggled to score runs since the All-Star break. In losing five of their past eight, the Boston bats are hitting at a .229 clip.
"We were talking about that most of the day today," said Francona. "It seems sometimes like scoring runs is pretty difficult. When I have a better answer, you'll see more runs. We came out of the chute today, and we turn an error into a couple of runs and then Pettitte's really got his cutter going and we didn't do much after that. Besides J.D. taking one of the prettiest swings you'll ever see, we didn't have a whole lot going."
Indeed, the day went south in a hurry for the Sox.
The Yankees began chipping away at Wakefield in the third, with Bobby Abreu belting a two-out RBI single to center.
Red-hot Robinson Cano led off the fourth by smashing a solo homer, tying the game at 2. Melky Cabrera kept the rally going, reaching on a bunt single and stealing second. Johnny Damon smacked an RBI single up the middle to give the Yankees their first lead of the day.
"I think Wake pitched pretty good until that [sixth] inning," said Lowell.
Wakefield got himself into immediate trouble in the sixth, walking Xavier Nady and giving up a double to Cabrera. Then he hit Jose Molina to load the bases with nobody out. Damon delivered a run on a fielder's-choice grounder to second, and that was all for Wakefield.
With Derek Jeter looming, Francona went to Masterson, who had been brilliant in his relief debut in Seattle three days earlier. However, this outing took a far different turn. Jeter started to open the floodgates with an RBI single to right. Then it was Abreu lacing an RBI double to the gap in left-center. A-Rod's single to left brought in another run, the fourth of the inning, to make it 7-2.
"It seemed like he was getting under more pitches," Francona said. "Obviously, the other day there were a lot of swings and misses. I bet today he had one swing and miss on a slider. Instead of sinking, it was going up, so it really flattened it out."
The Sox will try to rejuvenate on Sunday.
"We understand what we've got to do," said Drew. "We know that the team we put out there every day, once it jells together and plays well together, it's pretty unstoppable."
At the moment, unstoppable is a pretty apt way to describe a certain team from the Bronx.