BOSTON — Mariano Rivera has jogged from the right-field bullpen to the Fenway Park mound a number of times in his 18-year career. He’s probably never been greeted like he was by the rival Red Sox fans on Saturday.
Rivera entered to a nice ovation and worked a scoreless ninth inning for his 31st save, closing out a strong effort by New York’s pitchers that carried the Yankees to a 5-2 victory.
"I always love to pitch here, always," the 43-year old Rivera said. "Yankee Stadium’s home, but I love to come here. It’s a great atmosphere. We’ve played big games here. It’s always good."
Lyle Overbay and Brett Gardner each collected three hits and drove in a run to back Hiroki Kuroda’s seven strong innings. David Robertson worked a scoreless eighth, setting the stage for Rivera, the All-Star game MVP.
"That doesn’t surprise me," Overbay said of Rivera’s ovation. "He deserves it. I think everybody’s embracing what he’s done as a pitcher, so it’s well-deserving and shows you the respect they have for him."
Rivera could smile when he was reminded about a standing ovation he got on opening day in 2005, the year after Boston rallied from a 3-0 deficit against New York in the American League Championship series en route to the World Series title.
"That’s what happened," he said.
The victory snapped a three-game losing streak for the injury-riddled Yankees, who hope to be bolstered by the return of captain Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriguez soon.
Mike Carp had three hits and scored a run for the Red Sox. It was just Boston’s second loss in its last 11 games in Fenway.
In a matchup of veteran right-handers, Kuroda and John Lackey both mostly relied on fastballs in the low 90s with hard sliders to go along with outstanding control. The pair combined for just one walk — by Kuroda — and threw a high percentage of strikes.
"It was a close game all along, so I had to be careful with my pitches," Kuroda said through a translator. "But when they gave me the run support, I think I was able to be more bold."
Kuroda (9-6) gave up two runs and five hits, striking out four with a pair of wild pitches — one that led to a run. Robinson Cano added two RBIs.
"I think what was most impressive was, in these conditions, to be able to touch 95 in the sixth, seventh innings against the meat of our order when he needed it," Boston manager John Farrell said of the 38-year-old Kuroda. "He’s a very good pitcher and had a good day today."
The game was tight when Lackey left with a pair of runners on, trailing 2-0 in the seventh. New York then built its lead to 4-0 in the inning on consecutive RBI singles by Cano and Overbay against reliever Matt Thornton.
Lackey (7-7) was charged with four runs on 10 hits in 6 1-3 innings, striking out seven. It snapped a stretch of six consecutive starts when he allowed two or fewer runs, and was just the third time in his 17 starts this season he’s given up more than three.
"With how good their guy pitched, it doesn’t really matter," Lackey said of being in a tight game. "I’m kind of used to it. A lot of mine have been like that this year. It’s kind of been fun."
Jonny Gomes had a sacrifice fly and Carp scored on Kuroda’s wild pitch, cutting it to 4-2 in the seventh.
Pitching in sweltering conditions with a game-time temperature of 91 with oppressive humidity, the pair battled through four scoreless innings until New York took a 1-0 lead in the fifth on Gardner’s two-out, RBI single.
It appeared the Yankees had squandered a good chance when they had a runner cut down at the plate on Luis Cruz’s grounder to short. But Cruz, who reached on the fielder’s choice on the play, advanced on a wild pitch before Gardner’s soft liner up the middle just got past the glove of diving second baseman Dustin Pedroia. Eduardo Nunez had a leadoff single, stole second, and was sacrificed, but was thrown out by Stephen Drew.
Cruz’s RBI single made it 2-0 in the seventh before Cano and Overbay added their hits.
Boston also had a runner nailed at the plate when Carp was tagged out by Kuroda in the fifth, ending the inning after his pitch ticked off the glove of catcher Stewart and about 20 feet behind the plate.
NOTES: Farrell said before the game that OF Shane Victorino "felt better than I think he expected to feel" after leaving Friday’s game with left hamstring tightness. Farrell also said "we expect him back in the lineup (Sunday)." … Boston moved LHP Jon Lester back a few days and will send right-hander Ryan Dempster (5-8, 4.24 ERA) in the series finale against the Yankees’ CC Sabathia (9-8, 4.07 ERA) on Sunday night. … Count Sabathia as one that really enjoyed the four-day All-Star break. In fact, he didn’t even know that teammate Cano got plunked on the right knee in the midsummer classic until he heard from one of the coaches before his flight to Boston. "I was just hoping he didn’t come in on crutches," he said, smiling. "It was good to get the four days. I got away from baseball. As far as anything going on (with the All-Star game or Home Run Derby), I didn’t know anything." … At the Yankees’ complex in Tampa, Fla., C Francisco Cervelli (right hand and elbow) said he has started hitting drills in an indoor cage and OF Curtis Granderson (broken pinkie), expected back early next month, ran the bases during a simulated game but did not hit. He is taking batting practice. … The start was delayed 21 minutes because of a threat of thunderstorms in the area.