NEW YORK -- The fury of yet another comeback by the Yankees threatened to flatten the spirits of the Red Sox in what would have been a tough three-game sweep.
But this time, the Red Sox escaped New York with a 5-4 victory on Thursday night to salvage the finale of a three-game series from a team that had ripped off eight wins in a row and 17 of its last 18.
"There's no panic in here," said Boston designated hitter Hanley Ramirez. "They've been playing pretty good baseball. For us to come here and win this game today, it's huge, it's big."
So big in fact that Ramirez pleaded for J.D. Martinez to go deep in the eighth inning to get the Red Sox back in front after the Yankees had stormed their way back from a 4-0 deficit with a four-spot in the bottom of the seventh.
Martinez was happy to oblige, but barely. He led off the eighth by lofting a homer to right just out of the reach of a leaping Aaron Judge to snap a tie. Two fans also tried to make a play, and it hit off one spectator's hand, but Judge didn't think it had a bearing on the play. When Judge didn't protest, Yankees manager Aaron Boone didn't issue a replay challenge.
"Off the bat, I knew I had a shot at getting it, but at the last second when I was going for it, the last five feet it faded on me," said Judge. "It was just out of reach. I just didn't make the play, even if I did hit the fan. Once it goes past that little boundary, it's fair game. I've got to make the play and I didn't make the play."
The solo shot that Martinez struck off a 97.4-mph fastball from Dellin Betances gave the Red Sox a 5-4 lead. According to Statcast™, Martinez's homer had only a 28 percent hit probability.
"I hit it, and I was like blowing, praying, doing everything I can to push it over. I knew it had a chance," Martinez said.
The Sox's bullpen stifled any more heroics by the Yankees from there, and another epic game between the rivals ended with the teams again locked in a tie for the lead in the American League East and the best record in baseball (26-11).
It was hard for Red Sox manager Alex Cora not to get a little queasy during that uneasy bottom of the seventh.
During this run by the Yankees, many of the wins came with surreal comebacks like the one that was in motion Thursday against Boston relievers Richard Hembree and Joe Kelly.
A wild pitch by Kelly tied the game, but the power righty got a huge out against Giancarlo Stanton to end that seventh and prevent the Yankees from going ahead.
Kelly worked around a walk and a hit in the eighth and handed off to Craig Kimbrel, who had blown a five-out save opportunity on Wednesday.
This time, Kimbrel needed to get just three outs, and he got them against the meaty top of the Yankees' batting order, nailing down career save No. 301.
"Obviously, every night brings different challenges. I think after last night I enjoyed having the same part of the lineup and getting another chance," Kimbrel said. "That's the beautiful thing about baseball, is you play so many games, most likely you're going to get another chance at some point during the year -- if not the next day. It was nice to go out and be able to do that today."
The next rivalry encounter is June 29-July 1, again at Yankee Stadium.
Best two teams in baseball?
"Definitely," Ramirez said. "You saw it today. They don't give up. I'm very confident in what we've got. This is our team right here and we're concentrating on what we can do and see what we can do better to keep winning."
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
Hanley's missile: Ramirez hadn't homered in 80 at-bats when he broke the drought in Wednesday's loss with a majestic and towering blast that soared into the second deck in left. On Thursday, he hit a laser beam in the top of the fifth that didn't look high enough to be a homer. But the 111.7-mph shot, which had a launch angle of just 18 degrees, just kept going. It traveled an estimated distance of 412 feet and landed in the visiting bullpen to give the Red Sox a 4-0 lead against Yankees lefty Carsten Sabathia. Did Ramirez think he got enough loft to get it out of the park?
"No, no, even J.D. told me, 'Wow, you've got some pop.' I said, 'Yeah, you know that,'" Ramirez said. More >
Overshadowed by the late-inning drama was the work of Red Sox starter Eduardo Rodriguez, who was masterful over five innings, allowing one hit and striking out eight. Rodriguez is just the third Red Sox pitcher since 2000 to record at least eight strikeouts and allow one hit or fewer in a start against the Yankees, joining Kelly (April 11, 2015) and Josh Beckett (June 9, 2009).
HE SAID IT
"I told him before he went up -- 'You better hit a homer right here.' And he did. That's good. I told him to his face, 'We need a homer from you right here.' And he went out and hit it." -- Ramirez, on his conversation with Martinez before the start of the eighth inning
Coming off his best start of the season, Red Sox ace Chris Sale takes the ball in Friday's opener of a three-game series in Toronto. Sale has a history of dominance at Rogers Centre, going 5-1 with a 1.44 ERA in seven starts. In his Sunday start against Texas, Sale put on a clinic, striking out 12 and allowing one run over seven innings. The Blue Jays will counter with Aaron Sanchez, and first pitch is slated for 7:07 p.m. ET.