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No sweep thoughts: Sox foiled by Pettitte

Dempster yields three runs, fans eight; ninth-inning rally snuffed out

NEW YORK -- They were eyeing a season-opening sweep at Yankee Stadium, but the Red Sox ran into a pair of familiar foes who simply wouldn't let that happen.

Andy Pettitte might retire for good one of these days, but the lefty is still going strong at the age of 40, and he pitched the Yankees to a 4-2 victory over Boston in Thursday night's finale of a three-game series at Yankee Stadium.

Not only did Pettitte seem to get every big out he needed, but he was also efficient (94 pitches over eight innings).

Ryan Dempster could only tip his cap after losing his first start as a member of the Red Sox.

"You look at what he's been able to do over his career. To come back out of retirement and pitch as well as he did last year, he's such a hard worker," Dempster said. "He's a guy you should look up to as a peer, because he does things the right way. He just knows how to pitch."

Following the loss, the one thing the Red Sox could take solace in is this: Mariano Rivera, who notched the save in his first appearance since April 30, 2012, does plan on retiring following this season.

Rivera, considered by most to be the game's best closer, did get into some trouble in the ninth.

Dustin Pedroia, who is hitless against in 13 career plate appearances against the man they call Mo, opened the inning with a walk. After a flyout to right by Mike Napoli, Jonny Gomes belted one off the third-base bag and into left for a double. Will Middlebrooks hit a grounder to first and Pedroia scored to make it 4-2.

Up stepped prospect Jackie Bradley Jr., who was in the middle of everything in this three-game series. Playing in his third Major League game, he represented the tying run.

But Bradley, who was 5 years old when Rivera threw his first pitch for the Yankees in 1995, succumbed to this challenge in three pitches.

The first one was a 91-mph cutter that Bradley took for a strike. He actually fouled the next one off, a 90-mph cutter. And then Rivera came back with -- yes -- another cutter. Bradley didn't offer at the borderline strike and the game was over.

"He's a big leaguer," Rivera said. "That's why he's here. I have to treat him the way I treat everyone else."

Bradley took the ending in stride.

"Too close to take," Bradley said. "I was just trying to see a pitch at least, and try to work the count a little bit. He's definitely a tough guy. He knows what he's doing."

This was the 69th game Rivera saved for Pettitte, and the first since 2010.

"I always want to save the game, not only for him, but for everyone else. At the same time, it's special when Andy goes there and does the kind of job that he knows how to do and allows me to close the game for him," Rivera said.

It was a sweet return to the mound for Rivera, who tore his ACL while shagging in batting practice at Kansas City on May 3 of last season.

"There's a lot of emotions, but at the same time, you have to control that," Rivera said. "You have to be able to do that, because you still have to finish the game. It was wonderful. You wait for almost a year to be on the mound and get your job done and it's special to be here at home."

The best chance the Red Sox had at coming back was in the seventh. Trailing by three, Middlebrooks started a two-out rally with a single to right. Bradley followed with an RBI double to right that came close to being his first career homer.

"I've seen a lot of balls squared up this past series and them not [go out]," Bradley said. "I was just hoping it got out of the reach of the outfielder."

Up stepped David Ross and he hammered one to deep center, but Brett Gardner tracked it down at the wall and the threat was over.

Ross can't hit a ball better than that. Perhaps it would have left the yard on a warm summer night instead of this chilly April evening.

"I hit that one ball pretty good," Ross said. "That's all I've got. I don't know if I'm getting old or what. Yeah, I thought maybe we had him on the ropes right there, but he did his job and you've got to tip your cap to those guys. They're a scrappy team."

It was Pettitte's first eight-inning performance since May 12 of last season. The lefty scattered eight hits but just one run, walking one and striking out three.

"It was a good win for us," Pettitte said. "You don't want to get swept your opening series here at home. I was proud of the guys, the way they battled. We got some runs, we got some timely hits and we needed it."

In his debut for Boston, Dempster gave up five hits and three runs over five innings, walking four and striking out eight. He threw 101 pitches.

"I just got outpitched by the guy on the other side of the field," said Demspter. "I made a lot of good pitches and a couple balls fell in. That was enough to win the game."

The Red Sox had a rally going in the first when Shane Victorino and Mike Napoli both hit singles against Pettitte. On a wild pitch, Victorino tried to score all the way from second, but he was tagged out by a diving Francisco Cervelli to end the inning. It was the closest Boston would come to scoring for a long time.

"I saw Pettitte wasn't covering. When I took off, I just hoped I was going to beat Cervelli to the plate," said Victorino. "Obviously I didn't. He came back in time to tag me out. But, yeah, a situation like that, when a pitcher doesn't cover, I'm going to take advantage of it. Unfortunately, I was a little short on this one. Hey, I was one step away from being safe. Unfortunately, I was out. It was just a play that I wanted to be aggressive on."

Manager John Farrell had no problem with Victorino's risk.

"He's going from second to third [on the wild pitch]," Farrell said. "He sees where Pettitte is on the play and feels like he can beat him to home plate. Cervelli made a nice recovery, dropped a knee on him and blocked home plate."

Lyle Overbay, who spent most of Spring Training with the Red Sox, smacked a two-run, broken-bat single to left field and the Bombers had a 2-0 lead in the second. It was the first time Boston trailed in the three games.

Gardner made it a 3-0 cushion with a leadoff homer to right in the third.

Pettitte turned in a performance right out of 1996. The lefty took a five-hit shutout in to the seventh.

"Well, he didn't look like an old-timer tonight," said Farrell. "A lot of early outs, benefited by three ground-ball double plays. He pitched a very good game against us."

Ian Browne is a reporter for Read his blog, Brownie Points, and follow him on Twitter @IanMBrowne.
Read More: Boston Red Sox, Ryan Dempster, Jackie Bradley Jr., Shane Victorino, David Ross, Will Middlebrooks