BOSTON -- The current of electricity that ace Chris Sale created from his highly-anticipated first pitch of the American League Division Series against the Yankees -- a 95.8-mph fastball -- was short-circuited for a bit once Boston's bullpen entered the fray in Game 1.
And while that bridge between Sale and closer Craig Kimbrel definitely did more than teeter, it never collapsed. The Red Sox survived the stress of it all and held off the Yankees for a tense 5-4 victory Friday night to take the lead in the best-of-five series and first postseason matchup between the rivals since 2004.
:: ALDS schedule and results ::
By the time it was over, manager Alex Cora was remarkably relaxed given the numerous late-game situations when the Yankees could have turned the game on its ear with one big swing.
"We made some pitches," said Cora. [Brandon Workman] with the big strikeout, [Matt] Barnes did a good job. Rick [Porcello] coming in and giving us two [outs] and then Craig got us four [outs]. It's about getting 27 outs, having the lead and we did it."
Helping to stem the tide was an unlikely source in Porcello, who was projected to start Game 3 but instead quieted the Yankees by getting the first two outs in the eighth after the madness of the sixth and the seventh, when a 5-0 lead was trimmed to 5-3.
• Source: Wright (knee) likely off ALDS roster
"It's all hands on deck. It's win at all costs," said Barnes, who got three big outs in the seventh. "We have to win 11 to win the World Series. You win Game 1 and move on and try to win Game 2, and that's kind of how you approach it."
Kimbrel, who was touched up for a solo rocket by Aaron Judge in the ninth to make it a one-run game, recorded the final four outs to earn the save.
"I was just rooting for my guys, for them to get out of the inning, and hopefully I would have that opportunity late in the game, which I did," Kimbrel said.
After going down 0-2 in the ALDS the past two years, the Sox can finally play from ahead this year. In the history of five-game series with the 2-2-1 format, teams that have won Game 1 at home have gone on to take the series 27 of 36 times (75 percent).
"It's huge," said Porcello. "A short series, it's not a seven-game set. The first game is big. Now [Game 2] is the biggest game of the series."
J.D. Martinez helped make the win possible with a three-run laser over the Green Monster against J.A. Happ in the bottom of the first. For the rest of the night, the bats were mostly quieted, creating more stress on the bullpen.
"You know, obviously it was important to get that lead right away," said Martinez. "And I think it kind of took a little pressure off everyone. Any time you go into a playoff game, everyone's adrenaline is high and tensions are going, stuff like that. I think giving Chris that lead, being able to let him settle in and go out there and pitch, I think definitely just helped relax everybody."
Coming into the game, all eyes were on Sale, who had pitched with significantly diminished velocity in his final start of the regular season and had logged just 17 innings after July 27 due to left shoulder inflammation.
But Sale came out firing, striking out three of the four batters he faced in the first. Over 5 1/3 innings, Sale held the high-powered Yankees to five hits while walking two and striking out eight.
"And also being here pitching at Fenway, that was awesome," said Sale. "This was obviously my first postseason start here at Fenway. That's something I'll never forget. That was incredible. Three runs on the board after your first inning doesn't hurt either. We'll take that again tomorrow."
With Sale appearing to run out of gas when he gave up a 110.4-mph single to Judge and a 109.2-mph single to Giancarlo Stanton, Cora came out to get him with two on and one out and the Sox up by five.
While Workman was able to rescue Brasier in the sixth, the big righty got himself into a mess in the seventh, giving up two straight singles to open the inning. Barnes hardly calmed the situation when he walked Brett Gardner to load the bases with nobody out. He did well to minimize the damage, allowing just one run when it could have been a lot worse.
Helping to keep things calm was catcher Sandy Leon, who stopped several bouncers from going to the backstop, looking like a hockey goalie on a few of them.
"That's my job," said Leon. "Anything close, I've got to block it. I've been doing that the whole year and that's what we work for."
In the end, the bullpen created a scare, but the job wound up getting done during an ultimately thrilling game at Fenway befitting the rivalry.
"Everyone was amped up at the beginning and then especially at the end," said shortstop Xander Bogaerts. "I think the fans did a really great job. Hopefully they come back tomorrow and do it again."
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
Workman escapes with big K: Workman's outing didn't start the way he wanted when he walked Gary Sanchez to load the bases with two outs in the sixth, the Sox up three at the time. But he struck out Gleyber Torres on a wicked knuckle-curve on a 3-2 count.
"It was a big spot right there with the bases loaded, three-run game at the time, he's the winning run at the plate," said Workman. "Either way, bases loaded, if I throw a ball there or he gets a base hit, 3-2, two outs, they're running on the pitch, so multiple runs come in. It was a big pitch and I was able to execute it."
Showdown with Stanton: Never did Fenway have a more collectively nervous feel to it than in the seventh inning, when Barnes had to face the dangerous Stanton with the bases loaded and nobody out. Barnes got ahead 1-2 and then got Stanton lunging for a curveball for one of the biggest outs of the night.
"That's what we train to do," said Barnes. "It's what you live for. You live for these moments in October and playoff baseball. You've got to kind of slow it down and take it pitch by pitch. With everything going on and how everything matters so much. You can't get caught up in what's going on. That's the hardest thing, is to be able to slow it down and do what you know how to do. Was able to settle down on Stanton and make some big pitches when I had to."
The best thing that happened for the Red Sox was scoring five runs. They are 80-12 this season when scoring five runs or more.
YOU GOTTA SEE THIS
In the top of the third, the Yankees thought they had some life when Andrew McCutchen sliced one into the corner in right. With one out and Torres on first, the drive would have gotten a run home if it dropped. But Betts reminded everyone he is arguably the best right fielder in the game, racing over to snag it. The most artistic part of the play was when Betts quickly turned his body and fired a laser beam to first, where he just missed doubling off McCutchen. It was a three-star catch, according to Statcast™, and it drew loud roars from the Fenway faithful.
HE SAID IT
"I'll do whatever we need. Yeah, [I'll pitch] until my arm falls off." -- Porcello
After narrowly escaping with the big win in the opener, the Red Sox turn to lefty David Price (16-7, 3.58 ERA) in Saturday night's Game 2. Price hopes to reverse his well-chronicled struggles in October. As a starter in the postseason, Price is 0-8 with a 5.74 ERA. The Yankee counter with righty Masahiro Tanaka (12-6, 3.75 ERA). Tanaka is 2-2 with a 1.44 ERA in four postseason starts. First pitch at Fenway is slated for 8:15 p.m. ET.