BOSTON -- Manager Aaron Boone thought it was a straightforward decision. Carsten Sabathia was 77 pitches deep into his outing after three innings. He committed an error and gave up two runs, whittling the Yankees' early lead over the Red Sox down to two.
Sabathia was fading, so Boone decided to take him out.
"Once the third became a really tough one for him, too, I just felt like we had to get him out of there at that point," Boone said.
But following Sabathia's exit, a lackluster showing from the bullpen doomed the Yankees on Thursday night, as they fell to the Red Sox, 15-7, at Fenway Park in the opener of a critical four-game series.
The loss extended the Red Sox's lead over the Yankees to 6 1/2 games in the American League East.
The Yankees took an early lead thanks to a three-run homer by Didi Gregorius in the first inning. Aaron Hicks extended that lead to 4-0 with a solo blast in the second.
Sabathia's outing was his shortest since Aug. 8, 2017. His exit strained the Yankees' bullpen, and they ended the game using four relievers. It was the second straight night that a Yankees starter was pulled after three or fewer innings, as Sonny Gray ended his outing against the Orioles after 2 2/3 frames on Wednesday and then was removed from the rotation in favor of Lance Lynn.
"Just all over the place," Sabathia said. "Just off with the command, with everything, you know, fastball, my slider, my changeup. Just the command was off, but I felt like I was battling just trying to make pitches and keep us in the game."
Jonathan Holder replaced him and got into trouble immediately. He gave up seven runs to the Red Sox while recording no outs in the fourth, putting the Yankees in a hole they would never recover from.
Still, the Yankees' offense did some damage. Gregorius hit a solo shot in the fifth for his fourth multihomer game of the season. And Giancarlo Stanton crushed a solo home run in the seventh inning that cleared the Green Monster, flying a projected 432 feet with a 114.9-mph exit velocity, according to Statcast™.
The strain put on the bullpen in this one makes the rest of the four-game series more challenging. J.A. Happ was slated to start for the Yankees on Saturday, but he was placed on the 10-day disabled list before Thursday's game with hand, foot and mouth disease. Boone has yet to name Saturday's starter.
That list of potential starters is one name shorter. Boone was originally considering Luis Cessa, who was called up on Thursday, for the Saturday start. But Cessa had to come into Thursday's contest to eat some innings. He allowed five runs over 3 2/3 frames while throwing 51 pitches, and the heavy load now eliminates him from starting on Saturday.
"We're starting to have those conversations now in earnest," Boone said. "We'll start considering all our options. Obviously, now it won't be Cessa pitching Saturday, so we'll just have to see how it all lines up. And those are the conversations we'll have right now."
MOMENT THAT MATTERED
The fourth inning did the greatest damage of all when Holder couldn't record an out. The Yankees never recovered from the deficit, forfeiting the lead on a three-run home run by Steve Pearce, who hit three in the game. But it was Jackie Bradley Jr.'s leadoff walk that Holder said cost him the momentum in that inning.
"Holder, who usually doesn't walk guys, loses the leadoff guy, and it just got away from us there," Boone said. "And unfortunately, we couldn't stop the bleeding there in that fourth inning."
The season-high 15 runs allowed was the most any team has scored against the Yankees since the Astros scored 15 on Aug. 25, 2015. It was the third time this season that the Yankees lost after scoring seven runs, making them 32-3 when they reach that number.
Pearce's big night marked the first time a Boston player has smashed three homers in a game against the Yankees since Kevin Millar did it on July 23, 2004. The only other Boston player to go deep three times in a game against the Yankees was Mo Vaughn on May 30, 1997.
HE SAID IT
"We've got [Luis Severino] going tomorrow -- can't wait to hand him the ball and look to get him rolling. We're rested for the most part at the back end. We just need to go out and have an outing where we get deep into the game and all of a sudden change the narrative. This is a long, arduous season. You're going to hit these little bumps in the road where it's difficult." -- Boone, on pitching concerns for the series
Severino will start on Friday in the second game of this four-game series against the Red Sox at Fenway Park. Severino is looking to bounce back from a rough stretch, having posted an 8.84 ERA in his past four starts. He will face Rick Porcello, with first pitch set for 7:10 p.m. ET in the MLB Network Showcase Game.