By Albert Chen
September 06, 2013

Ivan Nova, (Bill Kostroun/AP Photo) Ivan Nova, who's been phenomenal as of late, lasted only four innings against the Red Sox. (Bill Kostroun/AP Photo)

It was exhausting. It was epic — four hours, thirty two minutes, with wild dramatic turns. It was another Red Sox-Yankees game, and for New York, it may have been the most agonizing night of the year—“a tough loss, no doubt about it,” Joe Girardi said to reporters. On Thursday, in the first game of a critical four-game series full with playoff implications, the Red Sox scored a run in the ninth off of Mariano Rivera (the Yankees closer was one strike away from slamming the door on the AL East leaders) and scored another run in the 10th for a 9-8 win over New York. Take a breath. Get comfortable. One down. Three more to go.

A typical Yankees-Red Sox series is as overhyped as a summer superhero movie. Not this one. The AL East rivals met for the first time since Ryan Dempster’s plunking of A-Rod in Boston on Aug. 18 (Dempster will not pitch after he started for the Red Sox on Wednesday), and since that night at Fenway, the new-look Yankees have been playing inspired ball, scratching and clawing their way into the playoff race. But a day after they ripped eight home runs to blast the Tigers 20-4, the Red Sox rolled into town and sliced up one of the hottest pitchers in the game, the AL Pitcher of the Month in August, Ivan Nova, who lasted just four innings in his start.

All season long the Red Sox have shown an ability to bounce back (this is a team, after all, that lost its ace and its closer earlier in the season), and on Thursday, they saw the Yankees rally from a 7-2 deficit to take an 8-7 lead, to the delight of the 40,481 at the stadium in the Bronx. Down to their last strike against Rivera, the Red Sox got one of their biggest hits of the year when Stephen Drew singled to drive in pinch runner Quintin Berry. Boston showcased their power with their outburst against the Tigers on Wednesday, but they can beat teams in many different ways, and on Thursday night, they showcased their speed: Berry, a late August acquisition who entered the game to run for Mike Napoli in the ninth after the first baseman’s two-out single, stole second and advanced to third when catcher Austin Romine’s errant throw drifted into center, before scoring on Drew’s single. In the 10th, Jacoby Ellsbury stole second after a single and Shane Victorino knocked him in with the winning run. Koji Uehara closed it out with a flawless bottom of the 10th and extended his scoreless streak to a remarkable 26 innings.

New York’s playoff hopes are still very much alive; after their remaining three games against Boston, they head to Baltimore to face the Orioles in another four-game series before a three-game series at Fenway Park. But Thursday night’s heartbreaker was a game they should have had, and losses by two teams they’re chasing in the AL wild card race—Tampa lost 6-2  to the Angels in Anaheim and Oakland fell 3-2 to the Astros — made the night even more painful.

This was the start of a key stretch for Boston — after their series with the Yankees, they head to Tampa for three games with the Rays, then return home for six games against the Yankees and the Orioles — but after their win they can breathe easier: they lead the Rays by 6.5 games in the AL East and opened up a nine-game lead on the Yankees. The Sox, who have won 10 of their last 12 games, now have 20 games left. Their magic number to win the division is down to 16.

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