BOSTON (AP) _ The New York Yankees’ regular-season schedule includes just one more game against AL-East leading Boston. That is good for their playoff hopes.

Jon Lester pitched eight dominant innings, holding the Yankees to three hits and the Red Sox beat New York 5-1 on Saturday.

The Red Sox improved to 12-6 against the rival Yankees with the season-series finale coming Sunday night. Instead of a division title, New York is fighting to stay alive in the AL wild-card race.

“It’s only a must-win when it’s an elimination game, but I think it’s a really important game,” manager Joe Girardi said of Sunday’s series finale.

The surging Red Sox won for the 16th time in 19 games and beat the Yankees for the fifth time in six meetings in just over a week. The Yankees lost their second straight after a three-game winning streak and fell 21/2 games behind Tampa Bay for the AL’s second wild-card spot. The Rays play at Minnesota on Saturday night.

“We’ve gotten kind of used to handling it and dealing with it,” Girardi said. “Our guys have done a good job responding and they’ll do it again.”

The Red Sox built a 5-1 lead against CC Sabathia (13-13) after five innings. All five runs were earned against Sabathia, who allowed nine hits, struck out five and walked four.

“I felt like I was behind everybody and got into some tough counts,” Sabathia said. “With a team like they have, when you get behind and in a hitter’s count you’re going to give up some hard-hit balls.”

The Red Sox (91-59) improved to a season-high 32 games over .500, their best mark since the final day of their World Series championship season in 2004.

Lester (14-8) was solid from the start, mixing a sharp cutter with a well-spotted, mid-90s fastball. He allowed one run and three hits, striking out five and walking two for his fourth win in six starts.

Franklin Morales worked a perfect ninth.

For the second time in week, Boston goes for a sweep against New York. Last weekend, the Red Sox won the initial three of a four-game set at Yankee Stadium but lost the finale. Sabathia lost his second straight start and third in the last five.

“It hasn’t been coming along as quick as I want it to. It’s very frustrating because everybody keeps telling me I’m close, but I don’t see it. I want results,” Sabathia said. “It’s just tough not being able to deliver.”

Will Middlebrooks’ run-scoring grounder gave Boston a 1-0 edge in the second. Napoli singled before moving up on a walk and sacrifice.

In the third, David Ortiz had an RBI double and Jonny Gomes added a run-scoring single. Sabathia then fanned the next two hitters with runners on first and third.

Lester breezed through the first nine batters, holding the Yankees hitless before Curtis Granderson tripled off the center field wall leading off the fourth. He scored on Robinson Cano’s bouncer to first to make it 3-1. But Shane Victorino had a two-out RBI single in the bottom half.

Sabathia is 4-6 with a 6.48 ERA in his last three seasons against the Red Sox.

Daniel Nava’s sacrifice fly increased it to it 5-1.

(© Copyright 2013 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)


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