BOSTON -- The food poisoning that had sapped the energy out of Jonathan Papelbon 24 hours earlier had vanished by the time the Red Sox's fire-balling closer took the ball against the Yankees with the game on the line on Wednesday night.

In converting the save for Boston in this 6-5 victory over New York, all Papelbon had to do in the top of the ninth was get through Mark Teixeira, Alex Rodriguez, Robinson Cano and Jorge Posada. Working around a one-out walk to A-Rod, Papelbon reached back when he had to, continuing the Red Sox's stunning early-season dominance against the Yankees.

"I felt pretty good physically," said Papelbon, who was nearly taken to the hospital for dehydration during Tuesday's game, in which he didn't pitch. "I just had to take my time between each pitch. I'm sure I got a handful of 'pacing the game' violations tonight, but it is what it is. I was just breathing a little heavy. The big thing was I made it through it. Obviously, yeah, I was sick, but I was able to bounce back and come help the ballclub."

Meanwhile, the Yankees have to feel sick about the way they've played against the Red Sox this season.

Now more than one-third of the way through their head-to-head combat with New York, Boston is 7-0 this season against its rival. In other words, that dominance is solely responsible for the Red Sox holding a mere one-game lead against the Yankees in the American League East.

Stretching back to last Sept. 28, the Sox have taken eight in a row against the Bronx Bombers for the first time since 1912.

The bullpen, which has been a huge difference-maker in the games between the rivals this season, came through again.

"I think that's what we pride ourselves on," said Papelbon. "I think our bullpen -- we feed off of each other, and we use that momentum off each other. When we come into the game, we like to take over the game. The starter gives us the ball and, 'Hey, now it's our ballgame.' I know that's one of our main objectives."

In this case, the starter was Wakefield, and he again gave Boston a solid performance. The veteran knuckleballer scattered eight hits and three runs over six innings to earn career victory No. 186.

The 42-year-old Wakefield turned in his eighth quality start of the season, running his record to 8-3.

"Getting through that lineup, with what he did -- we'll take it," said Red Sox manager Terry Francona. "I think we've seen him better. Every time we talk about Wake, you look up in the sixth or seventh and you have a chance to win. Regardless, he finds a way."

But Ramon Ramirez had a rare hiccup for Boston in the seventh, allowing back-to-back homers to Johnny Damon and the red-hot Teixeira, who went 4-for-5 with three extra-base hits.

That is when Hideki Okajima came into action. The lefty struck out his former teammate from Japan -- Hideki Matsui -- to end the seventh. And in the eighth, Okajima ended his night by striking out Derek Jeter and Damon, pounding his hand into his glove with excitement as he sprinted back to the dugout. It was a rare show of emotion from Okajima.

Victories an early indicator?
Here how the Red Sox and Yankees have fared in years in which one has opened with four or more wins against the other at the start of the season series.
Year
Team
Opening H2H Streak
Final H2H record
Final overall record
Final overall finish
2009BOSW7+NANANA
NYYL7+NANANA
2007BOSW48-1096-661st in AL East, won WS
NYYL410-894-68AL Wild Card, lost in ALDS
1994NYYW67-370-431st in AL East (no postseason)
BOSL63-754-614th in AL East
1990BOSW49-488-741st in AL East, lost in ALCS
NYYL44-967-957th in AL East
1985BOSW55-881-815th in AL East
NYYL58-597-642nd in AL East
1973BOSW49-989-732nd in AL East
NYYL49-980-844th in AL East
1964BOSW49-972-908th in AL
NYYL49-999-63Lost WS
1956NYYW414-897-57Won WS
BOSL48-1484-704th in AL
1945NYYW416-681-714th in AL
BOSL46-1671-837th in AL
1933NYYW914-891-592nd in AL
BOSL98-1463-867th in AL
1923NYYW414-898-54Won WS
BOSL48-1461-918th in AL
1920BOSW49-1372-815th in AL
NYYL413-995-593rd in AL
1912BOSW1419-2105-47Won WS
NYYL142-1950-1028th in AL

"I was so excited," Okajima said through interpreter Jeff Yamaguchi. "I was so happy to get out of that jam."

The Red Sox shared his happiness, only adding to the Yankees' misery.

"By far, no questions asked, Hideki was our star of the game," said Papelbon. "He came in and basically took over the ballgame and did what he did, and that's the big reason we won the ballgame tonight. There's no doubt about it. Hideki pitched great tonight."

Not to be overlooked was the offense. The Red Sox knocked the Yankees' starting pitcher out before end of the third inning for the second successive night. This time, it was Chien-Ming Wang -- who lasted 2 2/3 innings and allowed four earned runs on six hits and three walks -- enduring yet another rough outing.

"We were patient," said Red Sox designated hitter David Ortiz. "We know that he's having location problems right now, and this team is pretty good at taking walks and letting guys pitch."

Backed by a solo homer from Mike Lowell in the third and a two-run shot by Kevin Youkilis in the fourth, the Red Sox held a 6-2 lead. As it turns out, they needed all of it.

"I think we spread it out a little bit," said Lowell. "Youk's home run was big, making it a 6-2 lead. That kind of lessens the blow when they hit those back-to-back homers. I think we've been solid all year. With this kind of revamped lineup, it seems like even when we don't get a lot of hits, we've been scoring a lot of runs. It seems to be working. We're getting a lot of contributions from different guys."

The Yankees, who have 11 games left against the Sox, will try to earn a victory in the series finale on Thursday night, when CC Sabathia faces Brad Penny.

"It's crazy, but we've been playing really good against them," said Ortiz. "I don't think we've ever done that before, huh?"

Only in 1912.