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09/15/07 2:15 AM ET

Bullpen lets down Sox against Yanks

Five-run lead squandered in eighth; Papelbon handed loss

BOSTON -- Protectors of a five-run lead with six outs to go, the Red Sox had absolutely no reason to believe they were on the verge of perhaps their most devastating loss of the season.

However, the relentless Yankees have a way of causing devastation, even when you least expect it. This time, they rallied against the 1-2 punch of Hideki Okajima and Jonathan Papelbon, which not too many teams have done this year.

The Red Sox suffered an 8-7 loss on Friday night at Fenway Park, with the Yankees producing a stunning six runs against Okajima and Papelbon in the eighth inning.

"It happened quick, that's for sure," said Red Sox third baseman Mike Lowell. "I feel good with a one-run lead with Oki and Pap. They didn't hit too many balls soft. They took advantage of pitches, and they did it in a hurry. That's a good-hitting team. They did it. I don't have an explanation."

With the defeat, Boston's lead in the American League East was cut to 4 1/2 games by hard-charging New York. The Red Sox led the Yankees by 14 1/2 games on May 29.

After ripping off five wins in the first six head-to-head encounters with the Yankees this season, the Red Sox have lost eight of the last 10, including five in a row.

"We're worried about winning games," said Red Sox catcher Jason Varitek. "That has to be our total focus, and playing good baseball. We didn't do the job well, pitching late."

The contest lasted four hours and 43 minutes and was the second-longest nine-inning game in Major League history -- trailing another Red Sox-Yankees marathon from Aug. 18 of last season by two minutes. Still, it was almost unfathomable how quickly it spun out of control for the Sox.

Okajima started the eighth by giving up back-to-back homers to Jason Giambi and Robinson Cano.

"The two homers, he left some balls in the middle of the plate," said Varitek.

The long balls -- which made it 7-4 -- would have been fine if Okajima could have settled down. But he didn't. Melky Cabrera walked, and Johnny Damon doubled.

Yankees Coverage
Jeter's late homer lifts Yanks
Yanks gear up for lesser opponents
Chamberlain springs curve on Sox
Notes: Peace of mind for Posada

Red Sox Coverage
Schilling's gem ends with loss
Bauman: Game mirrors Classic duel
Sox don't take lead for granted
Notes: Matsuzaka pushed back
Season Series
Yankees win 10-8
• 9/16: Yankees 4, Red Sox 3
• 9/15: Red Sox 10,Yankees 1
• 9/14: Yankees 8, Red Sox 7
Previous season series
2006: Yankees 11, Red Sox 8
2005: Yankees 10, Red Sox 9
2004: Red Sox 11, Yankees 8

Then, with the ever-clutch Derek Jeter looming, it was time for Papelbon.

"We go to Oki with the idea that even if things didn't go perfect, we had Pap ready for Jeter," said Red Sox manager Terry Francona. "It fell apart in a hurry."

Jeter, as he always seems to do in these situations, lined a single to right to score Cabrera. Then came perhaps the biggest of all the big hits the Yankees had on the night, a two-run double off the wall in left-center field by Bobby Abreu to tie the game.

Alex Rodriguez, who is having a magnificent season, put the Yankees on top for the first time all night with an RBI single to left-center. Fenway Park was suddenly silent.

It has been a strange week for the Red Sox. They rallied from 8-1 down to beat the Devil Rays on Tuesday night. A night later, after trailing, 4-0, they jumped on David Ortiz's back and rode his walk-off homer to victory.

And this time, with the Red Sox holding a commanding lead, they had it fall apart.

"It seems like we've played the last three games backwards," said Francona.

Daisuke Matsuzaka was in line to earn his 15th win after gritting his way through 5 2/3 innings in which he allowed four hits and two runs while walking five and striking out seven. Matsuzaka threw 120 pitches but somehow minimized the damage against the heavy-hitting and disciplined Yankees.

"I thought Daisuke pitched with a lot of heart," said Francona. "He competed real well against a very good lineup."

Though Matsuzaka wasn't all that efficient, it was a bounce-back performance coming off a five-start stretch in which he went 1-4 with a 9.57 ERA.

"I wouldn't say that my pitching was consistent or stable throughout, but what I wanted most of all today was the win," said Matsuzaka. "I was focusing a lot more on the result today."

A forgotten fact by the end of the game was the job the Boston batters did against opposing starter Andy Pettitte, who was gone after four innings -- having allowed nine hits and five runs (four earned) -- and 101 pitches.

The Red Sox scored three in the fourth and two in the sixth and owned a 7-2 lead.

But the Yankees didn't even blink at the sight of two relievers who represented the AL at the All-Star Game in July.

"I think it's definitely uncharacteristic," said Red Sox first baseman Kevin Youkilis. "They are human, and you're going to have that happen. Unfortunately, it was today. We can't get too down on them. They're going to have ups and downs, and unfortunately, tonight was a down. You can't be too upset with them."

The Red Sox will turn to ace Josh Beckett for a quick cure on Saturday.

"Any loss right now is crushing," said Varitek. "We've got to pull ourselves together and go back out there and be ready to play [Saturday]."

Ian Browne is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.