BOSTON -- CC Sabathia showed no signs of fretting about his inability to beat the Red Sox in four previous starts this year. Instead, he defiantly noted that he'd done it before and promised to do it again.
The left-hander made good on that statement, firing a season-high 128 pitches on Tuesday and striking out 10 as the Yankees defeated the Red Sox, 5-2, in an emotional contest at Fenway Park.
"I've been struggling a little bit," Sabathia said. "I felt I had good stuff. It's a big win against a team that we're chasing."
The victory nudged the Yankees within a half-game for the lead in the American League East, offering New York a boost in seeing its ace conquer his personal Boston demons.
"It's been talked about," Yankees manager Joe Girardi said. "CC's such a great pitcher, I'm sure he doesn't want to hear that. It's a big win for him."
Sabathia (18-7) said he needed to keep himself calm and not waste his good stuff, but emotions redlined in a game that saw the benches briefly clear and ended with Girardi and Yankees pitching coach Larry Rothschild ejected.
While the gathering on the field was tame by classic Yankees-Red Sox standards, Francisco Cervelli penciled his name into the long lineage of run-ins between the rivals with a single clap of his hands.
Cervelli belted a solo homer off Red Sox starter John Lackey (12-10) in the fifth inning, lifting one over the Green Monster and celebrating his third career round-tripper as he crossed home plate.
The gesture wasn't unnoticed by the Red Sox. Lackey was seen glaring into the visitors' dugout after the homer, and in Cervelli's next plate appearance, a fastball was buried into the reserve catcher's back.
"I don't try to do anything to him," Cervelli said. "Every time I get a base hit or a double, I clap. That's me. That's my game, and I don't try to do anything bad to another player. That's me, and if they feel a different thing, I say I'm sorry. But I'm not trying to [anger anyone]."
Cervelli barked toward the mound, and the Yankees howled about intent. Home-plate umpire Ed Rapuano didn't agree, and a few choice words from Rothschild earned the soft-spoken pitching coach his first ejection with New York.
"Obviously a difference of opinion," Rothschild said. "I thought Lackey threw at him. Ed didn't, and I respect his opinion. He's a good umpire. I've known him a long time."
The hit-by-pitch led to a run, as Cervelli advanced on a passed ball, a Brett Gardner bunt single and a double play.
Filling in for injured third baseman Alex Rodriguez, Eric Chavez contributed two RBI singles to the attack against Lackey. Robinson Cano also had a run-scoring double off Lackey, who was hit for five runs (four earned) in seven innings.
With the Yankees' bullpen needing a breather, Girardi placed a premium on distance and squeezed it out of Sabathia, who scattered 10 hits but was able to manage Boston's batting order when he needed to.
"That's a great lineup," Sabathia said. "They take pitches, they foul pitches off and when you make a mistake, they make you pay."
Boston scored its only two runs off Sabathia in the fourth inning, as Carl Crawford belted a solo homer and Marco Scutaro rapped a run-scoring double to drive in Jarrod Saltalamacchia.
"We worked CC hard," Red Sox manager Terry Francona said. "We made him throw a lot of pitches. But when he needed to, he made pitches. We stranded, certainly, a ton of runners [16 in all]. We had our chances."
The 128 pitches were Sabathia's most as a member of the Yankees, but not a career high. He needed 130 pitches to finish an Aug. 18, 2008, complete game against the Astros while with the Brewers.
"I felt like I had good stuff," Sabathia said. "I felt good and felt strong all the way through."
Boone Logan entered with two on and one out in the seventh, relieving Cory Wade, and the lefty erased a bases-loaded jam by striking out both Saltalamacchia and Darnell McDonald, pumping his fist after the escape.
"That was probably the most excited I've gotten all year after an outing," Logan said. "I'm not usually pumping my fist after I get out of situations like that. But tonight I left it all out there and had a good feeling I was going to get these guys."
The ninth inning saw Girardi take his second ejection of the year and toss his cap after third-base umpire Mark Wegner ruled a hit-by-pitch on what appeared to be a Saltalamacchia swing facing Mariano Rivera.
"He clearly swung to me, and that's an important out," Girardi said. "It's not like me to blow my top very often, but this is an important game."
That put the tying run at the plate, but the legendary closer didn't falter, nailing down his 35th save and career save No. 594 to preserve Sabathia's victory.
"It's always a big game," Sabathia said. "I was just happy we were able to get a win tonight."