BOSTON -- His primary job is still to set the table and create havoc on the bases. But Jacoby Ellsbury has branched out numerous times this season to become another powerful force in his team's imposing lineup.
The center fielder added another chapter to his breakout season on Wednesday night at Fenway Park, lashing a two-run homer over the Green Monster in the bottom of the sixth that snapped a tie and propelled the Red Sox to a 9-5 victory over the Yankees.
It was the first time Ellsbury, a left-handed hitter, cleared the Monster.
"I know I can," Ellsbury said. "I know I'm capable. It was nice, especially off the lefty, staying on a ball like that. That was a pitch -- a pretty good pitch away -- so it's nice to reap the rewards. I don't expect that ball to go out, but that's nice to see."
A loss would have put Boston in second place in the American League East. Instead, the Sox extended their lead over their rivals to 1 1/2 games while improving their record against New York this season to 11-3.
And even though both teams seem like near locks to make the postseason, neither side is downplaying the importance of trying to finish first.
"I want to finish first," said winning pitcher Josh Beckett. "I don't think anybody's out there going, 'We don't care.' It's a little too early for that. Once you get to Sept. 25, it's, 'Hey, let's just get in.' But for now, who doesn't want to finish first? You'd be hard-pressed to find anybody that says they don't really care."
Though he gave up four runs in the sixth, Beckett hung tough and came back out for the seventh, holding the lead that Ellsbury staked him to.
The righty went seven innings, scattering six hits and five runs, four of which were earned. He walked three and struck out eight.
Beckett improved to 4-0 on the season against the Yankees, becoming the first Red Sox pitcher since Al Nipper in 1987 to win four rivalry games in one season.
"Tonight wasn't about me," said Beckett. "We have some guys that have been sticking out all year that stuck out big-time."
Foremost among them was Ellsbury, who is hitting .313 with 97 runs, 35 doubles, 24 homers, 84 RBIs and 36 stolen bases.
"That's going to be a fun arbitration case, isn't it? Find somebody to compare him to," Beckett said of Ellsbury.
Ellsbury's go-ahead home run came off Boone Logan.
"You're seeing a maturing Major League hitter," said Red Sox hitting coach Dave Magadan. "He knows he's got enough to at least get it off that wall, and obviously he's got enough to get it over the wall. But to have that approach on a guy that's had a devastating slider this year, that's why he's had the year that he's having. To lay off those sliders and then get that fastball out over the plate and drive it over the wall, that's the type of stuff he can do."
Only David Ortiz, who clocked No. 28 in this one, has more home runs on the Red Sox than Ellsbury.
"He hit the ball to left field," said Red Sox manager Terry Francona. "We probably wouldn't have seen that a couple of years ago. But he stays back, he stays balanced on his front side and balls that were maybe doubles or outs are home runs. I think he's getting more confident as each day passes."
The Yankees jumped out first in this one, as Derek Jeter came through with a two-out RBI single in the third.
But the Red Sox rallied right back in the bottom of the third. After Marco Scutaro ripped a leadoff single, Ellsbury smacked a double down the line in left. Scutaro came home on a groundout by Dustin Pedroia. With first base open, Yankees manager Joe Girardi called for a two-out intentional walk of Ortiz. That move did not pay off, as Jed Lowrie ripped one down the line in right for an RBI single that gave the Sox a 2-1 lead.
The Yankees pitched to Ortiz in the fifth, but that didn't work, either, as Big Papi hit a titanic two-run shot to center, giving Beckett a three-run cushion. It was Ortiz's fifth homer against the Yankees this season.
"They're strong up and down," said Yankees starter Phil Hughes. "They're kind of like us. They're going to wear you down and make you battle. Any given night, they'll jump on any mistake you make."
Ortiz is in the midst of a 14-game hitting streak during which he's hit .509 with seven doubles, seven homers and 16 RBIs. Groove?
"I've been in a groove all year," chuckled Ortiz. "Come on."
However, it was a roller-coaster type of game, and the Yankees came roaring back in the sixth, putting together a four-run rally against Beckett. The big hits came off the bats of Robinson Cano (RBI double) and Eric Chavez, who drilled a double down the line in right in which two runs scored and Chavez reached third on an error by Josh Reddick. Eduardo Nunez gave the Yankees the lead on a sacrifice fly.
"He threw strikes, he used all his pitches and he went back out after giving up the four and got 'em out," Francona said.
Again, there was a near-instant shift in momentum. Reddick drew a one-out walk, and Jason Varitek perfectly executed a hit-and-run, lacing an RBI double that stayed just fair down the line in left.
Logan came on to face Ellsbury, and the game turned for good.
Varitek gave the Sox some insurance with a two-run bomb to right in the eighth.
"It was a back-and-forth game," said Ellsbury. "We stayed on them and kept pressure on them. Throughout the lineup, we did a tremendous job of putting pressure on them."