NEW YORK -- The Yankees had a chance on Sunday, in the nightcap of a doubleheader with Boston, to take away quite a bragging-rights victory -- some Schadenfreude that would be permissible for at least the fans to take part in, if not the players.
A win, and the Yankees would have put their rival Red Sox on the brink of a complete collapse. New York had taken the first two games of the series at Yankee Stadium and held an early lead in the third over a reeling Sox team that was one loss away from falling into a tie for the American League Wild Card.
Ruining Boston's season, however, falls to the back burner as the Yankees tune up for their own guaranteed postseason appearance, and a 7-4 win for Boston worthy of an actual playoff contest was decided by Jacoby Ellsbury's three-run homer in the 14th inning.
"I thought the effort was great -- we got off to a good start and scored some runs early; we had some big plays," said Yankees manager Joe Girardi, ejected in the 13th inning for arguing a call at first base and defending Nick Swisher, who was manning the bag. "Our guys kept going at it. We just came up a little short."
The homer, off Scott Proctor in his first inning of work, came on a two-out, 1-0 fastball over the middle and sailed into the Yankees' bullpen. That was Ellsbury's third of the day after he went deep twice in New York's 6-2 victory during the first game of the twin bill.
"First and second, two outs, he threw me a first-pitch breaking ball and I was sitting on a fastball," Ellsbury said. "Fortunately, he threw something over the plate."
Both teams were helped by the September rosters that never run dry. The Yankees used seven relievers behind starter Ivan Nova, who was strong early in his final playoff tune-up, and the Red Sox went to the bullpen five times following John Lackey.
"I'm ready to go, I'm ready to go," said Nova, likely to be the No. 2 starter in the playoffs behind CC Sabathia. "Now I've got to look ahead at the playoffs, and I think we've just got to prepare."
The loss wraps the Yankees' final regular-season homestand with six wins in eight games and sends them off to St. Petersburg for their final three games. There, they'll continue to be in the heart of the AL Wild Card race playing a team that trails by just one game -- but finalizing their playoff roster and maintaining health will continue to be what matters.
Case-in-point from Sunday: The Red Sox turned to Jonathan Papelbon for 2 1/3 innings, his longest outing in more than a year, and he worked out of a bases-loaded jam in the ninth, one of a couple late opportunities the Yankees had. Brett Gardner was struck out by winning pitcher Franklin Morales to end a 13th-inning threat.
Yankees closer Mariano Rivera, meanwhile, went just one inning, and as tense as the game got, Alex Rodriguez and Derek Jeter remained on the bench.
"Here's the thing," Girardi said. "If you ask them to get loose and they pull something -- they've been sitting a long time -- people are going to really question what you do. Physically, this time of the year, to me, it's not the right thing to do. Their bodies were shut down since 4 o'clock; it's 11:30 at night. I just don't feel like it's the right thing to do."
The early going from Nova was impressive. He held Boston scoreless through four but wavered in the middle innings, when the Sox chipped away at a 3-0 lead he had been staked to in the first inning. Nova finished with 96 pitches in 6 1/3 innings, giving up four runs on eight hits and no walks.
"I have a couple bad innings and I make a mistake, and they take advantage," said Nova, who allowed the Red Sox to take their first lead of the series in the seventh, 4-3, on a Jason Varitek single. He struck out three.
New York quickly tied the game at 4 in the bottom of the inning against Alfredo Aceves, on a Chris Dickerson sac fly. Lackey was charged with all four of the Yanks' runs.
The game had its peculiar moments. Boston's Dustin Pedroia attempted to leap over Yanks backstop Austin Romine in the sixth, when a Nova wild pitch caromed right back to Romine. The rookie made the putout as Pedroia tried to score from third.
Mark Teixeira's near home run in the first inning may as well have been gone. Off the very top of the wall in center, Teixeira officially recorded a double but reached third on a throw to the plate, then came all the way around when Jason Varitek threw the ball into left field. That made it 3-0 New York.
"I knew our only shot was if I stood around and waited for a good bounce, and luckily, I got a really good bounce," said Romine of the Pedroia play. "I've never seen anybody try to jump over me before, especially -- well, I've never seen that before."