BOSTON -- In the great rivalry often associated with names like Roger Clemens and Pedro Martinez, the marquee pitching matchup of the three-game series between the Yankees and Red Sox this weekend might've been impossible to predict. Neither of Saturday's starters appears to be a future Hall of Famer. And between 17 combined years of Major League experience, they have a single All-Star appearance.
John Lackey and Hiroki Kuroda are in the middle of career years. And the matchup was every bit as exciting as their 2013 numbers suggested on Saturday afternoon, even if the names weren't typically those synonymous with ace when it comes to these two storied franchises.
Kuroda dealt mid-90s heaters and Lackey matched him for much of the game. Each seemed in total command at times. But three runners were nailed at home plate, Daniel Nava was gunned down trying to tag from first in the eighth inning and the Yankees used one solid inning off Lackey to take the second of a three-game set, 5-2.
"[Baserunning] worked against us a couple times today," said Red Sox manager John Farrell.
Nava was thrown out at home in the first inning when third-base coach Brian Butterfield gave him the go signal even though Nava had yet to reach third base by the time Vernon Wells collected the ball in left field. Mike Carp was then nailed at home on a passed ball in the fifth. And Nava's baserunning blunder came when Chris Stewart made a diving catch into the stands in the eighth and Nava was thrown out trying to tag up from first. There were two outs with David Ortiz on deck and the Red Sox were down two at the time.
"Down two with David on deck, again, overaggressiveness on his part," Farrell said.
But Lackey's solid start was the silver lining on a hot day that included a 90-degree temperature at game time, though Lackey, a Texas native, said he's played football in worse than that.
With Clay Buchholz's season in question due to lingering neck and shoulder issues, and Jon Lester dealing with general soreness and fatigue as he tries to work out of a two-month-long funk, Lackey's success has been timely.
For now, Lackey is the No. 1 pitcher.
"It's not something I'm going to back away from if it needs to happen," said Lackey, whose ERA rose to 2.95. "But the rest of the guys on this staff are really good, and we're going to be just fine."
Against a team that has given Lackey fits throughout his career (he entered Saturday with a 4.68 ERA lifetime against the Yankees), Lackey pitched 6 1/3 innings, allowing four runs while striking out seven and walking none.
The only other time Lackey had ever gotten through a start vs. the Yankees while allowing four earned runs or less without walking anybody was in 2007, the only season Lackey was an All-Star as he finished third in American League Cy Young Award voting.
"I don't know how much more I got in there," Lackey said. "I feel pretty strong right now. The last month or two have been pretty solid. I'm just going to try to keep working hard at it and trying to give us a good chance to win when you go out there."
The righty played the part of hard-throwing veteran well, while his defense played just as hard behind him.
Jose Iglesias, playing third base for the first time in weeks with the return of Stephen Drew to shortstop, snagged a hard liner off the bat of Ichiro Suzuki in the first inning and gunned it to first base, where the ball beat Brett Gardner back to the bag for a double play.
The Yankees threatened in the fifth inning, when Eduardo Nunez reached base on a single, stole second and moved to third on a bunt by Stewart. Dustin Pedroia nearly prevented the run from scoring, but a diving attempt at a ball off the bat of Luis Cruz landed inches short.
The Red Sox offense was lifeless for much of this one, as Kuroda tossed seven innings of two-run ball.
"He had everything today," manager Joe Girardi said. "His stuff was really crisp. He kept his pitch count down in the early innings. His stuff was really sharp."
The bottom third of the Yankees' lineup had 26 total RBIs on the season before Saturday, but they again got the offense going in the seventh inning, when the Yankees scored three runs on five hits.
The Sox added two runs on a sacrifice fly and wild pitch in the bottom of the inning, but the sturdy veteran combination of David Robertson and Mariano Rivera shut the door in the eighth and ninth.
Drake Britton made his Major League debut for the Red Sox, pitching a scoreless inning of relief. The 24-year-old lefty had a 3.77 ERA in 102 2/3 innings between Double-A Portland and Triple-A Pawtucket this season.
"He showed good stuff," Farrell said. "He's here now, so he's going to get opportunities."