BOSTON -- The Yankees continue to talk about the resilience of their roster and its ability to get up after knockdown punches. Yet as Ivan Nova kicked at the pitching rubber in frustration and handed over the baseball, this sure felt like yet another hit that had landed solidly.
Nova was knocked out in the fifth inning and the big-swinging Red Sox continued to roll over their division rivals, polishing off a 9-2 victory at Fenway Park on Sunday. It was a formality, but the loss officially eliminated the Yankees from the American League East division race.
"It hurts," Nova said. "It's bad, especially when you see the teams ahead of you lose and you want to get a win for the team. Unfortunately I couldn't get it today. That's the worst part."
Despite an ugly weekend in which they were outscored 22-6, the Yankees didn't lose any ground in their bid to clinch an American League Wild Card. Losses by both the Rangers and the Rays on Sunday kept the Bombers' deficit at three games.
"I don't stop believing," manager Joe Girardi said. "We're not the only team that's run into hard times in the month of September or August. All these other teams are running into hard times, too. We still have a great opportunity. Yeah, we've got to win a lot of games, but the opportunity is in front of us."
Girardi had previously said that he thought the Yankees needed at least 90 wins to qualify for a playoff spot. He backed off that ever so slightly on Sunday, allowing that "89 might do it."
That would still mean that the Yankees (79-71) need to go 10-2 the rest of the way against the Blue Jays, Giants, Rays and Astros -- admittedly softer matchups than the Red Sox, who have won 13 meetings with New York this year, Boston's most victories since going 14-4 against the 1973 Yankees.
"To say we've dominated them, I don't think any of us look at it like that," said Boston's Daniel Nava. "We've played some good games and we've come out on top."
Mike Napoli hit a two-run homer and Nava had four hits as the Red Sox ruined Nova's night. The AL's Pitcher of the Month in August, Nova has seen his fortunes go the other way of late, which might be related to his bouts of tightness near his right triceps.
Nova insisted that there were no injury problems on Sunday, which could be even more alarming for the Yankees. He was pounded for a season-high five runs (four earned) and six hits over four-plus innings, walking a season-high four batters and taking his first loss since July 27 against the Rays.
"We were hoping he could give us a little more tonight, but it didn't happen," Girardi said.
Red Sox starter Clay Buchholz did not seem to have his sharp command, but he still limited the Yankees to an unearned run and two hits over six innings.
Buchholz walked four and struck out three in the winning effort, allowing only Alex Rodriguez's first-inning RBI groundout. Rodriguez would leave the game after two at-bats with a tight right calf, yet another concern as the Yankees attempt to mount a final charge.
"I've had a calf injury before, and those are tricky," Rodriguez said. "They're very dangerous. I'm hoping that I came out of the game before something really bad happened."
The Red Sox honored retiring closer Mariano Rivera with a lavish pregame ceremony, but the all-time saves leader was not needed for any of the three games this weekend at Fenway.
By the ninth inning, with his team trailing by a touchdown and two-point conversion, Rivera was scribbling a heartfelt message in marker on the wall of the visiting bullpen: "Last to wear #42. Thank you for everything."
"I definitely appreciate what the Red Sox organization did," Rivera said. "I will never forget that."
Boston took Rivera out of the equation early, starting with a three-run first inning. David Ortiz singled home Nava and Napoli homered to straightaway center field, his seventh against the Yankees this season.
Jarrod Saltalamacchia made it 4-1 in the fourth inning with a steal of home plate on the front end of a double steal with Xander Bogaerts, as catcher Chris Stewart threw down and shortstop Brendan Ryan couldn't handle the ball.
Nova hit Mike Carp with a pitch in the fifth to force home the fifth Red Sox run.
"I wasn't throwing strikes," Nova said. "I was trying to attack the hitter. I fell behind in the count and they got really good at-bats."
Entering with none out, Adam Warren did a good job to strand the bases loaded, but Nava and Ortiz knocked Warren for RBI singles in the sixth inning.
Dustin Pedroia greeted David Phelps with a two-run double in the seventh, with those runs charged to Mike Zagurski in his Yankees debut. Zagurski was the 56th different player used by the Yankees in this injury-plagued season, setting a franchise record.
"You have to put it behind you," Girardi said. "We stunk here. We didn't play well here. We've got an option; we can continue to stink or play better. If we play better, we have a shot."