NEW YORK - When third base umpire Wally Bell ruled Coco Crisp's diving catch a trap, prolonging an already marathon afternoon with a bit of weirdness almost as stupefying as the Kevin Youkilis drive that teetered on top of the left-field fence like a putt hanging on the lip of the cup and refusing to drop, Red Sox manager Terry Francona made the obligatory trip to confront the umpire.
"I really wasn't listening," Francona said. "To be honest, I didn't care. I just wanted to get off the field with a win."
One 406-foot out later, Bobby Abreu's drive to the center-field wall dying in Crisp's glove in full view of all present, Francona had his wish. And for the first time in a week, Jonathan Papelbon was in the middle of it, the closer surviving a chaotic finish in a 6-4 victory over the Yankees that took 5 hours 19 minutes to complete because of an 88-minute rain delay in the top of the eighth.
"When Paps doesn't pitch for a while, it's usually our fault," said reliever Javier Lopez, who with one pitch in the bottom of the eighth (double-play ground ball by Robinson Cano) duplicated what Manny Delcarmen had done the inning before with the bases loaded against Alex Rodriguez (force at second).
"It's huge - obviously, this hasn't been the most ideal road trip for us," Lopez said of a bullpen that repeatedly fell on its sword during a five-game losing streak against Houston and Tampa Bay. "We've been giving up a lot of runs [14 in 10 innings], so it was important that we bridge the gap."
The Sox made it two straight over the Yankees, who lost for the fifth time in six games, by overcoming the 3-0 lead Josh Beckett spotted the Bombers in the first. The Sox answered against starter Darrell Rasner with three runs in the third that not only tied the score but knocked out left fielder Johnny Damon, who ran full tilt into the wall while attempting to catch Youkilis's two-out drive.
For a moment, there was white at the top of Damon's glove. But the collision of man and fence jarred the ball loose. Damon crumpled to the ground, and even with the wall vibrating from the impact, the ball came to a temporary rest on the wall's flat top before falling onto the field.
"At first, I thought he caught it," said Delcarmen, who had a limited view from the bullpen. "I watched the replay. It was almost like in hockey, when a guy gets checked into the boards, the way the wall was shaking."
Youkilis wound up with a triple as two runs scored. Damon, throwing his glove down in disgust - an act Crisp duplicated hours later when Bell misdiagnosed his catch - wound up coming out of the game with a sprained left shoulder. The Yankees are already without left fielder Hideki Matsui, who has an inflamed left knee that may require surgery.
"You know when Johnny leaves the game, something's wrong," said Francona, who came to admire Damon's grit when he managed him in Boston. "He almost caught it. He almost ran through the wall trying to catch it. It was a huge play."
Damon had returned from his MRI by the time the clubhouse opened. "Youks has got to be upset," he said. "But I couldn't just let it go be a home run without someone getting hurt."
While the consensus in the Sox clubhouse was that they hadn't seen anything like Youkilis's wall-hugger, it brought back memories for Damon.
"I had a ball go in a beer cup in Oakland," he said.
Yankees manager Joe Girardi had said before the game that he had no qualms about the matchup between Sox ace Beckett and righthander Rasner, who began the spring as a nonroster invitee to camp. Girardi had a chance to reconsider those words when Mike Lowell followed singles by Dustin Pedroia and Manny Ramírez in the fifth with his 13th home run of the season, the blow that ultimately dropped the Yanks into a virtual fourth-place tie with Baltimore.
"Momentum was all on their side," Lowell said about the Yankees' early lead, with Damon hitting a leadoff double and Rodriguez delivering a two-run double and coming around to score on Jason Giambi's sacrifice fly.
"But we played to our strengths."
Those strengths included two bunt singles by Jacoby Ellsbury, who had three hits in all, and two more hits by Pedroia, who is batting .528 (28 for 53) during his 12-game hitting streak and scored after both of his singles yesterday.
But the Yankees were still within reach when they loaded the bases in the seventh against Hideki Okajima on a bloop single and two walks.
Okajima managed to register one big out - Abreu popped up for the second out of the inning - before yielding to Delcarmen, who had allowed more hits (seven) and runs (six) than he'd recorded outs (four) in his last three appearances.
"That's who we wanted out there," Francona said.
Delcarmen came through, as did Lopez an inning later, setting up Papelbon for his 25th save, one that became a trial by fire when Bell's missed call resulted in Derek Jeter being credited with a run-scoring double.
Girardi, meanwhile, acknowledged that the Yankees caught a break when Bell missed the call on Crisp's catch ("I thought he caught it 3 or 4 inches off the ground," said left fielder Ellsbury, who, like Crisp, waved his arms in dismay) and applauded Damon's effort, but in the end, it mattered little.
"It's another loss," he said, "and we've got to start winning games."
Gordon Edes can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.