Red Sox 'making strides'; reach .500

NEW YORK -- Granted, it took a little time: The Paleolithic Age came and went, as did the Protestant Reformation, the U.S. Civil War and the Industrial Revolution. In other words, a typical Red Sox-Yankees game.

But by the end of the night Sunday -- 11:51 ET, if you're keeping score at home -- the Boston Red Sox reached the .500 level (20 wins, 20 losses) for the first time in the 2011 season.

"I don't think one person in this locker room doubted us, or was worried,'' said winning pitcher Jon Lester, who navigated his way through six arduous innings to post his fifth win against one loss this season. "I think everybody knew how good this team was, or is, and it was just a matter of getting ourselves going.

"We dug ourselves a hole, but we were 12 games in at that point (2-10). There's a reason why we play 162. I don't think too many people in this locker room, if any, were concerned about that.''

It wasn't always pretty: Lester was banged around for four runs, including two home runs, in the first two innings; left fielder Carl Crawford bobbled home another run, and the Sox left the bases loaded in the seventh, when they had a great chance to bust it open.

But the positives far outweighed the negatives, beginning with the three home runs the Sox hit to overcome an early 4-1 deficit. Kevin Youkilis hit a three-run homer off the deceptive Freddy Garcia to tie the score, David Ortiz hit a broken-bat home run to snap the tie in the fifth, and Jarrod Saltalamacchia hit the first home run by a Sox catcher this season -- and his first since Aug. 2, 2009 -- to give the Sox some breathing room.

"The offense did a great job of picking me up,'' said Lester, who also was treated roughly in Toronto last Tuesday night, when he walked five and gave up two home runs in just 5 1/3 innings in a 7-6 loss to the Blue Jays. "I tried to ruin another good offensive night for us, but they did a great job, changing the momentum of that game.''

Lester, who hit the first New York Yankee batter of the game, Derek Jeter, and gave up a run-scoring single to Mark Teixeira in the first, was taken deep by Andruw Jones to open the second, and Curtis Granderson followed after a walk to Russell Martin with a two-run home run to make it 4-1. It looked like the Yankees, who had not scored against Lester in his previous two starts against them, were going to make fast work of the Sox left-hander.

"To be honest, I really didn't have a feel for anything, didn't have a comfort level, no flow to the game,'' he said. "Everything that could go bad was going bad.''

Lester got into a little better rhythm, he said, especially once he was able to throw his changeup with greater effectiveness.

"But it never really turned around,'' he said. "It was kind of one of those games where from pitch one I had to battle through. These are big. These are big not only for our team but for the starting pitcher. When you can go out there without your best stuff or really a good anything and still come out on top, that's always a good thing.''

And the Yankee embarrassments were numerous, beginning with the fact that the Bombers were swept at home in a three-game series by the Sox for the first time since 2004. Manager Joe Girardi did a nice job before the game taking the air out of what the New York Post called the "Posada Adventure" after the recalcitrant catcher apologized for not wanting to play the night before, but that was about the only positive takeaway on a night the Bombers lost their fifth straight game, all at home.

The night's nadir was reached in the seventh inning by Yankees third baseman Alex Rodriguez, when he executed a reverse Buckner, a slow roller by Youkilis somehow eluding his glove and slipping undisturbed into left field, allowing Dustin Pedroia to score from second. Pedroia had drawn a one-out walk and stolen second before reliever David Robertson intentionally walked Adrian Gonzalez to get to Youkilis.

"Until about a week ago, the Yankees had been the best team in baseball,'' said reliever Daniel Bard, who struck out Nick Swisher with two on to end the seventh, then worked a scoreless eighth despite walking Posada, who was pinch hitting to open the inning. "To come here and win, it's always tough, with all the hype surrounding it. But we're at .500 now, and if we play 15 games over .500 from here on out, we win 95 games.

"I think that works out. Is that good math?''

Well, not really. The Sox have 122 games left. Let's say they go 69-53, or 16 games over .500, the rest of the way. That leaves them with 89 wins, the same number they won last season, when they finished out of the money.

But hey, the guy was dressing in front of his locker, not in front of a computer. You get the idea.

"I think we're definitely capable of doing that,'' Bard said.

Bard said that he was conscious of the roaring ovation that greeted the penitent Posada when he came to the plate at the start of the eighth (he would have had to be the boy in the bubble to suggest otherwise). The reaction would have required measurement by a seismograph if Saltalamacchia hadn't widened the Sox lead to two runs with his home run in the top of the inning.

"I could feel the energy of the crowd, I think that was pretty cool,'' Bard said. "But I still wanted to get him out. It didn't change anything I was trying to do.''

Bard lost Posada on a full count, then fell behind Martin, who had walked in his first three plate appearances, 2-and-0. But Martin lifted a harmless fly to right, flinging his bat aside in disgust, Brett Gardner popped to short and Jeter rolled out to second.

Jonathan Papelbon worked a scoreless ninth for his seventh save, pumping his fist furiously after Rodriguez grounded out to Youkilis for the game's final out.

"It actually feels good,'' manager Terry Francona said of reaching the break-even point. "Saying that, we have a game tomorrow, but hopefully this will be a moving forward, instead of taking a deep breath and patting ourselves on the back.

"It's not one of our goals, but we're making strides. We played a good series.''

The Sox, who began this brief trip by losing two straight in Toronto, return home for a week's worth of games -- a two-game set against the Baltimore Orioles, two more against the Tigers, and then their first taste of interleague play, a three-game set against the Chicago Cubs.

Gordon Edes covers the Red Sox for ESPNBoston.com.