BOSTON (AP) – Randy Johnson is pitching like the ace the New York Yankees wanted – and not a moment too soon.

With the Yankees rotation falling apart, Johnson struck out 10 in 6 1-3 innings to win his third straight start, and Alex Rodriguez homered on Saturday to lead New York to a 7-4 victory over the Boston Red Sox.

“Randy gave us a big lift today,” said Rodriguez, who hit a two-run shot to spark a six-run third inning. “It was very big for us. He’s our horse.”

One day after the Yankees lost 17-1 behind Tim Redding, an emergency starter from Triple-A, Rodriguez followed Gary Sheffield’s double with a homer over the Green Monster. Johnson (10-6) allowed four runs on eight hits and three walks and the Yankees won for the second time in the four-game series.

Tom Gordon got five outs, and Mariano Rivera pitched the ninth for his 22nd consecutive save. Robinson Cano had three hits – his fifth straight game with two or more.

“With our starting rotation beat up as it is, these two games were important for us to win,” manager Joe Torre said after the Yankees won for the ninth time in 11 games to pull within 11/2 games of Boston in the AL East.

All-Star Matt Clement (10-3) lasted just 2 2-3 innings, allowing six runs on five hits and five walks. Johnny Damon singled in the sixth to extend his hitting streak to 28 games – the longest in the majors this season and tied for fourth-longest in Red Sox history.

Johnson had the 206th double-digit strikeout game of his career. Only Nolan Ryan, with 215, has more.

It was a big boost for a staff that has four starters on the disabled list. Redding was called up for an emergency start Friday after Chien Ming-Wang went on the DL, and the Yankees didn’t have a starter for Sunday until they traded for Marlins castoff Al Leiter on Saturday.

“We’ll take a chance to see what we have there. Hopefully, it will be an upgrade from what we’ve been trying,” said general manager Brian Cashman, whose team has used an AL-high 11 starters. “In the next two weeks, we need to hold serve or tread water … until our reinforcements come back.”

Kevin Brown is scheduled to be activated from the DL to start Monday, and Carl Pavano is still a couple weeks away. Jaret Wright is also on the DL and could be back next month; Wang could miss the rest of the season.

So the Yankees needed a strong performance from Johnson to avoid losing ground to the World Series champs – and they got it.

Meanwhile, Clement struggled.

“Kind of hard to win a game when you give one of the greatest pitchers in baseball a 6-0 lead,” he said.

Edgar Renteria went 1-for-5 with four strikeouts, and not even a perfect ninth inning from former ace Curt Schilling could inspire the Red Sox.

“He was crisper,” Boston manager Terry Francona said. “That was encouraging to see.”

Clement escaped trouble in the second inning when he walked the first two batters, then got three consecutive strikeouts to end the inning. He got Derek Jeter and Cano out to start the third before the next eight New York batters reached safely.

Sheffield doubled on a hard line drive off the Green Monster, then Rodriguez hit his 25th of the year over it. After consecutive walks, Bernie Williams singled in one run and Tino Martinez walked to reload the bases.

John Flaherty doubled off the wall in left to score two more and chase Clement. Jeter singled off of Jeremi Gonzalez to make it 6-0 before Cano hit a fly ball to left to end the inning.

Mark Bellhorn homered in the bottom half to make it 6-1, then Manny Ramirez hit a solo shot to lead off the fourth. Kevin Millar walked and, one out later, Doug Mirabelli singled him to second.

But on Bill Mueller’s single, Mirabelli kept his head down rounding second and didn’t see that Millar was being held up by third base coach Dale Sveum. Mirabelli was caught in a rundown for the second out, and Bellhorn struck out to kill the rally.

Notes: After the game, Red Sox general manager Theo Epstein and pitchers Bronson Arroyo and Tim Wakefield were scheduled to join professional musicians on stage in a concert at Fenway. … Several of the Red Sox coaches went to the top step of the dugout to cheer for Johnny Pesky, who returned to the ballpark for the first time since the death of his wife, Ruth. … Flaherty’s bases-loaded double in the third broke an 0-for-17 slump. It was his third extra-base hit of the season. … Clement’s five walks matched a season high. He threw 83 pitches to get eight outs, just 43 of them for strikes. … David Ortiz started at first base for just the second time when Boston wasn’t playing in an NL park. He joked before the game that he sent his glove home to the Dominican Republic.

AP-ES-07-16-05 1901EDT

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