BOSTON — He followed a four-pitch walk with a back-door cutter to strike out Aaron Judge. Then Eduardo Rodriguez fell behind 3-1 before yielding an RBI double to Edwin Encarnacion.

Saturday’s outing also featured ill-timed walks, but also big pitches in key moments. Rodriguez always has been a puzzle of talent and inconsistency.

Thankfully for the Boston Red Sox, the talent is surfacing more often. Rodriguez pitched well enough to give the Red Sox a chance to win Saturday.

And that they did. With another offensive outburst, the Red Sox enjoyed a 9-5 victory – their third straight over the Yankees. Boston is now at least tied for the second wild card, jumping past Tampa Bay.

No one is talking about the Red Sox being trade-deadline sellers now.

And the way Boston is playing – and the Yankees are stumbling – who is to say the Red Sox cannot gun for the division title? Boston trails New York by eight games.

“We have a good team and we have our goals,” Boston Manager Alex Cora said. “All we have to do is continue to win the little battles. We went to Tampa and won 2 out of 3. We won this (series with New York) and we have a chance to win four. … We have to stay within our process. If we do that, we’ll see where it takes us.”

It comes down to pitching, although the Red Sox sluggers – and their 37 runs in the past three games – are in the spotlight.

“Offensively we’ve been really solid for a while,” Cora said. “The difference now is we’re hitting with runners in scoring position (5 for 10 on Saturday).”

Entering Saturday, the Red Sox led the majors in runs (611). But Boston pitching is 19th in ERA (4.64).

It looks bad until you glance at the last 11 games. Boston is 8-3 in them. The starters went at least six innings in eight of those games.

“That’s what we’ve tried to do the whole season, getting these guys to do that since Day 1,” Cora said. “It’s a good time to happen. The more we do it, the better we’re going to be. That’s the most important thing.”

Boston’s starting pitching was supposed to be a strength. It’s starting to look that way – even if Rodriguez went only 52/3 innings Saturday.

“He showed a lot of conviction,” Cora said. “(The Yankees) had good at-bats but he made good pitches. He’s been doing this for a month and a half. He’s becoming the guy that everybody envisioned. He did an outstanding job.”

When the starting pitching is effective, the bullpen bears less of the load. A rested Matt Barnes relieved Rodriguez. His curve was sharp and his 97 mph fastball on point. He faced five batters, striking out four.

Following Barnes was the X-factor for the Boston bullpen – Nathan Eovaldi. His first pitch was a 99 mph fastball for a called strike. He struck out two but yielded three hits, including a two-run single by Kyle Higashioka (in an impressive 12-pitch at-bat). This was only Eovaldi’s third appearance since coming off the injured list as he adjusts to a relief role. More polish needed.

Darwinzon Hernandez – another possible big contributor to the pen – didn’t pitch Saturday. The lefty who began this year in Portland had command issues, but he’s recorded four straight scoreless appearances since being called up, including nine strikeouts.

The Red Sox could use one more arm in the bullpen. The trade deadline is Wednesday and some relievers have already been dealt (Derek Holland to the Cubs and Jake Diekman to Oakland). Lots of names are still out there, with some speculation that Boston likes Mets reliever Edwin Diaz.

To emphasize the point Boston needs another reliable arm, the Red Sox had to use one of their key relievers – Brandon Workman – to finish off routs the past two games.

While Boston may get another reliever, the Yankees are likely after a starter. New York has allowed seven runs or more in seven straight games – a franchise record.

“No question we’re going through a tough stretch on the mound,” Manager Aaron Boone said.

“One hundred and sixty-two (games in a season), you’re going to get punched in the mouth a few times.”

The Boston bats are punching away, up and down the lineup. Mookie Betts, the three-homer man Friday night, was the only one in the starting lineup not to get a hit Saturday.

These Boston hitters are impressive. But if you want to see how far these Red Sox go, follow the arms.


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