BOSTON -- Perhaps the AL East title is not out of reach for the New York Yankees.
Alex Rodriguez capped a six-run eighth inning with a tiebreaking single off Jonathan Papelbon, and the Yankees overcame a five-run deficit to beat the Boston Red Sox 8-7 Friday night in a game that mirrored the season.
"You kind of feel like you stole one," said Rodriguez, who called it the Yankees' "biggest win of the year."
With the Yankees trailing 7-2, Jason Giambi and Robinson Cano started the comeback with home runs off Hideki Okajima. Derek Jeter hit an RBI single against Papelbon (1-3), and Bobby Abreu tied it with a two-run double.
"It's a character builder," said Rodriguez, who had been 0-for-3 with two strikeouts.
By winning a 4-hour, 43-minute marathon -- two minutes shy of the record for a nine-inning game set by the Yankees and Red Sox on Aug. 18 last year -- New York closed within 4½ games of AL East-leading Boston. The Yankees remained 3½ games ahead of Detroit in the wild-card race.
Boston, which hadn't blown a five-run lead and lost since April 26, 2005, against Baltimore, has led the division for the last 150 days. By winning the opener of a three-game series, the Yankees cut the gap to its smallest size since after games of Aug. 19. They have won five straight against Boston and eight of their last 10 against the Red Sox.
"We're still up by 4½, not down by 4½," Coco Crisp said, "so it's hardly time to panic."
The Yankees were 21-29 and a season high 14½ games out of first place after games of May 29. Since then, they have baseball's best record, 63-34. And they still have a chance for a second straight three-game sweep of the Red Sox, who were rolled over in New York from Aug. 28-30.
"We went through a big mess early in the season and we were able to brush it off," said Johnny Damon, who went 4-for-6 against his former team. "This is a special team. Hopefully, we can keep the magic going."
"We lucked out. That eighth inning was incredible," Yankees manager Joe Torre said. "The only thing predictable in this ballpark is the unpredictable."
Okajima entered with a 1.76 ERA but allowed Giambi's 14th homer and Cano's 17th. Melky Cabrera walked, Damon doubled him to third, and Papelbon relieved.
Papelbon gave up an RBI single to Jeter on his first pitch, threw a called strike to Abreu, then gave up Abreu's double -- the first by a lefty against Papelbon in 35 at bats. The closer hadn't allowed a run in 16 2-3 innings
Rodriguez then ripped an 0-1 pitch to center field.
"It came apart in a hurry," Red Sox manager Terry Francona said.
Pettitte, 9-2 with a 3.14 ERA since the All-Star break, was trying for his 200th win but allowed five runs -- four earned -- and nine hits in four innings -- throwing 101 pitches and making his quickest exit since July 1.
"I hate it that I wasn't able to get us through that game," he said.
Daisuke Matsuzaka gave up two runs, four hits and five walks in 5 2/3 innings, one of his better outings of late. He is 1-4 with a 7.15 ERA in his last seven starts, giving up 40 hits and 23 walks in 39 innings.
"It's a fine line between being hit and not being hit," he said through a translator, "and I just tried my best to be on the right side of that line today."
Damon singled in a run in the sixth, but the Red Sox scored twice in the bottom half on RBI singles by Kevin Youkilis and Drew.
"It was definitely one of the more crazy games that I've seen here," Damon said.
- Ellsbury extended his hitting streak to all 12 games he's played since being recalled Sept. 1 from Triple-A Pawtucket.
- Boston RHP Matt Clement threw a simulated game before the regular game. He has been sidelined all season following shoulder surgery last Sept. 26.
- Timlin tied Mike Jackson for 11th place on the career list with 1,005 appearances.
- The Yankees have hit consecutive homers six times in an inning this season.
- Jeter's run in the eighth gave him 1,367, moving him past Bernie Williams into sole possession of fifth place in team history.