BOSTON -- When Steve Pearce's third homer of the game clanged off the light tower above the Green Monster, a few fans behind home plate tossed their caps onto the field to celebrate his first career hat trick.
When he came to the plate in the eighth for his final at-bat, he received a standing ovation from the Boston fans eager to see him make more history against the hated Yankees.
"It was a good night. A fun night. A great team win, and something that I'll never forget," Pearce said on Thursday night after driving in six runs with three homers to help the Red Sox beat New York 15-7.
"It was exciting, especially when you get home and you see all your teammates there, ready for you," said Pearce, who walked on five pitches in his final at-bat. "To be able to celebrate with them, it's a great feeling."
In the opener of a four-game series that gave New York the potential to erase most of its division deficit, the Red Sox instead expanded the lead to a season-high 6 1/2 games, taking advantage of manager Aaron Boone's decision to pull starter CC Sabathia after three innings with a 4-2 lead. Jonathan Holder (1-2) faced seven batters and did not record an out.
"We have to do a better job playing a better brand of baseball especially against a real good opponent," Boone said. "When it's difficult, not everything going our way, we need to be airtight to minimize damage on the other side."
Mookie Betts had four hits and two walks, reaching safely all six times he came to the plate. Pearce, J.D. Martinez, Ian Kinsler and Andrew Benintendi had three hits apiece for Boston, which has won five of its last six games and 20 of its last 25 to match a season-high 42 games above .500.
Pearce hit a solo homer in the third and then added a three-run shot in an eight-run fourth inning that erased the rest of a 4-0 Yankees lead. He also had a two-run homer in the sixth, joining Mo Vaughn and Kevin Millar as the only Red Sox players to have three home runs in a game against the Yankees.
Didi Grigorius homered twice , Aaron Hicks hit one and Giancarlo Stanton got his 25th of the season for the Yankees, who have lost just twice in the past week -- playing sloppily both times -- but dropped two games in the division. The rivals will meet nine more times, including the final three games of the season.
Early in the game that Chris Sale was supposed to start, the Red Sox were already trailing 4-0 and their ace was getting frustrated.
"He was like, `I can't believe this," manager Alex Cora said after Brian Johnson filled in for Sale, the AL strikeout and ERA leader, who went on the disabled list with left shoulder soreness that he said wasn't that bad. "But we trust B.J."
Johnson (2-3) fanned a career-high 11 for his first victory since April 2. He allowed five runs -- four earned -- six hits and two walks in five innings.
"It didn't look pretty in the beginning," Cora said. "But he was able to get some key outs. He gave us a chance."
Johnson spotted the Yankees a 4-0 lead, but the Red Sox got one in the second and one in the third before taking the lead in the fourth.
With runners on second and third and nobody out, Benintendi hit a chopper back to the mound. Holder threw behind Jackie Bradley Jr., who broke for home and beat the throw to the plate with a head-first slide.
Pearce homered for a 6-4 lead, Martinez doubled and scored on Kinsler's single and then, after Kinsler stole second, Eduardo Nunez doubled to make it 8-4 and chase Holder. Chad Green got the next two batters before Bradley doubled in another run, Betts singled and Benintendi added an RBI single.
Luis Cessa replaced Green and got Pearce on a ground ball to end the 13-batter, seven-hit (five for extra bases), 46-minute half-inning.
"The slide that Jackie made kind of turned everything around. You felt the crowd start to get into it," Pearce said. "And it was great that we were able to take advantage. It's a tough series, that's a tough team, and to do that to them early is definitely great for the team."
Yankees: RHP Sonny Gray will be replaced in the rotation and new RHP Lance Lynn, acquired from Minnesota this week. .. LHP J.A. Happ was put on the 10-day DL with hand, foot and mouth disease. He was expected to start on Saturday, then tentatively replaced in the rotation by Cessa, who instead was needed out of the bullpen in the series opener. RHP Chance Adams started Monday at Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre and could make his major league debut.
Red Sox: SS Xander Bogaerts, who was hit on the hand by a pitch on Tuesday, got the day off. Manager Alex Cora said he is on track to play Friday. ... C Blake Swihart was removed from the game after six innings with left hamstring tightness.
Yankees: Luis Severino (14-4) has allowed 19 runs in his last 19 1/3 innings over four starts, never making it out of the fifth. But he has won two of them.
Red Sox: Rick Porcello (4-4) is 5-1 over his last six starts but has a 5.85 ERA.
More AP baseball: https://apnews.com/MLBbaseball
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