Yanks drove up price on Carl Crawford

They really will do whatever it takes to win in this epic rivalry.

New York Yankees general manager Brian Cashman admitted Thursday that he feigned interest in Carl Crawford last offseason to drive up the price for the Boston Red Sox to sign the free agent.

"I actually had dinner with the agent to pretend that we were actually involved and drive the price up," Cashman said. "The outfield wasn't an area of need, but everybody kept writing Crawford, Crawford, Crawford, Crawford. And I was like, 'I feel like we've got Carl Crawford in Brett Gardner, except he costs more than $100 million less, with less experience.' "

The rivalry continues on the field Friday night. The Red Sox are clinging to a two-game lead over the Rays in the wild-card standings going into a three-game set in the Bronx against the AL East champion Yankees.

It wasn't long ago that the Yankees were looking up at the Red Sox in the standings, but Boston has slumped badly in September after leading the wild-card race by nine games, and Crawford hasn't lived up to expectations.

And now it turns out the Yankees didn't even want him. They had put all of their eggs in the Cliff Lee basket this offseason, but Cashman had to scramble when the left-hander chose the Phillies.

The GM was even ready to deal top catching prospect Jesus Montero to land Lee.

"I wanted Lee badly enough to move Montero," Cashman said. "You take all the players traded when Lee went from Cleveland to Philly, Philly to Seattle, and Seattle to Texas, and Montero would've been by far the best player moved in any of those deals.

"But now I'm just happy fans have had a chance to get a better feel of why I was hesitant to make that deal. I'm not saying I was right in not doing that deal for Lee; that's to be debated. But the young players we held onto have at least proven they were worthy of the angst as far as including them in a big trade."

After losing out on Lee, Cashman signed long shots Bartolo Colon and Freddy Garcia and hoped that Ivan Nova would fulfill his promise. The young right-hander is 16-4 with a 3.62 ERA.

Surprisingly, one could argue that Gardner has had a better season than Crawford. Gardner is batting .261 and leads the league with 46 steals. Crawford never got going in Boston and is hitting .259 with only 18 steals, the fewest he's had since his rookie season.

Going into the season, Cashman said Red Sox GM Theo Epstein, who also landed Adrian Gonzalez, "kicked my a-- in the offseason."

How does he feel now after winning the division?

"What I said was accurate: The Red Sox had a great winter, and I had a bad winter," Cashman said. "But as it turned out, I had a better winter than anybody would've expected, including myself."

And it cost the Red Sox.

Information from ESPNNewYork.com's Ian O'Connor was used in this report.