NEW YORK — Looking for their first season-opening sweep at Yankee Stadium, the Red Sox instead were handcuffed by a pair of familiar foes.
Andy Pettitte pitched the Yankees to their first win of the year and Mariano Rivera made a successful return to the mound in New York’s 4-2 victory over Boston on Thursday night.
Ryan Dempster struck out eight in his Boston debut but needed 101 pitches to get through five innings. The two-time All-Star signed a $26.5 million, two-year contract in December after spending last season with the Cubs and Rangers.
“I had a lot of swings-and-misses,” Dempster said. “I’m not trying to make them swing and miss. I’m trying to make them hit it. It was just kind of the way it worked out today. They did a good job laying off some pitches. Andy threw a great game. That made the difference.”
Pettitte, beginning his 15th season with the Yankees, earned his 246th career win and improved to 19-10 in 38 starts against Boston. He missed almost three months last season with a broken left ankle.
Pettitte has practically made a career of righting the ship for the Yankees. The team said he is 18-3 with an ERA below 3.00 in 27 starts with New York trying to avoid a regular-season sweep, according to research by the Elias Sports Bureau.
“He threw the ball great,” Boston second baseman Dustin Pedroia said. “It wouldn’t have mattered what the temperature was. He did a great job controlling the game.”
Brett Gardner and Francisco Cervelli homered for the Yankees, providing some unexpected power to a depleted lineup missing Derek Jeter, Alex Rodriguez, Mark Teixeira and Curtis Granderson. Without them, New York dropped its first two games to the rival Red Sox.
Dempster (0-1) gave up an early two-run single to Lyle Overbay.
“Just got outpitched by the guy on the other side of the field,” Dempster said. “I made a lot of good pitches and a couple balls fell in. That was enough to win the game.”
Pettitte (1-0) was working on a five-hit shutout when Will Middlebrooks smacked a two-out single in the seventh and scored on a double by rookie Jackie Bradley Jr. David Ross made a bid for a tying homer with a long drive to left-center that was caught just in front of the fence, near the 399-foot sign.
“He gave it a ride and Gardner makes a heck of a catch against the wall,” Boston manager John Farrell said.
The Red Sox now head to Toronto, where Farrell could receive a chilly reception after piloting the Blue Jays to a 154-170 record the past two seasons.
The 40-year-old Pettitte tossed eight sharp innings on a 43-degree night and Rivera entered to a standing ovation from those left in the bundled-up crowd of 40,611 as the familiar chords of Metallica’s “Enter Sandman” blared over the Yankee Stadium speakers.
Baseball’s career saves leader, set to retire after this season, missed most of last year after tearing a knee ligament May 3 while shagging flies during batting practice in Kansas City.
The 43-year-old Rivera issued a leadoff walk to Pedroia and gave up a one-out double to Jonny Gomes before Middlebrooks drove in a run with a groundout. But the right-hander threw a called third strike past Bradley for his 609th save and first since April 30 last year at Baltimore.
“He worked his butt off to get back. We all admire him,” Pedroia said. “I wish we didn’t get a chance to face him.”
By appearing in his 19th Yankees season, Rivera broke a tie with Yogi Berra, Mickey Mantle and Jeter to set the franchise mark. Jeter will match Rivera again when the captain makes his season debut.
“I was waiting for 11 months,” said Rivera, who acknowledged feeling a little anxious before his first regular-season pitch since knee surgery. “There were a lot of emotions tonight, but you have to control that. You have to finish the game.”
It was the 69th time Rivera has saved a regular-season win by Pettitte, a major league record. The two hadn’t teamed up since the 2010 playoffs against Minnesota.
“Obviously, I feel real secure and good about things whenever you see that guy come running in from the bullpen in the ninth inning,” Pettitte said. “It will be special for me watching him this year and knowing this is it. After this, he won’t be closing games for us anymore, so I’ll savor it as much as I can.”
Cervelli greeted Clayton Mortensen with a leadoff homer in the seventh that made it 4-1.
Eduardo Nunez, often a defensive liability, turned three double plays at shortstop and made a leaping grab to rob Shane Victorino of a leadoff hit in the fourth. Nunez also had two hits, including a key double.
Victorino tried to score from second base on a wild pitch in the first inning when Pettitte didn’t cover the plate. Cervelli was slow and a little nonchalant in retrieving the ball, then scrambled back in time to tag Victorino as both players dived headfirst.
Victorino jammed two fingers on his throwing hand, but remained in the game. He said he was fine, and Cervelli apologized to him the next time up.
“You have to take advantage of those kinds of things,” Victorino said. “Unfortunately, I came up short this time.”