"I thought he threw the snot out of the ball in the first inning," he said.
Gleyber Torres wiped up Paxton's mess with a grand slam, and the hard-throwing left-hander cruised after that to help New York three-hit the slumping Boston Red Sox in a 4-2 victory Friday night.
Red Sox slugger J.D. Martinez hit a two-run homer during yet another rocky first by Paxton, but Torres bailed him out with his shot off Eduardo Rodriguez (13-5). Paxton (6-6) struck out the side in the second and completed six innings on 100 pitches, allowing two hits and two runs with six strikeouts.
"That was huge to get those four runs, put us back on top," Paxton said. "Try to lock it down from there."
Boston has lost five straight for the first time since 2015 and dropped 11 1/2 games behind first-place New York in the AL East. The Red Sox arrived in the Bronx for this four-game set after standing pat at Wednesday's trade deadline and having been swept over three games by the Rays at Fenway Park. The reigning World Series champions are four games behind Tampa Bay for the final AL wild card.
"Honestly, I'm not frustrated today," manager Alex Cora said. "I was more frustrated with the way we played against Tampa. There's games that you're going to get beat like that."
Yankees relievers Tommy Kahnle and Zack Britton pitched a scoreless inning each, and Aroldis Chapman was perfect in the ninth for his 28th save.
New York earned its major league-leading 35th comeback win and improved to 23-21 when its opponent scores first. The Yankees are the only team in baseball with a winning record in such games.
"We're just trying to rack up wins right now," Boone said.
After striking out Mookie Betts and Rafael Devers to open the game, Paxton walked Xander Bogaerts and allowed Martinez's 24th homer on a hanging cutter. Paxton has given up 11 homers in 19 first innings and has an 11.37 ERA before getting three outs. It was the fifth straight game Paxton allowed a run in the first inning, including when he gave up seven runs in four innings at Fenway Park in his previous outing.
Paxton said "I don't have an answer" for the first-inning woes. Boone called them "fluky."
"Honestly I've been really confident in him," Boone said. "And even coming off last start, I thought we saw so many good things. I thought he came out really aggressive, he just got bit by a really good team when he made a mistake."
Torres was looking for an inside fastball from Rodriguez and got it first pitch, turning on a heater inches off the plate and lining it out for his slam. That came after Rodriguez allowed DJ LeMahieu's leadoff single and walks to Aaron Judge and Edwin Encarnacion. Torres has 21 homers this season.
Both pitchers settled after the noisy first. Rodriguez covered 6 2/3 innings despite allowing a career-high six walks. He struck out eight and gave up five hits and four runs.
"Struggled with command in the first inning, after that it was outstanding," Cora said.
LeMahieu had two hits in his return after missing four games with a strained groin.
Aaron Hicks was 0 for 4 with three strikeouts for New York and is 1 for 22 with 10 punchouts in his past six games. Judge struck out twice and has three hits in his last 29 at-bats.
Yankees left-hander J.A. Happ and Red Sox lefty David Price -- the projected starters for Sunday's series finale -- were both placed on the paternity list Friday. New York manager Aaron Boone said Happ is expected to return to the club in time to make his start, and Boston's Alex Cora was hopeful that Price would do the same. Players can spend one to three days consecutively on the paternity list.
Red Sox: RHP Heath Hembree was placed on the 10-day IL with right lateral elbow inflammation. Hembree was on the IL from June 14-July 4 with forearm tightness and has struggled with a sluggish fastball and poor location since. ... RHP Josh Smith and INF Marco Hernandez were recalled from Triple-A.
Yankees: OF Brett Gardner was activated from the 10-day IL, utilityman Tyler Wade was sent to Triple-A and LHP Stephen Tarpley was recalled from Triple-A. Gardner was 0 for 3. ... 1B Luke Voit had a cortisone shot to address a sports hernia that landed him on the injured list Wednesday. The Yankees expect to know in a week whether Voit will require surgery. ... SS Didi Gregorius was held out of the lineup with a strained left hand. He rolled over his left wrist fielding a ball Wednesday. Boone was hopeful Gregorius would avoid the IL. ... Boone hopes RHP Luis Severino (rotator cuff inflammation) will throw his first bullpen off a mound next Friday. ... OF Giancarlo Stanton (sprained right knee) has not yet resumed baseball activities.
The rivals play a split doubleheader Saturday. Yankees RHP Domingo German (13-2, 4.08) will face Red Sox LHP Chris Sale (5-10, 4.26) in the 1:05 p.m. game, and New York will likely use an opener in the 7:05 p.m. game against Boston LHP Brian Johnson (1-1, 6.43).
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Munson's wife throws out 1st pitch on 40th anniversary of his death
Diana Munson, wife of the late Yankee captain Thurman Munson, throws out the ceremonial first pitch before the Yankees' series vs. the Red Sox.