New York acquired Ichiro Suzuki in a trade with the Mariners on Monday. Friday will bring the iconic outfielder's first taste of the heated rivalry and his first trip to Yankee Stadium as a member of the home team.
"I've only obviously watched it on TV," Ichiro said through a translator. "I know that there's a lot of tradition involved in that game. Just a few days ago, I wouldn't even think about being in that situation, that I would be wearing this uniform, playing against the Red Sox. So I don't really know what to expect."
While the Yankees added an important piece this week in Ichiro, they lost third baseman Alex Rodriguez to a non-displaced fracture on his left hand on Tuesday night, when Seattle's Felix Hernandez hit him with a pitch. Rodriguez had been heating up at the plate, going 9-for-23 on New York's road trip.
The Yankees return home for a nine-game homestand following a 2-5 West Coast trip that began with a four-game sweep by the Athletics, who won each game by one run. The Yankees took three out of four from the Red Sox at Fenway Park in the final series before the All-Star break.
Since then, Boston's lineup has undergone some major changes. The Sox have welcomed back outfielders Jacoby Ellsbury and Carl Crawford, but designated hitter David Ortiz was placed on the disabled list on July 18 with a strained right Achilles tendon.
The speedy Ellsbury and Crawford give the Red Sox a new look at the top of the order and on the bases. Ellsbury is batting .327 (17-for-52) with three doubles, one homer and seven runs in 12 games since returning from a separated right shoulder. In nine games, Crawford has reached base nine times and scored six runs.
But with Ortiz out of their lineup, the Red Sox need contributions from everyone. Boston is 3-6 without its only All-Star. The Sox dropped two out of three to the Rangers to open a six-game road trip. Boston has lost five out of its last six games.
"Every game is crucial. We're at a point now where we need to win," said second baseman Dustin Pedroia. "That's basically it. It doesn't matter who we're playing."
Red Sox third baseman Will Middlebrooks is also new to the rivalry. The rookie did not play in the last series, the result of a hamstring strain.
"I wanted to be a part of it bad," Middlebrooks said. "It was hard to sit in the dugout and just watch. I'm looking forward to it."
The Red Sox will send Aaron Cook to the mound as they look to make up ground on the leaders in the American League East. It will be the sinkerballer's first start against New York since June 25, 2011, when he was a member of the Rockies.
"It's always fun to play in places that are historic. The first time I pitched in the old Yankee Stadium was in the All-Star Game, and that's something I'll never forget," said Cook, who has held right-handed hitters to a .172 average in six starts this season, the third-lowest mark in the AL. "I'm hoping to keep the ball down in the zone and just let my defense play good defense behind me."
Phil Hughes is scheduled to start for the Yankees. The right-hander has lost his last two decisions, including the second game of a doubleheader with Boston on July 7, when he allowed five runs on 10 hits in 5 1/3 innings.
Red Sox: Valentine looking forward to facing Ichiro
Boston manager Bobby Valentine knows what Ichiro brings to the table. He's known the star outfielder for years and managed against him in Japan back in 1995.
"At the time, I told our front office, I thought he was one of the top 10 players in the world," Valentine said. "I turned out to be wrong at the time. He was like top five."
The Red Sox know Ichiro makes the Yankees even more potent, but they're looking forward to the challenge.
"Well, you know, he's one of the great players that have ever played the game, and they like to have great players," Valentine said. "It seems like he fits in quite nicely there. He'll play good defense. He'll get big hits. We'll pitch him tough."
Yankees: Chavez to see more time
Eric Chavez figures to get the bulk of the playing time at third base with Rodriguez on the disabled list. Chavez started at the hot corner for on Wednesday as the Yankees completed a three-game series with the Mariners at Safeco Field with a 5-2 victory.
New York manager Joe Girardi said he's comfortable with Chavez getting more time at third base.
"I think he does a tremendous job, and his offense has been good for us," Girardi said. "But I think you have to manage his health as well. I'll check with him every day, and hopefully we'll see enough left-handers that you can kind of break up all the right-handers in a row."
Chavez, 34, went 0-for-2 with two walks on Wendesday. He's hitting .266 this year with eight homers and 20 RBIs in 65 games.
The Yankees also have utility man Jayson Nix available to play third base and recalled infielder Ramiro Pena from Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre on Wednesday to add flexibility. Still, Girardi said he mostly expects to use a platoon of Chavez and Nix at the position.
The Red Sox are 1-5 against the Yankees this season.
New York outscored Boston, 14-6, in the first inning during a four-game series July 6-8.