Notes: Power arms meet power bats
Red Sox enter first Yankees series with rotation in good shape
BOSTON -- There was no better way for the Red Sox to enter their latest heated showdown with the Yankees than with their pitching in such a red-hot state. For when the Yankees see anything less than superb pitching, they tend to turn it into mush.
Consider the contrast in styles this series represents.
The Red Sox entered Friday night with the best ERA in the American League at 2.58. Boston's pitching had also allowed the fewest hits in the league (91) and was tied for fewest home runs (eight). Opponents were hitting a league low of .203 against Boston. The Sox had allowed three runs or fewer in nine consecutive games.
Then, there are the Yankees, who brought their sizzling lumber to Boston, leading the league in average (.283), runs (91), hits (144), RBIs (89) and on-base percentage (.356). New York was also tied with Tampa Bay for the lead in home runs with 20.
Something's got to give. It usually does when these two powers meet.
"We're in good shape to go into a series right now," said Red Sox manager Terry Francona. "That can change in a couple of days. A starter goes two or three innings a couple of days in a row, you go from feeling good about your bullpen to feeling bad in a hurry.
"Saying that, though, our starters to this point have done a very good job of getting us into a game where we haven't had to either overexpose relievers or pitch them when we don't want to out of necessity, which helps in a lot of different areas. One is production, which directly leads to wins."
The Red Sox have their three top starting pitchers lined up to face the Yankees in Curt Schilling, Josh Beckett and Daisuke Matsuzaka.
This is a far cry from last August, when the Red Sox had to start a pivotal five-game series against the Yankees by starting Jason Johnson, who wound up being released immediately following that game. Boston was swept in that series and never recovered.
"I remember that we had a lot of injuries going on and they played very well," said Sox center fielder Coco Crisp. "It was kind of a mixture of the two. They had a few injuries themselves. But they came out and they just had a good series. Sometimes, that happens."
Pitching at a much higher level this time around, the Red Sox should be in good shape to prevent a rerun.
"You hear me and us talk about it all the time, thickening out your lineup," Francona said. "They do it better than anyone in baseball. No deep breath. You can get hurt because of that. You have to pound the strike zone, which is not always an easy thing to do, because they're very dangerous hitters. But if you pound the strike zone, you can certainly eliminate the amount of damage they do. When you start walking people and nibbling, they're going to hurt you. We've found out the hard way. Other teams have, too."
Pleading fifth on Papelbon: Sox closer Jonathan Papelbon came into the series on the heels of pitching on consecutive days for the first time this season. Francona was coy when asked if Papelbon would be available for closing time on Friday night.
"If you see him pitch, he's available," said Francona. "[Yankees manager] Joe [Torre] is already a good manager. He doesn't need to know four, five hours in advance who's going to close our game for us. They don't need help."
For what it's worth, Papelbon threw 21 pitches on Wednesday and 26 in Thursday's game.
Dealing with A-Rod: Alex Rodriguez came into the series fresh off his second walk-off homer of the season. In fact, he went deep 10 times in his first 57 at-bats this season. Francona was the bench coach for the Rangers in 2002, the year A-Rod hit 57 home runs.
"We don't want him to hit homers," Francona said. "If I have my druthers, he won't get hits. He's about the best hitter in baseball right now. Saying that, if you walk him, the guy on deck (Jason Giambi) is going to hurt you. At some point, you have to get people out, whether they're hot, not hot or in between. If you walk enough people in their lineup, they're going to score runs. Whether it's by intention or not, they're going to score."
Nice tribute: In addition to wearing green uniforms to salute late Boston Celtics legend Red Auerbach, the Red Sox also wore a small "VT" in black lettering on the left sleeve in memory of the 32 people who were murdered during the enormous tragedy at Virginia Tech earlier this week.
Francona and Red Sox captain Jason Varitek suggested putting the "VT" on the uniform sleeve for the night, and it was approved by Major League Baseball. The Red Sox, playing their first home game since the tragedy, also had a moment of silence before the game.
DiSarcina to Lowell: Former Major Leaguer Gary DiSarcina -- the pride of Billerica, Mass. -- was named manager of the Class A (short season) Lowell Spinners on Friday.
The Red Sox had originally put Pacific Rim scouting coordinator Jon Deeble in that slot. Upon further review, the club decided to have Deeble continue to emphasize his current efforts. Deeble, along with Craig Shipley, is credited with the signing of Matsuzaka.
"Gary DiSarcina has been a real asset to the Red Sox since joining the organization last fall, and we feel he will be a good fit with the Lowell Spinners," said Red Sox director of player development Mike Hazen. "With the major emphasis that the Red Sox place on international scouting, the decision was made to continue to allow Jon Deeble to concentrate in the Pacific Rim operation on a full-time basis."
In the stands: ABC News correspondent Bob Woodruff was spotted sitting in field boxes with his son on Friday night. When interviewed in-game by NESN, Woodruff explained what he was doing at Fenway Park.
"My son Matt is a huge Red Sox fan," he said. "I'm a Tigers fan who grew up in Detroit."
Woodruff and his wife, Lee, co-authored a book entitled "In an Instant" on the newscaster's serious injuries suffered in Iraq and subsequent recovery. It is up to No. 6 on the best-seller list.
On deck: Beckett will take his 3-0 record and 1.50 ERA to the mound on Saturday afternoon in a matchup with the Yankees' Jeff Karstens, who will come off the disabled list to make the start. First pitch is scheduled for 3:55 ET.
Ian Browne is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.