Sox aim to bury Yanks in division
New York (22-29) at Boston (36-16), Friday, 7:05 p.m. ET
Less intensity for Red Sox-Yankees just because there is a 13 1/2-game gap between the teams in the American League East standings? That's a foolish thought according to Red Sox captain and catcher Jason Varitek.
"Take the lead and throw it out the window," said Varitek. "It's another series for us, but it is the Yankees and the hype will never change when we play that team."
The rivalry resumes yet again Friday night at Fenway, when the struggling Yankees try to cool off the Sox, who are off to their second best start in franchise history after 52 games.
One thing that can't be disputed at this stage of the game is that the pressure is squarely on the Yankees. Don't expect the Red Sox to ease the foot off the gas pedal.
"They set up their team to win a World Series," said Red Sox third baseman Mike Lowell. "On paper, they look like a team that's very bona-fide. They've hit their rash of injuries and they've got some guys who haven't come into their own yet. But no one felt bad for us when we lost five in a row [last August]. The pity card is not working for anyone around here, especially in Boston. It's just a sign more that we're playing good baseball."
The last thing the Red Sox want to do is give the Yankees an opening at momentum.
"There's still two-thirds of the season left," said Lowell. "They can turn that around the same way that we've done the first two months. It's possible. I think what we're concentrating on is executing our game plan with the pitchers and swinging the bats as good as we can do. And if we can do that and stay healthy, we have a very talented group, so there's no reason we can't keep playing good baseball."
The Red Sox will send knuckleballer Tim Wakefield to the mound in the series opener. The Yankees counter with Chien-Ming Wang. Curt Schilling faces Mike Mussina on Saturday afternoon and Josh Beckett squares off against Andy Pettitte in the Sunday night finale.
"I definitely know we have a good team and have a lot of guys getting it done, and when you're playing that way, the thing is everybody getting on the same page -- and that's what everybody has been doing," said Sox slugger David Ortiz.
The Sox lead second-place Baltimore by 10 1/2 games.
BOS: RHP Tim Wakefield (5-5, 3.36 ERA)
Wakefield won for the first time in three starts Saturday against the Rangers in Arlington, giving up four runs on five hits in seven innings. Over his past three starts, Wakefield has allowed 15 runs over 19 innings. In three starts this season at Fenway, he is 1-2 with a 4.05 ERA and has allowed three home runs in 20 innings. The knuckleballer is 0-2 with a 7.84 ERA in two starts this year against the Yankees, who are batting .326 against him. In 44 career games (27 starts) against New York, Wakefield is 9-15 with a 4.76 ERA.
Wang allowed three runs in the first inning of his previous start against the Angels but settled in to hold the Halos scoreless over the next seven innings of a six-strikeout, six-hit performance. Wang's early issues were related to his arm slot, which is a topic that catcher Jorge Posada and pitching coach Ron Guidry have had to remind him often to keep up. Wang hasn't allowed a home run to a right-handed batter all year and has induced at least one ground-ball double play in each of his past seven starts, matching the longest streak of his career.
Player to watch
Kevin Youkilis brings a career-high hitting streak of 22 games into this one. Youkilis is hitting .429 with 13 doubles, six homers, 21 RBIs during the sizzling stretch.
NESN On radio
WRKO-680 AM, Spanish Baseball Network (Español) Up next
Saturday: Red Sox (Curt Schilling, 5-2, 3.68) vs. Yankees (Mike Mussina, 2-3, 5.86), 3:55 p.m. ET
Sunday: Red Sox (Josh Beckett, 8-0, 2.65) vs. Yankees (Andy Pettitte, 3-4, 2.51), 8:05 p.m. ET
Monday: Red Sox (Julian Tavarez, 3-4, 5.40) at Athletics (Dan Haren, 6-2, 1.64), 10:05 p.m. ET
Ian Browne is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.