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09/04/07 12:03 AM ET

Beckett goes for MLB-leading 17th win

Toronto (70-67) at Boston (83-55), Tuesday, 7:05 p.m. ET

All of a sudden, the air is escaping from the American League East race.

On Monday, the Yankees lost their second straight game, and the Red Sox won their third straight. Now the Bronx Bombers, who were very much in the running for a 10th straight AL East crown only four days ago, must climb from seven games back with 24 games remaining if they want to top the Sox.

On Tuesday, Josh Beckett and the Red Sox host Roy Halladay's Blue Jays in the second game of a three-game series, with the chance to shrink their magic number to 17 (16 with a Yankees loss). Talk of eliminating New York this early might make New Englanders squeamish, but one inescapable fact remains: it's September now, and things have changed.

By how much?

Thanks to contributions from their young September callups, the Red Sox are rolling. Rookie Clay Buchholz's no-hitter on Saturday started the team on a three-game win streak, helping it rebound from a sweep at Yankee Stadium. Suddenly, with callup Jacoby Ellsbury driving the ball to all fields and fellow rookie Dustin Pedroia winning raves with his top glove work, the Red Sox are looking immune to the kind of crippling losing streak that the Yankees would need to overtake them.

"It's been fun to watch," Red Sox general manager Theo Epstein said about a run powered by fresh faces. "We've talked for a few years now about how our biggest organizational challenge is to develop players who can come up in the middle of a pennant race and contribute. And we saw that happen [during the weekend]."

Consider this: the Red Sox's lead of seven games entering Tuesday is now baseball's largest. It's their largest lead in the AL East after 138 games since 1995. And, at 139 days, they are a lock to lead the division longer than Kevin Kennedy's 1995 division-winning Sox (141 days -- from May 13, 1995, until the end of the season).

Beckett, a top Yankees nemesis since the 2003 World Series, has a chance on Tuesday to bury New York even further back in the division, if not give the slump-busting Mariners a leg up in the AL Wild Card race. The Mariners beat the Yankees on Monday, ending a nine-game losing streak by pulling within a game of New York in the AL Wild Card standings.

One major obstacle stands in the way for Boston: Halladay. On Tuesday, a Beckett-Halladay showdown will tantalize more than just scoreboard watchers.

Pitching matchup
BOS: RHP Josh Beckett (16-6, 3.29 ERA)
Is Beckett now the favorite to win the AL Cy Young Award? With Baltimore's Erik Bedard sidelined indefinitely and Minnesota's Johan Santana falling again on Monday, Beckett might not be just the best-credentialed starter on a contending team, he might be the best, period. A big league-best 17th win on Tuesday against a Blue Jays team that he's held to three earned runs in 15 innings in 2007 would strengthen his case.

TOR: RHP Roy Halladay (14-6, 3.87 ERA)
Under the radar, Halladay has put together one of the best seasons by a starting pitcher in 2007. Despite missing time to a DL stint in mid-May, the Blue Jays ace leads the Majors in complete games (six) and is averaging an incredible 8 1/3 innings over his past eight starts, stretching back to mid-July. In 25 1/3 innings against the Red Sox this year, nevertheless, Halladay owns an unsightly 6.04 ERA.

Player to watch
David Ortiz has slugged .609 against Halladay in 69 career at-bats.

 Buy tickets now to catch the game in person.

On the Internet
 Gameday Audio
•  Gameday
•  Official game notes

On television

On radio
• WRKO 680, WROL (Español)

Up next
• Wednesday: Blue Jays (Shaun Marcum, 12-5, 3.75) at Red Sox (Curt Schilling, 8-6, 4.02), 7:05 p.m. ET
• Thursday: Red Sox (Tim Wakefield, 16-10, 4.16) at Orioles (Garrett Olson, 1-3, 7.22), 7:05 p.m. ET
• Friday: Red Sox (Jon Lester, 3-0, 5.26) at Orioles (Daniel Cabrera, 9-14, 5.06), 7:05 p.m. ET

Alex McPhillips is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.