Boston Red Sox 50-37 (Road 19-27)
New York Yankees 45-40 (Home 23-20)
Bos: Tim Wakefield (5-6, 3.72 ERA)
NYY: Joba Chamberlain (2-2, 2.22 ERA)
If the New York Yankees want to make it to the postseason for the 14th straight year, there is no better place to start a push than this series against the suddenly struggling Boston Red Sox.
The longtime rivals meet for the first time since April - with neither in first place in the AL East - as they begin a four-game set at Yankee Stadium on Thursday night.
It’s certainly unusual for a series between the Yankees (45-40) and Red Sox (50-37) in July to feature neither team atop the division, with both try to catch surprising AL East leader Tampa Bay. Boston has matched a season high by losing five straight, including a three-game sweep in Tampa Bay this week, to fall 3 1/2 games behind the Rays while the Yankees are 7 1/2 games back.
The Yankees, who welcome Tampa Bay to the Bronx for two games after this series, know the next week represents a critical stretch of their season.
“Not just this one series, but maybe the next couple series is going to be pivotal,” Yankees co-chairman Hank Steinbrenner said. “We can definitely still make a run at it.”
The defending World Series champions, meanwhile, failed to avoid a sweep by the Rays when they surrendered six runs in the seventh inning of Thursday’s 7-6 loss.
“This series, they played better than us. They pitched better than us. They hit in the clutch better than us,” Boston second baseman Dustin Pedroia said. “That’s why we didn’t win any games.”
Boston is 3-2 against New York this season, and it’s been Manny Ramirez who has done most of the damage instead of Yankees nemesis David Ortiz, who won’t be in action as he continues to recover from a wrist injury that has sidelined him for the last month.
Ramirez is 10-for-19 with three homers and eight RBIs against the Yankees in 2008 with four straight multihit efforts. The All-Star slugger will be trying to regroup after he was hitless in 11 at-bats in the Tampa Bay series.
Pedroia stayed hot Thursday with four extra-base hits. He’s 25-for-44 (.568) during a 10-game hitting streak.
After Steinbrenner criticized the Yankees for scoring a total of four runs during a three-game losing streak, New York responded with an 18-7 win over Texas on Thursday. Jason Giambi hit a grand slam and drove in a season-best six runs, and Alex Rodriguez added a three-run shot for his 535th home run—one shy of tying Mickey Mantle for 13th on the all-time list.
The Yankees will start Andy Pettitte (9-5, 3.98 ERA), who tries for a fifth straight win after going 4-0 with a 1.00 ERA in his last four outings. Pettitte hasn’t lost since May 23.
The veteran left-hander won Saturday by allowing two runs in six innings in a 3-2 win over the New York Mets.
Pettitte hasn’t pitched against the Red Sox this season, but went 2-1 with a 5.40 ERA in six starts against them last season. Those were his first outings against Boston since 2003 because he was beginning his second stint with New York - he is 15-6 with a 3.53 in 27 career starts against the Red Sox.
His counterpart, Boston starter Jon Lester (6-3, 3.48), is 3-0 with a 3.35 ERA in his last six starts. Lester’s worst outing of that stretch, though, came Saturday at Houston as he was tagged for a season-high six runs over five innings in an 11-10 loss.
The 24-year-old left-hander has never pitched at Yankee Stadium. In his lone appearance against New York, he started on Aug. 18, 2006 and surrendered seven runs over 3 2-3 innings, but escaped without a decision in a 14-11 loss.