"A New York Treasure" --Village Voice

The Boston Red Sox

The Yankees and Red Sox last met in Boston in early June. To illustrate how long ago that was, Jason Giambi had just hit the DL and Roger Clemens had yet to throw a major league pitch this season. Entering that series, the Yankees were seven games below .500 and in fourth place in the AL East, 13.5 games behind the Red Sox. It was then that I became convinced that the Yankees only hope for the postseason was the Wild Card.

A lot has changed since then. The Yankees took two of three in Boston that weekend and have gone 50-30 (.625) over the last three months to pull their record 13 games above .500. They’ve passed six teams in the Wild Card race and shaved five games off their deficit there, while moving comfortably into second place in the East and decreasing their deficit there by 5.5 games. However, they’re still eight games behind Boston, which has gone 44-35 (.557) over the last three months and is coming off a four-game sweep of the White Sox. A lot has changed, but with just six head-to-head games left against the Red Sox, the Yankees still only have one route to the postseason, and that’s the Wild Card.

That doesn’t mean these three games against the Sox are meaningless or pointless. Every game counts, and the Yankees need a strong performance to bounce back from their 2-5 road trip. Prior to the Yankees’ home series against the Tigers two weeks ago, I looked ahead at the “very tough stretch of fourteen games that begins tonight against the Tigers, continues on a road trip through Anaheim and Detroit, and concludes with three against the Red Sox back home. If the Yankees can’t at the very least split those 14 games, all the good work they’ve done since the calendar turned to July might have been for naught.” Thus far the Yankees are 5-6. They would have to take two of three from the Red Sox in order to have split those 14 games. Looking at it now, I won’t say that a 6-8 record in those 14 games would be the death knell of the Yankee season, but the three games by which they trail the Wild Card-leading Mariners in the loss column loom large, as do the three games they will play against Seattle at the Stadium beginning a week from today. It would be hard to have much optimism regarding either should the Yanks lose their third-straight series to a contender.

As for the Sox themselves, they not only have the best record in baseball and the biggest lead of any team currently holding a playoff spot, but they just beat the everloving snot out of the White Sox, taking four games in Chicago by a combined score of 46-7. They’re also coming off a day of rest while the Yankees took a night-game beating at the hands of the Tigers, then had to fly home on the red eye. If ever there was a test of the Bombers’ resolve, this has to be it.

Fortunately, the Yankees send their stopper to the mound tonight. Since the All-Star break, Andy Pettitte has gone 7-1 with a 2.67 ERA in nine starts, averaging 6 2/3 innings per start, and striking out 7.71 men per nine innings. The Yankees have gone 8-1 in those nine games, rallying to win Pettitte’s one no-decision by a score of 3-2, and failing to do so in Pettitte’s lone loss, a 4-2 defeat in Baltimore. Pettitte is 1-1 with a 5.01 ERA in four starts against the Red Sox this year, but, again, a lot has changed since then, and his last start against the Sox at the stadium was a seven-inning, one-run gem.

On the hill for the Red Sox will be Daisuke Matsuzaka. Matsuzaka hasn’t dominated in his first major league season, but, if not for Josh Beckett making the leap, he’d be the Red Sox’s best starter. As it is, his hit and strikeout rates have been outstanding (he is one of just four qualifying starters in the American League to have a K/9 rate over 9.00), and his 3.76 ERA works out to an impressive 120 ERA+ given that he pitches his home games in hitter-friendly Fenway. Matsuzaka has turned in quality starts in 17 of his 26 games including five of his last six.

If anything, Matsuzaka’s biggest problem has been putting runners on base via walks and hit-batsmen. On its own, Matsuzaka’s walk rate isn’t particularly troubling, but when you factor in his eleven hit-batsmen (the fourth-highest total in the league), you get 3.92 men reaching base without a hit per nine innings, which is a bit much, especially facing a team like the Yankees that’s third in the majors in walks and fifth in the majors in being hit by pitches. Matsuzaka has faced the Yankees twice this year, doing so in back-to-back starts in late April. He walked five and hit two in those 13 innings (4.85 BB+HBP/9), posting a 6.92 ERA, but striking out 14 and winning both games, the first of which was the game in which Chase Wright allowed four consecutive home runs, the latter of which came against a poor Pettitte outing in the Bronx.

On a final housekeeping note, as expected, Sean Henn is on his way to Scranton, and Chris Britton is, at long last, back in the Yankee pen. If Torre needs Britton tonight, however, something’s likely gone wrong.

Boston Red Sox

2007 Record: 80-51 (.611)
2007 Pythagorean Record: 85-46 (.648)

Manager: Terry Francona
General Manager: Theo Epstein

Home Ballpark (2007 Park Factors): Fenway Park (102/101)

Who’s Replaced Whom?

Bobby Kielty replaces Wily Mo Peña
Kevin Cash (minors) replaces Doug Mirabelli (DL)
Eric Gagne replaces Brendan Donnelly (DL)
Mike Timlin (DL) replaces J.C. Romero
Many Delcarman (minors) replaces Joel Pineiro

25-man Roster:

1B – Kevin Youkilis (R)
2B – Dustin Pedroia (R)
SS – Julio Lugo (R)
3B – Mike Lowell (R)
C – Jason Varitek (S)
RF – J. D. Drew (L)
CF – Coco Crisp (S)
LF – Manny Ramirez (R)
DH – David Ortiz (L)


L – Eric Hinske (UT)
L – Alex Cora (IF)
S – Bobby Kielty (OF)
R – Kevin Cash (C)


R – Josh Beckett
R – Curt Schilling
R – Tim Wakefield
R – Julian Tavarez
R – Daisuke Matsuzaka


R – Jonathan Papelbon
L – Hideki Okajima
R – Eric Gagne
R – Mike Timlin
R – Kyle Snyder
R – Manny Delcarmen
L – Javier Lopez

15-day DL: R – Doug Mirabelli (C)
60-day DL: R – Brendan Donnelly, R – Matt Clement


R – Dustin Pedroia (2B)
R – Kevin Youkilis (1B)
L – David Ortiz (DH)
R – Manny Ramirez (RF)
L – J. D. Drew (RF)
R – Mike Lowell (3B)
S – Jason Varitek (C)
S – Coco Crisp (CF)
R – Julio Lugo (SS)

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"This ain't football. We do this every day."
--Earl Weaver