Last night’s series opener was the most important game the Yankees have played all season. With the pitching match-up firmly in their favor, a loss, which would have pushed them to 0-9 against Boston on the season, could well have set the tone for the remainder of the series, opening up the possibility of yet another Red Sox sweep. With the win, however, they got of the schnide and reinforced their belief that they’re a different and better team than they were during those first eight games. And they didn’t just win, they crushed the Sox, 13-6.
The Red Sox are too good a team to let one lop-sided win get in their heads, but one could just as easily see a Yankee sweep today as one could see a Red Sox sweep yesterday. After all, the Yankees just keep rolling. Last night’s win extended their current winning streak to four games and also put first place out of reach for the Sox in this series (even if the Sox take the last three, they’ll leave town a half game behind the Yankees in the AL East).
The catch is A.J. Burnett, who has exceeded my (admittedly low) expectations thus far this year with one glaring exception: he’s been awful in his two starts against Boston. One of the selling points for Burnett over the winter was the fact that he’d dominated the Red Sox in four starts last year (2-0, 2.60 ERA). This year has been a different story. Staked to a 6-0 lead at Fenway Park on April 25, he coughed up eight runs. Then, on June 9, he failed to get out of the third inning, allowing five runs on five hits and five walks in just 2 2/3 innings. The Red Sox hit .382/.512/.765 against Burnett in those two starts, and though he followed the last with a string of eight quality starts (6-1, 1.68 ERA), he seems to have run out of magic just in time to rematch with Boston, having allowed seven runs in 4 2/3 innings to the White Sox in his last start.
Curiously, both of Burnett’s starts against Boston matched him up against his former Marlins’ teammate Josh Beckett, who is once again his mound opponent tonight. Beckett was equally awful on April 24, but pitched well in his two starts against the Yankees since, combining for this line: 12 IP, 11 H, 3 R, 3 BB, 13 K, 1 HR. Beckett had a rough April, but since then has gone 11-2 with a 2.28 ERA and a 4.39 K/BB over his last 16 starts.
The Yanks have their work cut out for them tonight, but thanks to last night’s win, a loss today would only mean the battle’s on, not that the battle’s over.
Ramiro Peña replaces Anthony Claggett on the Yankee roster while the Yankees run out their standard lineup. The Red Sox have designated Billy Traber and, get this, John Smoltz for assignment. They’ve been replaced by 23-year-old Japanese rookie right-hander Junichi Tazawa and former Yankee camper Chris Woodward, the latter claimed off waivers from the Mariners. Josh Reddick, who was recalled yesterday when Rocco Baldelli hit the DL, is in left tonight with Victor Martinez at first base, Kevin Youkilis at third, and Mike Lowell on the bench.
The Yankees acquired 26-year-old Louisianan righty Chad Gaudin from the Padres yesterday for a player to be named later. Given the Yankees’ lack of fifth-starter candidates, Gaudin’s a good guy to have on hand as something of a Darrell Rasner-type. He throws in the low-90s with a strong slider, which has been enough for him to overcome some of the game’s biases against short-right-handers (Gaudin is listed at 5-foot-10). That said, there may not be much there. Gaudin was rushed to the majors by the then-Devil Rays at age 20, then traded twice before he turned 23. He seemed to finally find a home with the A’s (4.00 ERA in 22 starts and 18 relief appearances), but proved just valuable enough to get shipped to the Cubs in the Rich Harden deal. In his year plus in the NL with the Cubs and Padres, he’s really struggled (5.36 ERA in 19 starts and 25 relief appearances). He gets his strikeouts, but he also walks too many guys (4.3 BB/9 career) and gives up a lot of hits, leading to an ugly 1.52 career WHIP, which, combined with the fact that he’s pitched in some pitching-friendly ballparks in Oakland and San Diego, belies what otherwise looks like a roughly league-average career ERA. I’d rather have a 26-year-old like Gaudin around than a decade-older retread like Brett Tomko, but for the remainder of this season, there may not be much difference between the two. Gaudin will arrive on Sunday and start his Yankee career in the bullpen. Here’s hoping Sergio Mitre can pitch well enough to keep him there.