The sinker-balling right-hander can go a long way toward changing that if he can lead the Red Sox past Roger Clemens and the AL East-leading New York Yankees when the rivals continue a four-game series at Yankee Stadium.
Mendoza, a key member of the Yankees’ bullpen from 1996-2002, has failed miserably as a reliever for the Red Sox, going 1-3 with a career-worst 6.81 ERA in his first 28 appearances this year.
He was placed on the disabled list June 13 with right knee tendinitis, and will rejoin the club Saturday afternoon to make his first start of the season against his former club.
“It’s been a long time not starting. Now I’m getting the opportunity and I’ll do my best to help the team,” Mendoza said. “The Yankees put me in the bullpen, never gave me (much of an) opportunity to start. Now I’m getting the opportunity to do my job.”
Mendoza went 21-17 with a 4.94 ERA in 57 starts for the Yankees, but flourished as a reliever, combining with Mike Stanton, Jeff Nelson and Mariano Rivera to help New York to four World Series titles from ’96 to 2000.
“I still have a great deal of respect for his ability to get people out,” Yankees manager Joe Torre said of Mendoza. “He started for us, and as a starter, he can do things in very few pitches. You look for a mistake and hope you hit it. He’s capable of cranking it up, and he doesn’t scare.”
Clemens beat the Red Sox 4-2 at Fenway Park for his 299th career win on May 21, but failed to notch his historic 300th victory against his former club five days later, surrendering season highs of eight runs and 10 hits over 5 2-3 innings in an 8-4 loss.
The hard-throwing right-hander finally reached the milestone against St. Louis on June 13, and has surrendered just five runs over 23 innings in his last three outings.
The Red Sox pulled within three games of New York in the East with Friday’s 10-3 win. Boston hit a record seven homers off Yankee pitching as Bill Mueller, Jason Varitek and David Ortiz homered twice and Manny Ramirez blasted a mammoth shot into the upper deck in left field.
“It’s crazy how everybody can hit on this ballclub,” Ortiz said.
The Yankees, who are 16-4 in their last 20 games, have lost consecutive contests for the first time since June 7-8.
The Red Sox have won eight of 11.
STANDINGS: Red Sox - 2nd place, 3 GB, AL East. Yankees - 1st place, AL East.
RED SOX PROBABLE STARTER: Mendoza (1-3, 6.81 ERA). Mendoza made his first career appearance against the Yankees on May 27 at Fenway Park, surrendering one run and four hits over two innings in an 11-3 Boston loss. He is 16-19 with six saves and a 4.15 ERA in 125 career appearances, including 25 starts, at Yankee Stadium.
YANKEES PROBABLE STARTER: Clemens (8-5, 3.36 ERA). Clemens was sharp against the New York Mets at Yankee Stadium last Saturday, allowing a run and six hits over seven strong innings, striking out seven and walking one. He is 7-3 with a 3.03 ERA in 16 career starts against the Red Sox.
OFFENSIVE LEADERS: Red Sox - Nomar Garciaparra, .338 avg. and 73 runs; Ramirez, 20 HRs and 66 RBIs; Johnny Damon, 15 SBs. Yankees - Hideki Matsui, .304 avg.; Jason Giambi and Alfonso Soriano, 22 HRs; Giambi and Matsui, 63 RBIs; Soriano, 69 runs and 25 SBs.
SEASON SERIES: Yankees, 4-3.
STREAKS AND NOTES: Red Sox - Boston has hit at least six homers in a game three times in the last 29 days. … RHP Todd Jones made his Red Sox debut Friday, pitching two scoreless innings. He signed Wednesday after being released by Colorado. … 2B Todd Walker is 9-for-20 (.450) with four RBIs in his career against RHP Clemens. Yankees - The Yankees have given up at least six homers in a game four times—to Boston in 1997 and 1977 and Cleveland in 1970. … 2B Soriano has eight leadoff homers this season, one behind Rickey Henderson’s team record set in 1986. … OF Karim Garcia has homered in three straight games.
ROAD/HOME RECORDS: Red Sox - 21-23 on the road; Yankees - 23-18 at home.
INJURIES: Red Sox - 1B-OF Jeremy Giambi (shoulder), 15-day DL; LHP Casey Fossum (shoulder), 15-day DL; RHP Robert Person (hip), 15-day DL. Yankees - 1B-DH Nick Johnson (hand), 15-day DL; OF Bernie Williams (knee), 15-day DL; RHP Jose Contreras (shoulder), 15-day DL; RHP Steve Karsay (shoulder), 15-day DL; RHP Antonio Osuna (groin), 15-day DL; RHP Jon Lieber (elbow), 60-day DL.