On Tuesday night, the bitter rivals open their first full series when they play the first of three games at Yankee Stadium with first place on the line, and a pair of top pitchers scheduled to take the mound.
Josh Beckett (3-1, 4.86 ERA) was to face New York in a Boston uniform for the first time last Tuesday, but rain pushed back the right-hander’s highly anticipated rematch with the Yankees.
Instead, the site of Beckett’s first game with Boston against New York will be Yankee Stadium—where he threw a five-hitter in Game 6 of the 2003 World Series to give Florida its second championship. Acquired in a trade with the Marlins during the past offseason, Beckett was 1-1 with a 1.10 ERA in two starts in that World Series, striking out 19 in 16 1-3 innings.
“I only had one start there,” Beckett said of the Stadium, “and I had unbelievable stuff that day.”
Beckett will be opposed by Randy Johnson (5-2, 5.02 ERA) in what appears to be an outstanding pitching matchup, although neither hurler has performed well of late. Beckett is 0-1 with a 9.60 ERA in his last three starts, while Johnson has posted a 7.43 ERA in his last four outings. He’s 3-1 in that span, though, as the Yankees scored 39 runs in those games.
“You just hope it lives up to it,” Yankees manager Joe Torre said of Tuesday’s pitching matchup. “The other day was Beckett-Halladay and it was 7-6. You never know. If we haven’t sold all the tickets by now, it’s probably worth buying one.”
New York (18-11) is percentage points ahead of Boston (19-12) for first place in the AL East, staying atop the division by giving Torre his 1,000th win with the Yankees in an 8-5 victory at Texas on Sunday.
Hideki Matsui hit a three-run homer and Chien Ming-Wang allowed three runs in six innings as the Yankees completed a sweep of the Rangers and won their season-high fifth straight. Texas had won six in a row coming into the series.
Yankees center fielder Johnny Damon will be looking for a better performance against his former team after going 0-for-4 last Monday in his return to Fenway. Damon, who left the Red Sox for a four-year contract with New York, was jeered throughout Boston’s 7-3 victory.
That game was the only one in Damon’s last nine in which he didn’t have a hit. The Yankees leadoff man is batting .350 (14-for-40) with 12 runs during that span, and this time he won’t be the target of the crowd’s ire as he faces his former team again.
“It’s going to be great,” Damon said. “I’ve never faced Josh Beckett, so there’s a lot of learning I need to do. It will be nice to have our fans on our side.”
The Yankees will be without one of their key offensive players after putting right fielder Gary Sheffield on the 15-day disabled list Tuesday due to a bruised left hand. Sheffield, who went 0-for-5 in Texas on Friday, originally suffered the injury in a collision April 29 with Toronto’s Shea Hillenbrand while running out a hit.
While last Monday’s contest marked the renewal of baseball’s most intense rivalry, some things didn’t change—such as David Ortiz battering New York pitching. The designated hitter’s three-run eighth-inning homer off former Red Sox teammate Mike Myers sealed the victory in a game New York had led 3-1.
Ortiz is hitting .316 with 16 homers and 57 RBIs in 72 career games against the Yankees.
While New York is streaking into Tuesday’s rematch, Boston is also playing well, winning its fourth in a row Sunday with a 10-3 victory over Baltimore. Jason Varitek hit a grand slam and Mike Lowell had a bases-loaded double for the Red Sox.
“We swung the bats pretty well,” said Lowell, who started his career with the Yankees and was at third base for the Marlins during Beckett’s World Series win in the Bronx. “I think we’re playing a complete game of baseball right now. Our defense is playing well, our pitchers our doing well, we’re swinging the bats. If we do that, I think it’s a good recipe to win.”
The Yankees and Red Sox conclude the series on Wednesday and Thursday. They’ll meet again May 22-24 in Boston.